The Stone Sky

By N. K. Jemisin
Orbit, ©2017
ISBN: 987-0316229241
Paperback, 464 pages

A change is coming. Whether for better or for worse, Essun cannot tell, but she has a plan to nudge astronomical events toward the side of humanity’s survival. She knows what it will mean for her, but no price is too great to pay. After a lifetime of anger and resentment and resistance, she has finally found a home among the ragged remnants of Castrima with people who care what happens to her.

Nassun also sesses the change. She, too, has a plan. But at the tender age of not-quite-eleven, Nassun has already learned that sometimes a broken thing cannot be fixed. Sometimes the best solution is to put an end to the suffering. She knows what it will mean for her, but after a lifetime of being used and mistreated and hated, Nassun believes wholeheartedly in a merciful resolution.

When mother and daughter come together on the other side of the world, the Change is imminent and the world hangs in the balance. The strange, white Moon looms overhead. Schaffa lays dying. Nassun has already set her plan in motion. And Essun must make the hardest decision of her life.

In this nail-biting conclusion to the Broken Earth Trilogy, Jemisin brings every thread from the complex Stillness narrative together in a seamless and breathtaking tapestry. From the ash-covered Rennanis high road to the deadly desert crossing, from the terrifying trip through the core of Father Earth to the clean, near-empty ruin of Corepoint, we travel alongside Essun, Nassun and Houwha as they hurtle toward convergence, the tipping point where the fate of all will be decided.

Scenes from the ancient past in Syl Anagist—where Life is sacred—lead inexorably to the breaking of the world, and the answers to all our questions. Not all at once, you understand; Jemisin metes them out in masterful storytelling style, a bit at a time, each piece full of promises that lead the reader further and further down the path to an exciting and not-quite-predictable end. By the time I reached the climax of the book, I could not put it down.

Stone Sky, and the entire Broken Earth trilogy, is a cautionary tale of the consequences of greed and self-absorption, of what happens when the advancement of the world rests solely on the repression of one group by another. The horror of the Seasons in the Stillness, and the shocking obscenities that occurred in Syl Anagist, remind us that building on the backs of others carries an inescapable price. Whether we pay it ourselves, or shunt it down the line to our ancestors, the scales will balance themselves. The only question is whether or not we are ready to accept responsibility, and do what is necessary to make things right.

Jemisin’s scenes are vivid, yes. But the thing I find most compelling about this trilogy—and this book in particular—is her visceral conveyance of emotion. When Hoa takes Essun’s offering, we feel her mixed emotions, her shift from revulsion to understanding, her sudden epiphany of where it will lead. When Nassun traverses the core of Father Earth, we share her terror and grief and loss, and the numbness that follows. When Essun faces Nassun at the climax of the book, we know what is in both their hearts, which makes the decision all the more painful for characters and readers alike. Stone Sky is a true vicarious escape into an adventure beyond anything I could ever experience here in my own world, and I am perhaps better for the journey.

Stone Sky is not a standalone tale. You must read the series from the beginning for it to make any sense. But believe me, that is not a hardship. The Broken Earth Series is an excellent tale, told in masterful style. I have no doubt that this newest book in the series will win its own Hugo, and probably others as well.