“But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them — even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.”
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin is the third and final book of the Broken Earth Trilogy. The previous books in the series — The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate — both won Hugo Awards for Best Novel.
For those that have read The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate and liked them: this book is the next part in the story and you might as well just finish the thing. It is not a letdown. The story concludes with no nagging loose ends that remain unaddressed. The writing style is the same as the previous two entries. Like the other two books of the series, it’s most likely going to be nominated for a Hugo Award.
For those that have read The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate and did not like them: you are probably not going to like this book very much either.
For those that have not read any of The Broken Earth Trilogy, The Stone Sky is the third part of one long story. You absolutely must read The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate before you read this book. The question then becomes: should you read this trilogy? What IS it all about?
On its surface, it’s about wizards who have the power to control earthquakes. The story takes place on a world that is extremely seismically active, so their talents are definitely necessary. Instead of being respected and valued, however, these wizards are killed or enslaved. People fear them. It’s SORT of reminiscent of the oppression and monitoring of mages in the Dragon Age videogame series. On the first page of the first book, a father kills his son. Why? On the second page of the first book of the series, a wizard breaks the Earth, ushering in the end of life on Earth. Why?
So, as that description might indicate, this story is not very much fun. Sad, depressing, thought-provoking, original. But not fun.
It’s not going to set the Literary world on fire. There is a concept/technique/principle called “show, don’t tell.” Jemisin does an awful lot of telling. These books aren’t particularly poetic or beautiful. They are not subtle. They aren’t loaded with subtext or ambiguity. The motivations of the main characters are clear. The author almost exclusively relies on direct characterization, and the side characters are more like thin sketches of generalized stock archetypes than humans.
Despite being set in a post-apocalyptic world, this series does not provide adrenaline-soaked action-packed thrills with breathless accounts of survival.
The Broken Earth Trilogy is a different kind of fantasy epic. There aren’t knights, dragons, elves, lords, dwarves, or any of that kind of stuff. Unlike the works of Martin and Abercrombie (who are reinterpreting the old fantasy tropes, giving them a realistic, darker edge) or Rothfuss (who is applying various literary fiction techniques to traditional fantasy tropes in the context of a frame story meta-narrative), Jemisin is writing a different kind of epic fantasy altogether (a post-colonial commentary utilizing an imaginary universe to abstractly analyze the use of artificial constructs to justify existing power dynamics and systems of oppression and the justice in violently overthrowing those systems).
It is the differences from traditional fantasy, however, that is the strength of The Broken Earth Trilogy. It demonstrates what else fantasy literature can be and what kinds of stories the genre can tell. Moreover, it provides a much-needed minority voice — and characters — into a literary form that has traditionally been dominated by white guys.
Ultimately, I appreciated this series for its world building, its clear descriptions of the usage of magic, its non-traditional characters (there aren’t too many middle-aged slightly overweight black women that are the center of fantasy epics), and pushing the boundaries of the topics and styles that can exist within the fantasy genre.
Rating: 4 stars