The final installment in The Broken Earth trilogy, The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky (#3 Broken Earth) by N.K. Jemisin
Award: Hugo winner and many other nominations
Published 2017, 416 pages
What an incredibly complex and yet engaging series! Starting with The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, the world building is extraordinary and the magic is unusual and creative. The story flowed well from one book to the next without doing what so many authors do - she didn't retell the events in the earlier books ad nauseum. While there are occasional references to past events, they're so subtly done that I never once found myself thinking, "okay, here comes the synopsis of the previous book". That's a real plus for me - go ahead, assume I'm keeping up with the story!
However, I find myself somewhat disappointed in this final installment of the series. I finished it and it was ultimately a very satisfying conclusion, but the journey to get there in this book was exhausting. The plot is SO complex and the timeframes and characters keep jumping around and many times I couldn't figure out who was "talking/thinking" or what timeframe they were in. Usually when there's a POV change in a book, it only takes me a sentence or two to reconnect with the appropriate character and situation. Not in this book. My goodness, I just could NOT keep it all straight.
The frequent (and unusual technique) use of the second person "you" was present in all books but seemed overwhelming in this one. I found it distracting and confusing. I'm left with a general knowledge of what happened to whom but it was far too jumbled for me to really enjoy it. I don't like having to reread paragraphs just to try to place myself in the story.
"They're afraid because we exist. There's nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There's nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing - so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives."
That being said, there are some excellent observations/statements throughout this book, as with the 2 previous ones, that relate to race and prejudice and the feelings engendered by being considered "less than". Because the story is also about Father Earth fighting back against humans for the pain and damage they cause, there are some strong environmental themes as well. Finding those little gems in the pages was like a treasure hunt - and I would take a minute to reflect on how the statement worked perfectly in the story but also illustrated current societal issues.
"It may never have occurred to them [humans] that so much magic, so much life, might be an indicator of ... awareness. The Earth does not speak in words after all . . . So where they should have seen a living being, they saw only another thing to exploit. Where they should have asked, or left alone, they raped. For some crimes there is no fitting justice - only reparation. So for every iota of life siphoned from beneath the Earth's skin, the Earth has dragged a million human remnants into its heart. Bodies rot in soil, after all....."
I found this next passage particularly touching and impactful.
"There are stages to the process of being betrayed by your society. One is jolted from a place of complacency by the discovery of difference, by hypocrisy, by inexplicable or incongruous ill treatment. What follows is a time of confusion -- unlearning what one thought to be the truth. Immersing oneself in the new truth. And then a decision must be made. Some accept their fate. Swallow their pride, forget the real truth, embrace the falsehood for all they're worth -- because, they decide, they cannot be worth much. If a whole society has dedicated itself to their subjugation, after all, then surely they deserve it? Even if they don't, fighting back is too painful, too impossible. At least this way there is peace, of a sort. Fleetingly. The alternative is to demand the impossible. It isn't right, they whisper, weep, shout; what has been done to them is NOT right. They are not inferior. They do not deserve it. And so it is the society that must change. There can be peace this way too, but not before conflict."
Doesn't this bring to mind the current and ongoing BLM struggle? Don't get the idea that the books are a big long racial or environmental treatise. They're not at all. But within the context of humans fighting with Earth and the characters, each passage is perfectly fit into the story.
If you're up for a complex, intriguing, thoroughly imaginative and adult fantasy series, this is likely for you. It doesn't contain any of the YA tropes; there's no lingering love story. It's replete with thought provoking themes and will surely make you think, all the while enjoying being immersed in this alternate world.