Another fifth season of volcanic winter begins on the supercontinent known as the the Stillness, and, as ash falls from the sky, Essun hopes to find her daughter Nassun. Both are orogenes, people with some magical powers as well as the ability to manipulate geological phenomena. As the Moon returns, Essun and Nassun must decide if their powers as orogenes will help humanity survive yet another fifth season. Essun wants to create a world where every orogene can grow up safe; Nassun doesn’t think the world is worth saving.
The first and second of this series, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, both won the Hugo Award and were also nominated for Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards. The world of the Broken Earth series is unlike any other fantasy I have ever read, but they revolve around familiar themes of prejudice, oppression, and exploitation. In The Stone Sky, global-scale decisions that will determine survival or destruction balance on a mother-daughter relationship that is complicated, to say the least. Their dysfunctional family is convincingly real and pure and heartbreaking.
Essun’s personal journey to find a home and trust again is warm and fuzzy, but it’s Nassun’s trajectory of loss and discovery that shines in this book. After the loss of her father, Nassun travels through the Earth to a city on the other side of the world that will allow her to use the Obelisks unhindered. The passage through the Earth is terrifying, and I find myself captivated by the image of an angry conscious Earth.
I’ll just say it — I’m in love with the world-building as a whole. The characters are prickly and even unlikeable at time, but they’re distinct and nuanced. Even the prose is unique, interweaving several different styles of narration. Hoa’s sections are narrated in third-person past tense, Essun narrative is in second-person present tense, and Nassun sections are narrated in third-person.
While I appreciate the unique narrative style, and I find it particularly appropriate for Essun’s character, the second and third person perspectives distance the reader from the characters. I have a difficult time staying emotionally connected in a story in which the emotional journey is of utmost importance, but in many ways I find the choice brave and commendable, and it may be my own failing as a reader to be open to new experiences.
One last note — I prefer to classify this story as fantasy instead of scifi, which is especially important in this finale. If you’re looking for hard scifi, you’ll be disappointed with the New Age explanations.
Recommended as a wonderfully distinct dystopian fantasy that will break all your preconceived notions of these genres!
“They’re afraid because we exist, she says. 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.”