The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Description

“The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.” – blurb from the author’s website.

Recommendation

Overall, really great series with a very satisfying ending. It deserves the hype. Fans of hopeful dystopian fantasy, people who wished earthbenders had more limelight in Avatar: The Last Airbender, people who think Final Fantasy villains usually have a good point, people who want more diverse racial representation, people who like deep worldbuilding and epic narratives that tackle systemic oppression in a way that’s not (always) beating you over the head with it…lots of audiences will enjoy this series.

Discussion

This discussion is pretty late–I finished the book almost a month ago, and the longer I take to write a review, the harder it gets. My memory of the impression the book made on me fades, as does my confidence that my thoughts are worth putting into text and posting online. I’d like to get back on the horse, though, so here’s my attempt at organizing and expanding on thoughts that I jotted down when I finished it.

The ending was so so good. I heavily teared up 3-5 times and I had just gotten my septum pierced the previous week so it was very inconvenient (and painful!) to cry but dammit it was worth it. The scale and execution of this series is so impressive and I deeply admire Jemisin’s patience in pulling the whole thing together.

There’s very strong carry-through on the concept that was seeded in the first book of things having different names over time but still being essentially the same. Houwha is Hoa, Gaewha is Antimony, Remwha is Steel is Gray Man. Damaya is Syenite is Essun is maaaybe at least spiritually Kelenli. Schaffa is kind of Gallat but also Schaffa is just super old himself and has been many people. Tuning is magic is orogeny, kind of. Guardians are conductors. Syl Anagist is Sanze is basically the Fulcrum. 

On the note of Schaffa having been many people, I was thoroughly surprised to find myself sympathizing with him in this book given what a gargantuan piece of abusive trash he was in the first (and second? I don’t remember when the turn was) book. The author used Schaffa’s character for a really interesting exploration of the multiplicity of how a person exists in the world through the perception of others. The Schaffa that exists to Nassun is starkly different from the Schaffa that exists to Essun; Essun’s Schaffa bears a closer resemblance to Nassun’s perception of Essun. This of course goes hand in hand with generational trauma–Essun embodies much of the abuse she suffered at Schaffa’s hands and passes it down to her daughter by re-enacting it. I was hoping that Nassun would pick up on Schaffa’s vileness by noticing the ways he was scary like Essun, but he really became pretty much an entirely different character in his fatherly relationship with Nassun. I interpret these three characters’ relationship as a commentary on abuse cycles and people’s capacity for change. Sure, an abuser can become reformed and create healthy relationships with new people, but that person’s victims are irrevocably altered by abuse suffered and will probably propagate that pain further into the world. Does that make the abuser inherently unredeemable? I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I think it’s always possible to make up the difference and put more good into the world than you have bad, even if you have far more practice with the latter. 

A last thought about worldbuilding. The series never directly addresses where exactly orogeny comes from unless I missed it, which is some history I was hoping for. It seems like it was hinted that Kelenli is essentially the progenitor of modern orogeny but it seems like it could have come from Niess bloodlines as well, although they were portrayed as being more magic-users than orogeny-users. Orogeny seems to have been invented, manufactured somehow in a half-eugenics, half-magic process, but I just really wanna know for sure.

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