Friday 15 December 2017

The Stone Sky is the echo of a great book

Some reviews of N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky offer ebullient praise and predict an unprecedented
The Fifth Season is a great
novel. We're less convinced
that its sequel deserves
another Hugo Award.
(Image via Goodreads)
back-to-back Hugo win for Jemisin. While this is a fine book, it is much harder to say it is the most deserving science fiction or fantasy novel of 2017.

The first book in the series, The Fifth Season, was innovative and unique. It offered a refreshing take on science fiction and fantasy that unquestionably deserved the Hugo Award. But The Stone Sky does not stand on its own. It is good, but mostly because it is an echo of a truly great book. 

It might be more appropriate to honour N.K. Jemisin with a Best Series Hugo this year, rather than another Best Novel, because that would recognize how The Stone Sky works as part of a larger whole.

If there hadn’t been so much astonishingly good science fiction and fantasy published in 2017, we might have been rooting for N.K. Jemisin to complete her Hugo Award hat trick. But there are numerous novels at least as good.

The third book in the series picks up immediately on the conclusion of the second, and despite the brief recap those of us who hadn’t looked at The Obelisk Gate since last summer had difficulty picking up the narrative threads.

This volume is the story of a mother doing whatever it takes to save her daughter, willing to sacrifice herself and the entire planet if necessary. Over the course of the novel, we learn the origin of orogeny, roggas, stone eaters, and Guardians. Jemisin reveals the history and mystery of the world in a way entirely believable for the all-too-human motivations. This background and world building is what was most enjoyable about the book, but also what made it so dependent on the previous works.

That being said, Jemisin is in fine form as a wordsmith. This novel may be her most quotable, with
The quality of NK Jemisin's
prose is outstanding.
(Image via  
lines such as “For a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress,” and “If you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.”

As the final book in a trilogy, The Stone Sky ramps up the tension and the stakes, and serves as a fitting conclusion to the story. It’s a good book that satisfyingly concludes the story of Essun, Nassun, and an alternate Earth.

As a trilogy, The Broken Earth’s environmental metaphors, cautionary tales of hubris, and racial allegories are powerful. And while this book reveals the history of the broken Earth and nicely wraps up the various plot lines, it retreads and develops the ideas introduced in the first two books without presenting anything groundbreaking. The metaphors are made more obvious, but not more incisive.

It seems inevitable that Hugo voters will nominate The Stone Sky, but with so many other strong novels written in 2017 it will likely not make it to the top our ballot.

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