The Stone Sky
August 31, 2017 7:49 AM - by N. K. Jemisin - Subscribe

The shattering conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with The Fifth Season, winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016, and The Obelisk Gate, winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2017.
posted by dinty_moore (16 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I was a little disappointed in this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:01 AM on August 31, 2017

I just started it, and have to admit it starts pretty slowly.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:04 AM on August 31, 2017

Overall, I liked it as much as the Fifth Season, if not moreso. I hadn't done a reread of the Obelisk Gate or the Fifth Season since last year, so I had a little bit of trouble remembering where everyone was at first, but that faded quickly.

I'd also forgotten that Nassun was only ten. Jeez. The first couple of Nassun chapters were my stopping points, though I got more invested after a while.

Jemisin really likes having perpetual boy-childs that are thousands of years old have an uncomfortable relationship with a mother figure.

The backstory reveal wasn't too earth shattering, but I still liked that it was explicitly made clear.

After the maps discussion, I was more irritated at the map in this book, since it's left over from the Fifth Season and doesn't really tell us where anything that's mentioned in this book is.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:06 AM on August 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

I thought this was fabulous. Going into it, I had no idea how things would actually wrap up (well, a vague idea that the Earth-Moon System would be restored, but no idea of the details). Coming out of it, I had a very, very strong feeling that it couldn't possibly have ended any other way.

Minor touch that I really loved: The way that the Syl Anagist chapter numbers served as a countdown.

Other thing I loved: The way that, in The Obelisk Gate, Alabaster gets into this scifi-sounding description of something that sounds like nanomachines but then he swerves and tells Essun that it's called "magic". And then, in this book, we see that the Syl Anagistines have built this crazy scifi world out of this "magic", despite not being able to interact with it directly.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:58 AM on August 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

* Agree on the map
* I reread Obelisk Gate then immediately started reading this and it was a bit too much. I had to take a break for a while.
* I enjoyed learning more about Hoa. It's impressive that he retained so much humanity for so long.
* Can we get a spin off just about lorists? Please??? I'm upset that Danel didn't do much in the end because I was totally into her idea of recording history while it's being made.
* Like in GoT, it's hard for me to keep in mind that Nassun is so young. I want to age her up.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:58 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

My two minor disappointments were that:

a) The map did not change to show the Rifting.
b) The glossary and list of Seasons in The Stone Sky did not get updated and messed with like in the backmatter at the end of The Kingdom of the Gods.

But, as I understand it, Jemisin came extremely close to missing her deadlines on The Stone Sky as it was, so that's probably why neither of those things happened.

Can we get a spin off just about lorists? Please??? I'm upset that Danel didn't do much in the end because I was totally into her idea of recording history while it's being made.

Yes, totally! Narratively, I'm glad the finale was so much about just Essun and Nassun and their reunion. And I don't think there is any kind of epilogue that could have been added on other than the one the book actually had with Hoa and StoneEater!Essun. But I'd love to read more.

Maybe Jemisin will revisit some of these characters in (another) short story later on, but her new project based on "The City Born Great" sounds incredible, so I guess I can wait until after that.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:27 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really want to see a Studio Ghibli rendering of Syl Anagist, particularly the vehimals.
posted by esker at 12:29 PM on August 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

That paragraph near the end of the first chapter is really really good:

Say nothing to me of innocent bystanders, unearned suffering, heartless vengeance. When a comm builds atop a fault line, do you blame its walls when they inevitably crush the people inside? No; you blame whoever was stupid enough to think they could defy the laws of nature forever. Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.

At first, when I got to the reveal of the true nature of the Briar Patch, I thought "Come on! No one would allow such a cartoonishly evil system to be built." And then, almost immediately, I thought about the factories where iPhones are built and the working conditions of illegal immigrants, and decided that if our society will accept cartoonishly evil systems, why wouldn't theirs?

And, of course, it makes me wonder when the shake is coming.
posted by JDHarper at 6:13 PM on August 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

I haven't read much of the commentary around this series, so has Jemisin already answered if this is "future Earth" or "alternate universe Earth"?

It's clearly Earth, you have one moon and horses and so on. Actually the horses threw me off, I was like, would they really have survived? Or goats? Giant sometimes-carnivorous weasel-things, ok.

Generally with her books, though, I've found that I get sucked in by the characters enough that the holes in the worldbuilding only nag at me a little.
posted by emjaybee at 11:37 AM on September 1, 2017

I haven't read much of the commentary around this series, so has Jemisin already answered if this is "future Earth" or "alternate universe Earth"?

I don't think she has, quite. Like with the whole "magic" thing I mentioned above, I personally really enjoy the ambiguity of it. Her description of Yumenes sounds like a modern city... but it isn't. Her description, in this book, of Syl Anagist at first sounds like a modern megalopolis of densely-interconnected cities, like the LA-San Diego corridor (and the shadow of a rhyme there is surely intentional)... but it isn't.

Personally, I like to take the stuff about magic and the Evil Earth at face value, so in my mind this is an alternate universe kind of situation where the planet itself is literally alive and magic literally exists. I think the artifact Houwha describes in Syl Anagist that violates the conservation of energy is a strong hint in this direction. But, then, we only have Houwha's subjective experience to rely on as "proof", so maybe that's just an artifact of the way his mind synthesised the inputs he was receiving from his sessapinae...
posted by tobascodagama at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

As for how horses would have survived:

a) they're useful, so they would have been husbanded by the survivors after all of the Obelisk-powered technology failed
b) maybe they're not horses as we know them but the descendants of some genegineered species that derived from horses and are similar enough that everybody still calls them that
posted by tobascodagama at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2017

She has explicitly confirmed that it is not a future of our Earth. I suppose you could argue that many fantasies are alternate-Earths, though.
posted by inconstant at 11:09 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really want to see a Studio Ghibli rendering of Syl Anagist, particularly the vehimals.

The whole trilogy is very Anime. I was constantly imagining Orogeny and magic in terms of how an Anime would depict them. The imagery of giant floating jewels and statuelike creatures that are motionless until they're extremely NOT motionless fit really well. There's no high schools, but maybe the Fulcrum can be adjusted a little. I would turn my arm to stone to make this Anime a reality.

One thing thats stuck with me since the beginning is how imperfect everyone is. There's practically no one in this story who doesn't have character flaws, and the book does s great job justifying how an 11 year old girl decides to destroy the world without making her a cliché sociopath. When Essun finally reunited with Nassun and all she could do was cycle through the same behaviors that failed her before it was heartbreakingly realistic. I haven't read many other books that do a good job making nuanced, imperfect characters that you can still care about.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:39 PM on October 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just finished this this evening, reading through it over the course of the week after plowing through The Obelisk Gate last weekend. I really liked it! I was completely sucked in by The Fifth Season a couple weeks ago and really loved it, and was honestly kind of worried I was setting myself up for burnout chasing down the whole trilogy like this, but it turned out to be just right for where I was.

Really enjoyed the blossoming and filling-in (and filling-back) of the narrative and world/character history over the course of the second and third book; the development of Nassun's character, of Schaffa as this impossible-to-trust, impossible-to-forgive, and yet figure, of Hoa and the other stone eaters, all really worked well for me.

Essun dying got me. Schaffa dying, even off the page and only in mention, got me. The moment of final understanding passing from mother to daughter, of Essun finally redeemed in the eyes of Nassun and achieving in that final dying effort a communication of the value of fighting for things beyond just cessation of pain, was a satisfying resolution of what managed to feel like an unfixable, unworkable brinksmanship begging for some frustrating handwave or deus ex machina. Jemisin pulled it off in a way that a lot of otherwise good authors might not have and on the strength of the rest of the story could have gotten away with not really pulling off.

It'd be hard for the later books to match the clean satisfying snap of the first book's three-into-one character construction, but I was really happy with the way, even if less crisply and maybe more easily anticipated, the sometimes-second-person narrative sections ended up resolving into the idea of Hoa pouring all this history and identity and love into his rebuilding of Damaya/Syenite/Essun/Whoever-You-Choose-To-Be-Now in their new kind of life.

Personally, I like to take the stuff about magic and the Evil Earth at face value, so in my mind this is an alternate universe kind of situation where the planet itself is literally alive and magic literally exists.

I'm even willing to make a willfully-agnostic reach to say it doesn't have to be an alternate universe, just a universe in which no one now alive has the reason or the ability to (a) notice or detect "magic" or (b) sufficiently piss off Father Earth enough for Him to press the point. The undetectable and inert would be undetectable and inert, after all. But basically I agree with the idea of embracing it more as a story about Some Kind Of Earth rather than needing to be read as some literal far-future speculative fiction of our world per se.

And I too found myself wishing for updated maps and glossaries, though I can understand that being a far lower priority than getting the story written. You know what I'd love? Something like The Dune Encyclopedia, a hodge-podge many-hands exploration, with author blessing, of a whole bunch of the little world tidbits sketched or implied or hinted in the books. Lorist accounts, maps and models of continental shifts, tablet diffs and academic/theological/political arguments about those differences, comm diagrams and manifests, sketches of cities, a fuller excerpt of Yaetr Innovator Dibars' quelled-Seasons research notes, and on and so forth.

The backstory reveal wasn't too earth shattering

posted by cortex at 10:25 PM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was really impressed with the writing of the climax. It was so economical. Too many books feel like they have to pull off an extended cinematic setpiece and describe what things are exploding where, and the monster-coming-back-to-life for yet another fight, and this was so not that. So much of the joy was bringing all the pieces into place (the scene of Essun's friends gathering to go with her brought me to tears). The confrontation between Nassun and Essun was quick, glancing, realistically awkward, and finally heartbreaking. And then it wrapped up vary quickly.

I was a little thrown by the fact that the earlier book made a big deal of the Obelisks turning into swords. They got used against a father and a ballot box and then entirely dropped. The series as a whole did a clever shift from mostly feeling like fantasy in the first book to mostly feeling like science fiction in the last, and proving that there's no real line between them.

No white author could have written this series, and I am so grateful that we are hearing more Black voices, more queer voices, and other diverse points of view in genre fiction. The world of these books so reflects the ugliness of our own world, and yet there is just enough room for hope. Remaking a world must needs involve a lot of damage. We will all suffer losses and doubts, but these books have girded my hope in a really awful time.
posted by rikschell at 12:06 PM on September 19, 2020

Just finished re-reading the series, having only previously read them as they came out.

I'd been getting ready to gift the series to someone, but wanted to check on some things kind-of remembered before I did. The child endangerment, the abusive husband/father figures (in both Jija and Schaffa), plus general post-apoc realities -- this isn't a series I can recommend off the cuff, which isn't something I've seen as much about. Anyone who's experienced child-related trauma first- or second-hand could definitely have a problem with large parts of the story.

I do feel that it narratively pays off in the end, though. None of it feels gratuitous, nothing's there for shock value, and there are SO MANY places you can see another author would've inserted those things.

I remember recognizing the manga/anime-style imagery the first time through. It'd be really interesting to read some kind of analysis of the series from that angle, knowing that Jemisin is pretty well versed in not only that world, but also a lot of video games (she (used to??) streams pretty regularly on Twitch, Mass Effect and Dishonored and Skyrim and others).

Other content stuff I picked up on: no one drinks alcohol (only off-scene, Ykka getting into her stash after the Castrima exodus), but we do get a joint passed back and forth (in Obelisk Gate). Not generally a lot of food-imagery, and I'm not sure there were any communal mealtime scenes (cafeteria scene in Fifth Season, I guess, and the meal in the Allia inn as well, but no long dwelling on eating). The point above about child manboy-gods, in this and Inheritance, is interesting; I haven't read City We Became yet, but did real the short story it was based on, and this seems like it might be something she's exploring in general. Triumvirates and power structures in general, both intimate (polyamory) and otherwise.

I remembered the series as kind of generally "good" the first time through, but the second time am noticing so much more that's invoking both old and new literary themes and styles, and really want to read some critical analyses of this and her work to come.
posted by curious nu at 6:15 PM on December 21, 2020

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