The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the final book in the Broken Earth trilogy. The first two books in the series, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, both won Hugo Awards for Best Novel. I will say right now that I wouldn't be at all surprised if this book replicates that feat. That would be unprecedented, but this book, and indeed the entire series, is just that good.
We pick up the dual storylines of Essun and Nassun, her daughter, heading for a showdown that will determine the fate of the world. Along the way, the secrets of the Stillness are revealed, and we see how its past, and the hubris and arrogance of a civilization forty thousand years dead, set both these women on their collision course. One of the labels I use for these books is "science fantasy," and that's never more evident than in this final book. Hard science, in the form of genetic engineering and quantum mechanics, and fantasy, in the form of "magic," coexist--but it's a magic (or more precisely, the energy generated by all life) that can be scientifically manipulated, measured, tapped and controlled. This is the secret of the vanished civilization that ripped apart the ancient world and started the Seasons, and this heritage runs through the entire history of the Broken Earth.
The series' overarching themes of discrimination and oppression come to the fore here, as the people who were created to wield the Plutonic Engine (a planetwide network, plugged into and powered by the Earth's core, which was supposed to provide a universal utopia), realize the system they are upholding will never let them be seen as fully human, or as anything other than tools and property, and they are determined to destroy it. This echoes down to the present day, as Essun's daughter Nassun reaches the same conclusion, and sets out to destroy the Stillness and the systems that have led to such widespread suffering. Essun, on the other hand, has come out the other side of her bitterness and pain, and wants to make a better world--but to do so she has to stop her daughter. This titanic conflict comes to a head in a terrific final confrontation, which does not end at all the way I thought it might--but the end was immensely satisfying.
Along the way, a sly little thread running through all three books is revealed: just who is narrating this story, and why? Much has been made of Essun's chapters being written in second person, and as we find out, there's an important and powerful reason for this. Essun undergoes a lovely character arc through this, the final book. At the end, she has friends who are willing to risk their lives to come with her, and she will sacrifice her life to save the world--but she will not sacrifice her daughter.
This is a fantastic ending to a fantastic series. It's the best book I've read all year, and I can't imagine another one being better.
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