I’ve been waiting months for this book to release, and although I hate to admit it, I wasn’t one of those good people who re-reads through an entire series before reading the following (or in this case the final) book. It’s not as tragic as you may think because most the memory of the characters comes back fairly quickly, and N.K. Jemisin always slips little reminders as to how the main character feels about everyone and what they remember from the previous ‘adventures’. But still, I made a huge faux pas. And, I’m going to have to read through the entire series again and then re-read this book because there are tons of little pieces to relish, which you can only truly understand if your knowledge of the series is thorough.
Still, here’s a few things I enjoyed about this book:
1. Multiple Perspectives
Jemisin loves experiencing other characters’ perspectives, and just as she did in her previous books, she does the same thing here—amazing as always. This time, it’s only* three people of choice: Essun (previously Syenite and then more previously Damaya), Nassun (Essun’s daughter), and Hoa (previously Houwha, pre-stone-eater era). I use the asterisks because she does dip into other POVs throughout other chapters. Watch out for the triple stars within a chapter. This signifies a POV shift. I enjoyed Essun’s chapters because I love to watch her character develop through the struggle of what she emotionally wanted and what she logically wanted. I enjoyed Nassun’s chapters as she struggled, again, to follow what she logically wanted and what she emotionally wanted. And, Hoa’s chapters duplicate these same struggles, except piecing together more information of how this Seasoned world came to be, which I find direly interesting because I need to know how this horrible Earth resulted. So while all three are different characters with different experiences, they all follow the same basic trials and struggles with the end result that they are a tool, and should they follow what’s expected of them, or should they follow their heart?
2. Footnotes within History
At the end of most every Nassun and Essun chapter are the three stars signifying a POV shift, and I enjoyed these a lot because they mostly followed the same basic pattern: disaster strikes, orogene (or the derogatory rogga) saves the day, and mob kills rogga in typical hate-crime fashion. But let me just point this out—I don’t like the people getting killed or the mobs hating on someone. I just like the fact that the theme of racism (or discrimination) is addressed. Because to be fair, even if this is a common theme, we still see it again and again, probably because humanity never learns.
We saw it with African-Americans pre-during-post Civil War.
We saw it with Jews in the Holocaust.
We see it with mutants in X-men.
And we see it now with something as silly as majors. I remember taking an internship with Caterpillar—industrial and waste marketing job—and I was invited to a general welcoming party with all the other interns for Caterpillar in Illinois. And what was I told? ‘Oh, you’re a marketing intern,’ the engineering interns said with a sneer. Their perspective changed when I told them I was an engineer but wanted something else besides that for a job, but this perspective still exists on campus. Why does it matter what you major in? What does it matter what you specialize in or what your skills are? We can’t all be good at everything. But still this discrimination or sneering at differences exists, which is why I think this is a good point to drive home. And these little snippets of how people retaliate against the roggas, even as they’re saviors, helps show that discrimination can be stupid.
3. Second Perspective
Very few authors use second perspective for their characters, so the only author that comes to mind who uses this is Jeff Vandermeer, and even he used it rarely. Only Jemisin is brave (or daring) enough to use the second person perspective for a third of the book, for Essun’s perspective. But between Essun’s second perspective and Hoa’s first perspective, it makes you think a little bitter deeper on who’s the true teller of the story.
Just as Alabaster lost his humanity to using his magic/orogene to create the Rift, we find out that when Essun dares to use sapphire Obelisk, she also aligns all the particles in her body, causing her to turn to stone every time she uses magic/orogene at that point in time and after. SPOILER. The twist is that while you turn to stone, you don’t necessarily die. When Alabaster turned completely to stone, the trick is that while you lose that sense of yourself, you’re also reborn as a stone-eater, where if your partner stone-eater cares for you, they can help transition your past memories to you. Here, Antimony tried and somewhat succeeded for Alabaster, although we see in the books that he struggles a bit with his mind and memories. But with Hoa, because he loves Essun, he tries his very best to help her be reborn with all of her past memories. All of these memories that we are reading now because the twist is, this book is actually of Hoa telling the story of Essun to herself, once she has been reborn as a stone-eater. I loved this reveal at the end. Nothing more than realizing what is the true perspective you’re reading.
4. Earth is alive
This is one of my favorite parts of the book and while this isn’t about writing style, I do think this is an interesting idea. On our Earth, we are ruining the planet in so many ways. We’re acidifying our oceans; we’re globally raising the temperatures; we’re creating the sixth mass extinction—if you haven’t heard of this yet, check out my previous blog post here, and similarly SPOILER ALERT, the people on this alternate Earth were found to be ruining their Earth by using a special six roggas to help capture the Earth’s life source as an eternal power source. So when they attempt to do this, they anger the Earth, which decides to fight back, creating guardians and stone-eaters. And it’s so cool to finally see the Earth take a stance to fight back, which it does throughout the whole novel. You can listen to it fight for control. Fight to live. And, maybe this is a surreal element, but I loved having a normal object turn into a personified character to have its own struggles.
This isn’t to say I loved this book. There were definitely a few quirks that left me feeling…not the greatest. For instance, Essun’s pregnancy? She was so willing to give up a possible child. Or the fact that Nassun gave up her dreams for Schaffa, who followed her to the other side of the world and gave up his sanity, instead for Essun, who had given her nothing but bad memories. It seems somewhat out-of-character. But, it could’ve been the strength of that singular moment. Overall, I still really enjoyed this book. This series has been one of my favorites.
Jemisin, N.K. The Stone Sky. New York, NY: Orbit, 2017. Print.