The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky is the third novel in N.K. Jeminsin’s Broken Earth trilogy and it’s absolutely superb. The entire trilogy is excellent and this final entry provides a truly spectacular conclusion. It does create a bit of a dilemma for me, though.

Because this novel pulls together everything that has happened in the previous two novels so brilliantly, it is pretty much impossible (for me, at least) to go into any detail about the novel without spattering spoilers all over the place. So this may be my vaguest post yet.

The trilogy as a whole is set in the far future on a massive continent known as The Stillness. The Stillness is wracked with regular, world shattering events known as Seasons. The only way humanity can survive these is to hunker down until it passes and then climb out and start, once again, to rebuild civilisation. Among the human population are orogenes, people who can manipulate the thermal and kinetic energy in order to prevent — or cause — seismic events. Orogenes are feared, hated and essential to the survival of humanity.

The series revolves around the orogenes and this makes for a very effective narrative about power — who holds it, who exploits it and who is exploited by it. And all of this flows very naturally from a vividly realised world which very effectively manages to provide the perspective of of the people on the receiving end of structural oppression.

The Broken Earth trilogy really is epic fantasy at its best. It pulls together some very thoughtful, and always relevant, themes with several very engaging characters and a (literally) world-shattering narrative. I can’t believe it took me so long to finish it.

Reading Highlights of 2019

I started 2019 with the intention of blogging about every book I read. This is an intention that eventually fell by the wayside because there are some books about which I really don’t have anything to say. These were the books that were neither great nor terrible, and about which all I can say is “that was okay”.

This post is not about those books.

I also read some really, really good books, and these are the books that this post is about.

Among these were two novels by Sarah Pinborough: The Shadow of the Soul and The Chosen Seed. These are the second and third parts of the Dog Faced Gods trilogy and, if you like dark urban fantasy, this series is well worth a read. The series is both dystopian and apocalyptic and keeps you hooked from beginning to end.

I also read a couple of (completely unrelated) novellas by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The Expert System’s Brother is a science-fiction story masquerading as a fantasy and, while short, packs a lot of detail into the page count in a way that manages to be both immersive and gripping. The second Novella was Made Things which was a short and very readable tale about trust, loyalty and friendship. The question of what it means to be a person is a theme that often appears in Tchaikovsky’s writing and is one that is very apparent in both of these stories.

2019 was also the year in which I discovered C.J. Cherryh by way of Foreigner, the first book in her eponymous series. Foreigner is a first contact novel wrapped in a thriller, the twist being that, this time, it’s humans that have landed on an alien planet and having to navigate a completely alien culture. I cannot believe that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Invader yet — I shall have to rectify this very soon.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor utterly blew me away. At less than 100 pages, this was a very quick read but there is so much packed into this novella that it really is worth going back and reading it again. The synopsis I saw for this made it sound like a fairly unexceptional space opera. What makes it stand out is that by drawing on her Nigerian roots, Nnedi Okorafor manages to look at questions of culture and cultural identity is a way that is (to me) utterly original.

Another novel that felt completely new to me was The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Again, by not relying on the usual white western stereotypes, Jemisin presents a densely detailed world that is like nothing I have read before. I have already read the second book in this (The Broken Earth) series, and will be picking up a copy of The Stone Sky just as soon as I have the time.

And finally there is The Jennifer Morgue by The Jennifer Morgue, the second book in the Laundry Files series. This is, subversively funny, often unnerving and absolutely spot-on about PowerPoint.

The Obelisk Gate

This second book in N.K. Jeminsin’s Broken Earth trilogy picks up from the end of The Fifth Season. While it does suffer a bit from ‘Middle Book Syndrome’ (the need to get from the end book one to the start of book three), this does not detract from what is a powerful and effective story.

The season of endings grows darker as civilisation fades into the long cold night.

Essun has found shelter, but not her missing daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request only Essun can grant.

As with the previous novel, there is a lot packed into the narrative and the author doesn’t expect to wait for you to catch up. As such, you need to pay attention while reading this. That attention is well rewarded, though, with some superb worldbuilding being both expands and deepens the reader’s understanding of the environment in which this novel takes place.

We also spend a lot more time with the additional characters, those that were mentioned or briefly encountered in the earlier book, and most of whom will clearly become a great deal more important in the next novel.

While this novel is not quite as outstanding as the first novel — and for narrative reasons it probably can’t be — it is an excellent story in its own right and one that sets things up for a superb, and possibly world shattering, trilogy.

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season caused quite a stir when it was published, culminating with a Hugo award for best novel in 2016. Having finally gotten around to reading it, I can see why.

This is superb. It’s also quite difficult to talk about because the intricacies of the plot make it far too easy to accidentally give away plot spoilers, which is probably why the GoodReads synopsis is so vague:

This is the way the world ends…for the last time.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

.

This felt like a very dense story to me. There is so much going on here, and it’s intricately constructed in such a way that you can never quite see what is coming next, until it happens at which point it feels inevitable. That said, I did have a genuine “Oh” moment when the various plot strands started coming together allowing the full picture to emerge.

The world building also deserves a mention for showing the sort of attention to detail that made Frank Herbert’s Dune so memorable for me. Everything fits and it’s all shown to us naturally as the characters progress through the world of the Stillness. There are no info-dumps here, and the strength of Jemisin’s writing is such that none are needed.

With The Fifth Season, N.K. Jeminsin has pulled together several familiar fantasy tropes (far future, dying Earth), added her own original vision and twisted it all together into something utterly unique.

Now I must rush out and get The Obelisk Gate.