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Literature / The Stone Sky

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The Stone Sky is a 2017 fantasy novel written by N. K. Jemisin. It is the conclusion of The Broken Earth Trilogy, following The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate.

After defeating the invading army of Rennanis, Essun finds herself torn between helping the refugees of Castrima find a new home and completing her mission of using the Obelisk Gate to catch the Moon and end the Seasons forever.

Meanwhile, Essun's daughter Nassun has also discovered how to use the Obelisk Gate, but she has come to the conclusion that the only way to ensure that orogenes will never be oppressed again is to ensure the end of the world.


This novel provides examples of:

  • After the End: This book opens two years into the final Fifth Season. Two years without the sun has made the Stillness so cold that only the equatorial regions—those closest to the heat of the Rifting—are above freezing, and even then only just.
  • And I Must Scream: Schaffa and his corestone, which causes him constant pain in an effort to get him to comply with the Earth's will. Also strongly implied that this is what happened to the Thniess and tuners in “the briar patch”.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Subverted. Many chapters begin with an excerpt from the logs of Yater Innovator Debars, detailing how a rogga has averted an apocalypse, usually at the cost of their own life.
  • Artificial Humans: The original stone eaters are revealed to have been created by Syl Anagist to help create a new power source.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Essun dies, but she lives on in the stone eater Hoa creates from her and continues to want to make the world better. The Seasons are stopped forever and the Fulcrum and Guardians are gone, but there's no guarantee that the next empire or civilisation won't be built on yet more systemic oppression. Nassun lives, but she loses a hand and most of her orogeny, and with Schaffa and Essun's deaths she is left without any parents; it's uncertain what will happen to her, Essun's friends and Ykka's comm.
  • Body Horror: Essun forgets what the Obelisk Gate has done to her orogeny and invokes it. This gives her the choice of which body part to turn to stone.
  • Broken Ace: Essun, who is now a ten-ringer, but can’t use orogeny without turning to stone, and has endured many of the same hardships that broke Alabaster.
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  • Brother–Sister Incest: Kelenli and Galat believed they were siblings until Kelenli was fifteen, and Galat is incredibly protective and possessive of her, often acting more like a jilted boyfriend than a slighted sibling; it's possible that he's the father of her unborn child.
  • Cast from Hit Points: As with Alabaster in The Obelisk Gate, Essun's oregeny will now turn her partially to stone every time she uses it.
  • Cast Full of Crazy: The world has been ending for over a year now. Who doesn’t show symptoms of PTSD?
  • Colony Drop: Nassun plans to end all the suffering in the world by, well, ending the world. However, she ultimately catches the moon, rather than smashing the planet with it, because she finally realized her mother loved her and chose to do what Essun would have wanted. This was also "burndown", the ultimate cause of the Shattering—half the obelisks hit the planet.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Syl Anagist is a marvel of Organic Technology where the entire city is alive, magic is a freely available utility, and life is "sacred" — and is populated by genocidal bigots who think nothing of draining the Life Energy of millions of eternally trapped, undying victims to prime the pump for a Magitek project.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Hoa was an Artificial Human created to be a slave.
  • Death by Depower: The Guardians are all made The Ageless by the implanted shard of the Evil Earth that grants them their Mage Killer powers, and age to death in months if it's removed. The Evil Earth itself does this to Schaffa, trying to force Nassun to abandon her plans in order to save him; its gambit fails and Schaffa spends a few weeks with Nassun before dying peacefully.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Lerna is killed off suddenly by Steel and his allies when Hoa brings Essun and her allies to Corepoint. Essun has a brief Heroic BSoD over how pointless and sudden his death was.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Nassun loses Schaffa, one hand, and her ability to perform orogeny. Essun dies. But there will be no more Seasons, and the stone eater that Hoa creates from the remains of Essun appears to have her memories and the desire to make the world better.
  • Emergency Transformation: Invoked at the climax when the Earth pulls out Schaffa's corestone, kick-starting deadly Rapid Aging, to provoke Nassun to use the Obelisk Gate to transform him into a Stone Eater rather than destroy the planet. Trouble is, the Gate isn't at all precise, so she'd have to transform every human into a Stone Eater...
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The final chapter reveals that the reason that the trilogy is written in the second person is because Hoa is narrating the events of the trilogy to the stone eater he made from Essun, in the hopes that it will help that stone eater to become Essun. Judging by her reaction once she wakes up, he appears to have succeeded.
  • Fantastic Racism: In the stone eaters’ backstory, we get Sylanagists committing genocide against the Thniess for the simple reason that they couldn't understand their magic and the Thniess wouldn't subscribe to the idea of magic as a commodity, which was fundamental Sylanagistine society. Even Gallat is looked down upon, because his ice-white eyes make it pretty obvious that there's at least some Thniess in his recent ancestry. It's also mentioned that the Thniess aren't the only group of people that Syl Anagist exploited and exterminated, they're just the latest.
    • More time among Sylanagist reveals that they're just pretty racist about everything, down to one of the conductors having "undesireable ancestry."
  • Freudian Excuse: The people of Syl Anagist planned to enslave the Earth by draining all his magic for power, and ultimately stole his only child. Hence the Seasons; the Earth didn't start the war, but it's doing its best to end it.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Sanzed mythology teaches that the Evil Earth utterly despises humans. Turns out that the Earth itself is a Genius Loci who was tapped for its magic by the people of Syl Anagist and lashed out to prevent itself from being forcibly reforged into a Magitek engine, but doesn't understand the difference between its original enemies and later factions of humanity.
  • Generation Xerox: Essun realizes that due to a combination of how she raised her daughter, and all that's happened during the Season, Nassun basically is her now. But stronger and better, to the point that she can hack the Obelisk Gate.
  • Genius Loci: Finally confirmed. Father Earth is alive. And he’s pissed.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Hoa sought to destroy Syl Anagist to end the oppression of his people and the Niess. Unfortunately, Father Earth had the same idea and hijacked Hoa's plan, bringing about the fall of all human civilization and the beginning of the Seasons.
  • Good All Along: Hoa/Houwha acts sinister at many points in the trilogy, but he ultimately turns out to be working to ensure the survival of humanity.
  • Handicapped Badass: As with Alabaster before her, Essun is a ten-ringer whose orogeny will turn her partially to stone when used. She finds herself in more than one situation where she knows what to do, but is unwilling to pay the cost of doing it.
  • Hand on Womb: When Houwha is spying on Kelenli and Galat arguing, Kelenli protectively covering her stomach when Galat grabs her is what clues Houwha in that she's pregnant.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Originally, the tuners believed they were the pinnacles of science and should be proud of their position, even if sometimes some of them were sent to the briar patch. Until Kelenli, a fellow Artificial Human, helped them realize they were slaves.
  • History Repeats: Hoa, having realized that the empire of Syl Anagist needs the systemic oppression of his people to survive, brings about the end of human civilization. 40,000 years later, Alabaster, having realized that Sanze Empire requires the systemic oppression of his people to survive, brings about the end of human civilization. And, as Nassun and Hoa discuss in the ending, it's entirely possible that this cycle will repeat itself anew, now that the Fulcrum has been utterly destroyed and there's nothing to stop orogenes from taking over.
  • Human Resources: Syl Anagist turns out to be fueled by the Thniess, an oppressed people that Syl Anagist turned into a power source and keep unconscious but in unbearable agony in the 'Briar Patch'.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: At one point while crossing a wasteland, Ykka's group runs low on supplies. “You don’t think about the meat.”
  • Info Dump: The Syl Anagist chapters go into great detail on how the Stone Eaters were created and the mechanics of how they operate.
  • Just Before the End: Hoa's flashbacks show Sylanagist just prior to, and arguably during, the fall of their situation and the start of the Fifth Seasons.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: It’s the end of the world and Essun is both forty-four and near starving. She still gets pregnant.
    • Potentially a Justified Trope in-universe: the Seasons have implicitly selected for people who can have children even under conditions of extreme stress, and the Sanze Empire made such selection explicit policy (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes by forcing specific people to have children). Out-of-universe, Jemisin has stated she had Essun learn she is pregnant immediately before she dies because "Pregnancy doesn't always come at a good time. People can't always rearrange their lives to make it work." .
  • May–December Romance: Essun and Lerna. She's fifteen years older than he is.
  • The Night That Never Ends: The story opens on the road from the ruins of Tirimo, two years into the Season. Everything is gray from being coated with ash, and the only reason the temperature is above freezing is because the characters are so close to the Rifting.
  • No Immortal Inertia: Guardians are immortal with their corestones, not so much without them. Schaffa dies scant weeks after his corestone is removed.
  • N-Word Privileges: Explicitly discussed. Both Essun and Ykka refer to themselves as roggas, but Essun eventually tells off Danel, a prisoner who later becomes a member of Castrima, for using the term, saying she doesn't have the right. The fact Danel doesn't argue is one of the signs she's no longer an enemy.
  • Oh, My Gods!: In addition to people in the Stillness swearing by “Evil Earth”, we get Sylanagists swearing by “Evil Death”.
  • Older Than They Look: In The Obelisk Gate, we found out that the Guardians are hundreds of years old, but in this book, we find out that Schaffa is several thousands of years old, and is quite likely among the first Guardians ever created.
  • Parental Substitute: Schaffa for Nassun, even more explicitly than in the previous book. Unlike with her mother, he's actually good at it this time.
  • Planetary Core Manipulation: Advanced Ancient Humans built the Obelisk Gate system to control and tap the planet's core for unlimited magical power, unaware that the core is a Genius Loci who objected with apocalyptic force.
  • Polyamory: Ykka and her rotating pool of lovers.
  • Posthumous Character: Alabaster. Sort of. (He’s a stone eater now.)
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Sylanagist powered their greatest creation via enslaving an ethnic minority and using them as a power source.
  • The Power of Love: Steel says the reason Schaffa is so old but still sane is that he truly loved all his charges, even though he's treated all but one very badly. Also counts as Love Redeems, as for Nassun he finally becomes a good parental figure, if not a good person in general.
  • Raised in a Lab: The Tuners are Artificial Human Child Mages trained from birth to operate the Obelisk Gate Amplifier Artifact. On their one trip outside the lab, they realize that they're kept sequestered because the Sylanagistine people loathe them and that they'll be destroyed for Human Resources as soon as they've served their purpose.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The Guardians and the stone eaters. The average Guardian can last for three to four thousand years before the fragment of Evil Earth wears them down and corrupts them, and Schaffa is much older than that. The original stone eaters such as Hoa/Houwha, Antimony/Gaewha and Steel/Raewha are forty thousand years old.
  • The Reveal: The stone eaters’ backstory. They were tuners, artificially created from the Thniess, a persecuted people, in order to tap into the wellspring of the Earth's magical power and harness it for the use of Syl Anagist. Once they learned the truth about themselves they attempted to sabotage the project, but the Earth usurped it, setting the stage for the Seasons and transforming the tuners into their present forms as punishment.
  • Sadistic Choice: Essun draws on her oregeny without thinking about it, forgetting what the Obelisk Gate has done to her. She realizes it's going to turn part of her to stone, but is quick enough that she gets to decide exactly which piece of her body she'll permanently lose use of. She chooses a breast as the least useful remaining piece of her anatomy, picking the left to balance the missing weight of her right arm.
  • Science Fantasy: There's orogeny and magic! Using both together is called "tuning". Nassun can do it.
  • Shout-Out: An incredibly dark one. The place where the tuners that made waves and the Thniess are used as living batteries is called "the briar patch".
  • Single Tear: When Essun dies, it's with a single tear, now turned to diamond, glistening on her stone cheek.
  • Smile of Approval: When The Archmage Essun and her estranged daughter Nassun fight over control of an apocalyptic Amplifier Artifact, Essun realizes she's outmatched, and when Phlebotinum Overload petrifies her, she dies smiling with pride at how amazing her daughter has become — the first time in their lives that she'd smiled at her. It convinces Nassun to use the artifact to save the world.
  • Solar Punk: The aesthetic of Syl Anagist is described as this, with plenty of organic components, plants growing absolutely everywhere and 'vehimals', genetic engineering that creates a mesh between animal and vehicle. But it falls very far short of the genre's defining aspects, since it's built on the oppression and exploitation of the Thniess and other minorities, with the eventual aim of exploiting the Earth itself.
  • Title Drop: Averted for the first time in the series.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Part of Kelenli's backstory. She was raised alongside Galat as his sister and treated as human until the age of fifteen, at which pointed she discovered she was the product of genetic engineering (or biomagestry).
  • Trauma Conga Line: Standard for this trilogy, especially for Essun and Nassun.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Lampshaded by Hoa when he is giving the stone eaters' backstory, saying that his memory works a lot like a human’s, meaning that it is imperfect. For example, he describes Kelenli and Galat with terms that correspond to Essun and Schaffa, respectively — but he quickly clarifies that this resemblance is just artistic licence; it's hard for him to remember what Kelenli and Galat actually looked like, and what he can recall is influenced by the fact that he likes Kelenli/Essun and doesn't like Galat/Schaffa.
  • The Unreveal: What happened to Maxixe’s legs and face.
  • Was Once a Man: Some of the stone eaters (including Alabaster and Essun), although the original sixteen were essentially created in a lab.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Steel, to a degree. He does want to end the suffering of both the stone eaters and the orogenes.
    • All of the stone eaters in their backstory. They wanted to destroy the civilization that was enslaving them and oppressing the Thniess.
  • Wham Line: Nassun's "Hi, mama."
    • "It's Maxixe."
    • "It is the briar patch."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Tonkee’s hormone replacement therapy. Mentioned in The Fifth Season and ignored in both The Obelisk Gate and this book. Presumably she couldn’t get any more due to the whole apocalypse thing, but unlike in The Fifth Season, there’s no mention of Tonkee’s facial hair growing back.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Steel wants to destroy the world because he is tired of life after living 40,000 years. He also invokes this when telling Nassun she should let a comatose Schaffa die.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Essun and Lerna, lampshaded by Ykka (and, in the previous book, Alabaster). They do.