I just don’t get it.
This isn’t a terrible book. But it’s not a very good one either, and I am utterly mystified by all the acclaim it’s been getting. Never mind my hostility to the introduction of magic into what was a solidly sci-fi series till partway through book two. Never mind my brain’s readiness to map the horrors of the book’s oppressive systems to real-world issues, only to fail because they’re really not the same. Even as a fantasy novel, even divorced from an American racism it references only haphazardly, it just doesn’t work.
A large part of this is due to the lack of narrative tension in the big showdown. Nassun’s motivations have always seemed a little half-baked: she wants the world to burn, except for Schaffa, which is fine given that she’s a love-starved pre-teen whose parents have been absolute shit, and who has finally found someone who will actually care for her the way a parent should. I was less convinced by Essun claiming that she and Jija loved Nassun unconditionally but failed to parent her, whereas Schaffa’s conditional love was more to Nassun’s liking. Fearing for someone’s survival isn’t the same as loving them, Essun, and Jija proved pretty consistently that his love was conditional on Nassun not being an orogene. Honestly, the only time Essun was anywhere near a good parent was at the end, when she realized that she couldn’t kill her daughter but that should be kind of a duh? Or not given her history. Essun is awful and abusive and I don’t care what happened to make her that way, she sucks and I hated that we had to root for her as the heroine of this novel. Don’t get me started on how weird it was that Nassun cadged onto Essun’s abuser, almost like a fucked up real-life grandparent dynamic. It’s not unrealistic but it’s weird that Essun doesn’t really think much about it beyond acknowledging the irony.
And then that ending. I mean, the stakes were so incredibly low! Anyone with half a brain could see what would happen to Essun given that Hoa had pretty much told her already what he was going to do to her. And Nassun would basically either catch the moon or turn everyone into Stone Eaters like, neither of these is a bad ending! I literally could not believe that I sat through that ridiculous, convoluted magic system with characters I actively disliked only for there to be zero tension at the end. I’m supposed to care or think it’s some kind of revelation that Essun finally turned into a decent mom? Fuck that bitch. I’d 100% read books about Ykka and Tonkee tho: those characters ruled.
Doug is also reading The Stone Sky rn, so you can look forward to his review soon. For me, the first book in the series was good, the second was meh and the third was just a continuation of mehness. Sorry, friends who liked it more, this just wasn’t for me.