Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 2

In the second chapter of The Fifth Season, HEY WHAT THE FUCK. WHAT THE FUCK. If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.

Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of slavery, homophobia.


I’m so thrilled that we have now jumped to third person, and I have a bunch of questions about that. Because like… shit. When is this happening? Is this happening at the same time as the events with Essun? Is the third person a little hint that maybe this is in another timeline? I don’t know! And I don’t know that I need to know that yet, especially since this chapter provides SO much information that I needed.

Once again, Jemisin finds a brilliant means of getting exposition to the reader. here, it comes from Schaffa Guardian Warrant, the Guardian who is initially mistaken as a child-buyer by Damaya Strongback. (And now I get what a Strongback is!) Before I jump into Schaffa’s role (I DO NOT TRUST HIM AT ALL), let’s talk about that mistaken identity. I suppose it’s possible that Schaffa is also a child-buyer, but I feel like the text makes it clear by the end that Damaya’s parents didn’t actually sell her off. In that, though, is a terrifying reveal about this world: PARENTS CAN LEGALLY SELL OFF THEIR CHILDREN. There are, of course, echoes of chattel slavery here as well, and that’s where I thought this was going. Damaya’s parents realized she was an orogene, and they despised her (and were afraid of her) so much that they were going to sell her off so as not to have to deal with her.

What actually happens is no less heartbreaking, even if it is complicated. Tied up in this is my deep distrust of Schaffa. While he offers kindness to Damaya in some contexts, even those are layered with other meanings. Even when we’re first meeting him, that’s on display. There’s that part where Damaya realizes that Schaffa has been softly reprimanding her own mother for how she has treated her daughter. It’s the first time that she feels that the child-buyer is a little strange, and that’s before she sees his white skin or his flat hair:

It isn’t the sort of reprimand Damaya is used to. The man hasn’t raised his voice or called anyone names. 

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. When he told Damaya that he wouldn’t let her mother hurt her, I didn’t know what place that came from. Was he being genuine? Was it a manipulative tactic to get her to come with him? Because seriously, this part made me feel TERRIBLE things:

But then the child-buyer smiles at Damaya, and she doesn’t even think twice before she smiles back. She trusts him immediately. She knows she shouldn’t, but she does. 

See, I can’t tell if this is Damaya’s personal reaction or if Schaffa had some weird power of her. Or both! I’m thinking of that “ritual” he did by touching her neck, the one he says is to help find her if she gets lost. WHICH READS LIKE A TRACKER TO ME. He doesn’t want her to escape once she gets to the Fulcrum, right? Yes, it’s possible that he does feel concern for her, that he does want to protect her, but what is that desire wrapped up in? He clearly believes that his role as a Guardian is a noble, necessary thing. So is his kindness linked to this notion of the greater good? Of how orogenes provide service for the Stillness? Does he think of orogenes as a means to an end rather than full people?

At the other end of the spectrum is Damaya’s mother. There is no kindness there, despite that Schaffa tries to re-contextualize Damaya’s parents’ choice as the appropriate one. Because even if it’s possible that her mother wants the best for her, she has still treated Damaya horribly. That whole example with the cold! In that, we find out that not only did Damaya’s mother believe a myth about the orogenes, but she allowed her daughter to suffer in the cold. (And there’s that comment very early on about how they would have kept Damaya in the house if it could’ve been cold enough.) So that means that they actively gaslight their daughter when she said she was cold. 

Again: tip of the iceberg. Jemisin only gives us glimpses into the abuse and neglect and hatred that Damaya has experienced. It’s hard not to see parallels to parents who retaliate against their children for being queer or trans, for example. I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE HERE. That whole thing where the mother says that Damaya “pretended to be a child when she was really a monster” is absolutely something I heard a variant of growing up. That I wasn’t a real man, that I was faking it because I was trying to “trick” my parents into accepting me, that they always knew I was “wrong.” You get the idea. 

That theme pops up again here, too. Of being wrong. We see it in the memory Damaya recalls the boy she nearly hurt, which is why this whole nightmare got set in motion. Schaffa doesn’t see Damaya as wrong, but that doesn’t make him a good person. Still, I felt like he used his “wrongness” to relate to Damaya, We discover that Guardians are pretty much useless to comms when a Season comes. I don’t quite understand that, but I don’t need to. Schaffa positions himself as an outsider, and then he transitions to a long explanation of why orogenes are outsiders, too, but necessary ones. 

I am suspicious of that.

So. Orogenes! Here we go!

“From birth, an orogene child can stop a shake; even without training, you are orogene. Within a comm or without one, you are orogene. With training, however, and with the guidance of other skilled orogenes at the fulcrum, you can be useful not merely to a single comm, but all the Stillness.”

There it is. Not only an explanation, but some necessary context. Orogenes are hated, are believed to be inhuman and wrong, and yet, the people of the Stillness have been using them to keep the entire world put together.

Yeah. That’s not subtle at all, and it shouldn’t be. Holy shit.

Schaffa tries to offer justification for what Damaya’s parents are doing, but it’s hard for me to accept this when I know how much cruelty Damaya received. There’s no love or affection or kindness from her family when Schaffa takes them away, either! Her brother, Chaga, doesn’t even come down to say goodbye! I suppose there’s another explanation here: Maybe Schaffa is delivering this all as softly as possible so as to make the separation easier. Later on, he could easily tell Damaya the truth. I say that purely because of one line that keeps bugging me:

“You’re a gift of the earth—but Father Earth hates us, never forget, and his gifts are neither free nor safe.”

Schaffa says us. Not you. Why does he include himself in that? Are the Guardians orogene, too, but their powers manifest differently?

I don’t know. I’m grasping probably, but that seemed like such a strange thing to say. Schaffa straddles this line so well, and it worries me. Obviously, I’d much prefer if Damaya had a genuine ally, but this system—of the Fulcrum and orogenes—is something he seems devoted to. So what does he ultimately support: The people at the heart of this or the status quo of the system?



  • Whoa! Third person! HELL YES, I LOVE BOOKS LIKE THIS.
  • Who is Damaya!!!
  • hi, what. locked in a barn?? what.
  • “her kind cannot be held with locks” oh i don’t like this, i’m not gonna like this
  • nomidlats = civilized? ooooh, what does that say about this world?
  • “the child-buyer” yep i’m gonna be mad
  • her own fucking parents?????
  • why would they need cold?
  • “sess” okay is she an orogene???
  • wait her name???? what the fuck???? Strongback???
  • Oh shit, comms have a shared surname?
  • Wait, Resistants are… what the fuck. Are they resistant to disease???
  • “Nothing about him makes racial sense” i mean MOOD 
  • “Duty first” what the fuck??? why? what did he just do?
  • holy shit, she’s an orogene, and there’s so much going on here, IT’S SO MUCH
  • jesus fucking christ this is so fucked up
  • the fulcrum???
  • something tells me all this training will be forced and that damaya won’t be reimbursed for any of it I’M JUST GUESSING HERE
  • A Guardian????
  • i still have a bad feeling about all of this
  • i’m still gonna think unkindly about her parents, if you don’t mind
  • Schaffa defines her power and her instinct, but how do we know that’s true?
  • I don’t trust Schaffa!!!
  • Is Schaffa an orogene? He uses “we”
  • hey is this book ever going to let me LIVE

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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