In the ninth chapter of The Fifth Season, Alabaster and Syenite finally reach their destination, and I WAS NOT READY AGAIN. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For talk of consent
This book, y’all.
So, let’s start with some worldbuilding stuff. I love that we’re getting to see so very much of the Stillness in a short span of time. In particular, I’m glad to get to see a “Coaster comm.” How do they work? Is their community devised in a way that’s vastly different from inland comms? Jemisin shows us that this isn’t the only factor that can affect a comm; it also matters who is running it. Of course, all of this is also filtered through Syenite, which adds another layer: we cannot ignore the extreme anti-orogene bias that she and Alabaster experience. It’s everywhere! I was reminded (and wonder if this was an intentional thing) of sundown towns when that young man follows them out of one of the distant parts of Allia. It’s absolutely meant as a threatening thing, too; he was keeping an eye on them while trying to intimidate.
We see more of this bias pop up at the lodging-house. As you’ll see in the notes below, I thought it tragically interesting that the Fulcrum is aware that the orogene are so hated that they provide extra money to those on missions so they can BRIBE people to get basic needs. That’s just built into their system!!! Does the Fulcrum ever work to break stereotypes or fight bias and discrimination? Of course not. This system works in their favor. As long as orogenes are hated—as long as it is deeply unsafe for them to be out in the world—they’ll have to come work with the only organization that will provide for them. (Somewhat, of course. Unless you’re in the upper rings, you still have limited “freedoms.”)
Look also at the comm itself—Allia—and the interaction with Asael. It does feel significant that this comm seems to be run by new money/wealth, that there is not a consultation with lorists in terms of construction and bureaucratic organization. There’s a beauty here that is aggressively arrogant. That sole balcony! The fact that there are six deputy governors! So, when you combine this with Asael’s place in a discriminatory society, you get the treatment that Alabaster immediately calls out. It’s a fascinating scene because I can tell we’re seeing how radicalized Alabaster has become; he has very different ideas of what role orogenes should play in society. But that radicalism comes from the contrast with Syenite. Syenite is often scandalized by Alabaster’s behavior; she’s never seen someone act as he does. He is bold in calling out Asael, and he seems unafraid to do so. Syenite, on the other hand, is used to a different existence, isn’t she? She could never have the power to do what Alabaster does.
And I didn’t see him as misusing his power for self-serving reasons. I mean… yes, he is being selfish. He wants better treatment, but that also includes Syenite. He also desires acknowledgment: this comm would fail without the work of orogenes, and thus, the orogenes should have a more elevated response, rather than the base level of dehumanization and exploitation they’re always met with. This whole exchange was incredible:
“I would’ve thought you’d like being treated like a human being for a change.”
“I do. But what difference does it make? Even if you pull rank now, it won’t change how they feel about us—”
“No, it won’t. “And I don’t care how they feel. They don’t have to rusting like us. What matters is what they do.”
Syenite’s response to this is important as well:
That’s all well and good for him.
And I appreciated that acknowledgment. It is entertaining to see Alabaster take people down, to demand respect or power or accommodation from people who would sooner kill an orogene rather than treat them kindly. But as a ten-ringer, Alabaster can get away with things Syenite cannot.
Well… alone. I’m now piecing that together, too. What is possible changes once you shift your mind, and by the end of this chapter, something very dangerous, very new, and very frightening is now possible. The basis for it was laid before; we saw it in the previous chapter. But here, Alabaster takes the theory of parallel scaling and applies it in a way that is mind-blowing. Like, I didn’t even get what had happened until it was spelled out for me.
I should note, that for all my talk of what Alabaster could get away with, he still got poisoned. His power did not matter to the person who did it; to them, he was still just an orogene, right? I am assuming that Syenite’s theory is correct, that someone on the waitstaff did this, most likely furious because an orogene got their way and is staying there. Yet the attempt fails because of the way in which Alabaster uses his power in conjunction with hers to LITERALLY expel the poison from his body. The process is confusing, visceral, and it has to be. It’s not like Alabaster gets Syenite’s consent; he latches on to her power while she’s sleeping, and it’s what jerks her awake. Hell, the whole process is intensely jarring, especially that moment where it’s clear he’s like… viewing the world through her eyes?
It should all be impossible, right? That’s what the text has established. Except it just happened. Alabaster is alive because it definitely happened. And he also doesn’t want to tell her the truth out of fear that she’ll try it herself. Parallel scaling—a synchronization of orogene powers—is fucking possible. Holy shit, do y’all realize what this means for this world? What happens when multiple orogenes learn that level of control? What can do they do? What change can they enact? This is like a fantastical metaphor for collective power, isn’t it? Is he going to teach her that level of control???
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE OBELISKS?????
- What are the OBELISKS, y’all
- it is wild to me that the Fulcrum understands how orogenes are discriminated against but cares not to change that reality; they only want to feed into it.
- “not enough lorists” sounds like “not enough people who understand and respect history
- I am terrified of what they’re going to find here
- haha WOW, Alabaster called her OUT
- “Wouldn’t you agree?” I’M LOSING IT
- how often does Alabaster have bureaucratic conversations like this
- his outlook is so FASCINATING.
- so there are bodily changes. emotional changes. that come with increased work in the earth.
- NOPE TO THAT DREAM.
- WHAT’S HAPPENING????
- I WAS RIGHT TO BE TERRIFIED
- oh shit i didn’t even notice that he’d looked in a different direction before.
- OH MY GOD HE IS SEEING THROUGH HER BODY
- A contaminant????
- was he POISONED???
- ASKLDFJASL;DJ WAS SHE INSIDE OF HIS BODY????
- NO I NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING
- WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT
- parallel scaling, OH MY GOD.
- h my god, him quietly THANKING her
- HI, WHAT ARE THE OBELISKS????
Mark Links Stuff
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