Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 10

In the tenth chapter of The Fifth Season, I am once again experiencing what it is like to have my soul ripped out of my body. If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for me to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief, homelessness

What the fuck.


Okay, we’ll get to The Thing in the second half of this. I have other things I want to also discuss. This first thing is heavy, but this book is heavy, too. I am appreciating the chance to get to talk about some of this stuff outside of therapy, too, because grief often feels so terribly lonely. Even when other people are suffering, it’s one of those emotions that often makes a person perceive a loneliness that’s intense and all-encompassing. But The Fifth Season is written in a way that it acts as a reminder: grief can be a shared experience, one across time and space, fiction and reality. 

In particular, there’s something cutting about the opening of this chapter. I expressed something to my therapist in one of my early sessions: I felt like I was living someone else’s life. I was going through the motions of life, but that life was not mine. Everything was wrong and strange and complicated and distant. And I came to understand that I was in a transitory state: that I was changing, that I was adjusting into a new person, one who had to live a life without someone else. Death can do that, especially when the death is sudden, especially when the death is of someone so young, especially when the tragedy of it all is so inescapable. 

We have to change. I have to change. But I resonated with this part a lot:

So you must stay Essun, and Essun will have to make do with the broken bits of herself that Jija has left behind.

That’s what it feels like when someone you love dies. It’s a way of personalizing the trauma: this person left a broken version of you behind. There is also a textual reason for this, though, that I don’t want to ignore that. Essun is dealing with a husband who murdered her son. So there’s an intentionality here: He did literally leave her with a broken life, and is now heading somewhere with their surviving daughter. It’s providing the determination for Essun, too:

As long as nothing important breaks, right? You’ll get by. You have no choice. Not as long as one of your children could be alive.

And then we cut to Essun and the child. The child who makes no sense (though I have a theory I’ll get to), the child who constantly bewilders and frustrates and amazes Essun. Again: not lost on me that she no longer has a son, but has strangely inherited Hoa. More on Hoa in a second, because we have to talk about dread and terror and how quickly Jemisin is able to turn the tone of this book. Everything already feels off by default. Part of that is Hoa’s presence, but it’s also how well Jemisin conveys the imminent end of the world. For example: the image of hundreds of people, all strangers, sleeping outside that roadhouse, gives us so much understanding of desperation. Of exhaustion. Of the unspoken terror that exists between these people who are all trying to survive, but are frightened that they will not be able to be. Then: something attacks. And we, as the readers, have most likely accepted the chaos of this scenario anyway. Literally anything could happen at this point, right? The world is ENDING. So what is it this time? Bandits? Warriors? We don’t know, and until Essun and Hoa turned back for supplies, I actually was expecting that we’d never know. That was the point: the unexpected would happen constantly. 

There are a few interesting moments that unfold before The Thing happens, too. Hoa’s anxiety over Essun’s well-being fascinates me. He let her sleep because he knew she was tired; at one point he’s concerned about the stitch in her side; he is instantly protective whenever there’s a perceived threat. Yet Essun notes this:

The boy only watches. If he worries about you, he doesn’t let it show on his face.

I think he shows it through his actions, though. And why is that? I think that’s related to something he says later.

And then there are the commless. I made a note (you’ll see it below) that it’s not often that I’ve seen representations of homeless populations in fantasy at all, though I admit I’m not as well-read in this genre as others. Generally, you might see beggars, but there’s so much more thought put into the commless here. We get to meet a commless woman here, the only person in the roadhouse. The moment is tense for reasons mostly unrelated to the woman being commless, though that is part of it. Mostly: Essun has no idea what happened at the roadhouse, and she doesn’t know if this woman was a part of it. It becomes clear, though, that the woman is taking advantage of the situation to get water. 

Well… there’s the geomest thing, too. I can’t say I totally understand what a geomest is? It sounds like an orogene-lite, and the text describes them as: 

They’re everything people think orogenes are when they’re feeling charitable: arcane, unfathomable, possessed of knowledge no mortal should have, disturbing. No one but a geomest would know so many useless facts, so throughly. 

So they do have some sort of power? There’s that moment where the woman seems to sense something that Essun does not. So maybe? Is it common for geomests to be commless? But there’s also this line, where the woman denies being a geomest:

“I know better than to pay attention to those fools at the University. I’m not stupid.” 

So maybe they’re academics, not orogene-lites? Hmmm. HMMMM. Still not sure. I want to know about her, and there’s a chance that I’ll see more of her, given the ending. For now, though, it’s time to talk about The Thing. Not just the kirkhusa, but what Hoa does with one that attacks him. First: HI, WOW, THE KIRKHUSA ARE NIGHTMARES. They are domesticated pets UNTIL they taste ash—ash that only comes with a Season—whereupon some instinctual nature is activated in them, and they become monsters who feast on anything around them. That is what attacked the people at the roadhouse, and that’s what attacks Hoa, and then… y’all


I almost can’t believe this, except… didn’t we just see an orogene with the ability to manipulate on the molecular level? This part is what gave me the idea:

Then the kirkhusa’s fur starts to move. (What?) You frown, squint, but it’s easy to see, close as the beast is. Each individual hair of its fur waggles, seemingly in a different direction all at the same time. Then it shimmers. (What?) Stiffens. All at once you realize that not only are its muscles stiff, but the flesh that covers them is stiff, too. Not just stiff but… solid. 

He’s an orogene… right? Or… something else? What the fuck, y’all?

Hoa seems to remember his arm, belatedly.

THE ARM THAT THE KIRKHUSA ATE, Y’ALL. Like, his arm! Is inside the kirkhusa’s stone mouth! WHICH HE THEN SHATTERS WITH NO EFFORT.

He lowers his eyes. “I hadn’t meant for you to see this, yet.”

Okay. That’s… something to think about later.

NO, LET’S THINK ABOUT THIS NOW. What the fuck is he planning? Clearly there is some intention operating here, but what the hell is it? When had he meant for her to see this unreal ability of his?

None of you say anything because there’s nothing to say. 



  • ooooh, i like the idea of how grief can fracture a person, make them feel like a new version of themselves DEEPLY RELATABLE but also DEEPLY CRUSHING
  • her love and dedication to her daughter is CRUSHING me
  • hey, the notion that “the world has changed too quickly and too thoroughly” is immensely uncomfortable to read in 2020 HELP ME
  • this all feels so disorienting. 
  • nope, what are they going to find at the roadhouse
  • nope!
  • nope!!!!
  • i feel like i have rarely RARELY seen any representation of homeless people in a fantasy setting
  • OH OKAY it’s not actually terrifying, lmaaaoooo. 
  • geomest????
  • the body??? THE BODY???
  • no what the FUCK!!!!
  • i don’t even know what to say about this
  • “What.” Fucking MOOD, because WHAT the fuck????
  • “I hadn’t meant for you to see this, yet.” hi i have expired.
  • i am in shock
  • “Also, you have a lot of experience with children who ar secretly monsters.” Could this book just let me LIVE

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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