Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 11

In the eleventh chapter of The Fifth Season, I continued to be personally attacked by this book. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of abuse, child abuse and a brief mention of child sexual abuse, bullying (particularly racist and homophobic bullying), slavery

It was fascinating to read people’s take on Schaffa earlier this month, and I admit that I went in hard on Schaffa. I don’t disagree with my take on his character, and if anything, chapter eleven feels like a validation of sorts. We don’t see him once in this chapter, and he’s not even mentioned. But the specter of what he did to Damaya is here, and it’s clear that it worked. Damaya understood pain in relation to control. His effort to manipulate her through abuse has settled in, and we see her struggling to avoid being on the receiving end of more pain as she settles in at the Fulcrum. 

And that was the point, right? This is how those running the Fulcrum maintain control: through the fear of pain. There is a strict regiment throughout the day, and at multiple points, a student can fuck up, and then they’re punished. Apparently, those punishments are “suited to the infraction,” which just feels like a euphemism for “incredibly specific and nightmarish.” 

And in this system, Damaya wants to succeed. Given what we’ve seen in the stories of Essun and especially Syenite, the reader has a better sense of what the world looks like for orogenes and how the Fulcrum operates. But for Damaya, this is an opportunity: to use clean showers for the first time. To be around other people like her. To not be exposed to the imminent threat of orogene-hating people who have the legal right to harm them. To learn how to control her power so she can be more like the people she respects: the teachers in the Fulcrum. Again, this all feels like it’s by design. What can the Fulcrum do to reduce one kind of fear and terror in these young orogenes, but then utilize it in a separate way in order to keep them in line? Some of that comes from stripping the differences in these kids, to make them as “same” as possible. Individuality is not necessarily encouraged, and as we’ve seen with Syenite, getting more rings is the only means of getting more “freedoms.” I mean… these kids are given new names, which echoes back to a practice in chattel slavery. It’s another way for the Fulcrum to exert control over them, to drill into their heads this violent respectability politic, that they represent ALL orogenes and thus must be perfect at all times.

I said in the notes below that I made while reading how frustrating this was. And I meant that only as an outsider who has seen more of the oppressive system constructed in the Fulcrum. Because from Damaya’s perspective? I get it. I get why she feels a certain level of safe here. I get why she desires to be as successful as the many-ringed teachers. I get why she applies herself in a way so that she gets the reputation that she’s a Perfect Student. Some of it is survival. Some of it is the acceptance that we see in the text. She accepts what she is told about herself and orogenes. And once she does that, the rest of it at least makes some sort of sense to her. Damaya has a framework to understand the world, and the intense regimen helps that. 

At least for now:

It will be many years before Damaya understands that when the instructors kill an errant student, it is meant not as a goad, but as a mercy.

In light of how this chapter ends… lord. This hits hard. Because who is that mercy intended for? Who is being spared? And how will Damaya’s views on orogenes and the Fulcrum change over time? Will she become bitter (yet determined) like Syenite, or will she fall in line and be the perfect orogene? Or maybe more like Alabaster?

I think the events surrounding her bullying will prove to be important later on, and I’m curious to see if that’s the case. The entire second half of this chapter is deeply disturbing. On a personal level, I know what it is like to be ruthlessly targeted for who you are. I was to Goody Two Shoes / Teacher’s Pet throughout most of my time in school. When I lived in Boise, my twin and I were repeatedly bullied for being brown, especially since our school was something close like… 95% white? I don’t have any actual statistics, but it was so white that my brother and I knew very early on that there was a stigma in this country for non-white skin. Bullying took a different shape once we made it to California, and we were often picked on for being Latinx but not speaking Spanish, which is a whole thing unto itself. But starting around third grade is when I was often singled-out to be on the receiving end of nearly a decade of homophobia. I was often the easy target, too, and kids would throw me under the bus the first chance they got. If they were about to get in trouble… flip the attention on Mark. Like Arkete did to Damaya, I was often befriended as part of an elaborate scheme to later embarrass me or to just be mean. Seriously, I’ll never forget the girl in seventh grade who pretended to be my friend so she could dramatically have a friend break-up with me because I was gay. (Wasn’t out at the time, but we all know that bullies don’t care about that sort of thing.)

I never got to enact any great revenge on these people. (Though you might say my current success can certainly feel like it’s own form of revenge.) I gained friends slowly over the years, but I never had to do anything strategic like Damaya does in this chapter. I think I may have done it accidentally—I tended to be friends with other folks who were nerdy and unpopular. Damaya has other concerns, though; the bullying she’s receiving is causing her to miss her marks, and the Discipline will only get worse. So she decides to try and partner with someone else who has been targeted: another student named Crack. (I feel like there are multiple intentions behind that name ALONE.) 

What unfolds is initially cathartic—I love seeing bullies get their comeuppance—but then devolves into a situation that is mortifying. Which can best be summed up by this:

This is wrong. This is all wrong.

I don’t want to deny that individual people made choices. Maxixe bullied Damaya, as did Jasper. Crack chose to betray not only Damaya, but also Jasper, since she shares his sexual assault to everyone in the group. (Why was it not surprising that there are adults in the Fulcrum willing to take advantage of the desperation of children? OF COURSE THERE ARE.) But I can’t ignore that this is all happening within the system of the Fulcrum. A system in which someone like Crack isn’t treated the same at all, despite that the Fulcrum wants to compress everyone into a monotonous identity. A system in which Crack does not feel supported or encouraged, a system in which she and Damaya and anyone else can be subjected to two prongs of cruelty. There are the kids who bully others and get away with it, and there’s Discipline, which punishes people without impunity. No one is gonna apologize to Damaya for mistakenly punishing her, right? What choices are left before people who have been so tightly constrained?

And how are those children punished for their choices?


  • omg we’re back to Damaya
  • “it makes her feel like she’s part of something” good BYE
  • there’s a part of me that finds this uneasy because it’s like… the first time damaya is experiencing comfort, and i feel like that’s an intentional thing.
  • “Discipline” is capitalized, that’s terrifying
  • “one cannot reasonably expect sameness out of so much difference” AND YET!!!!
  • Hi i feel so called out by this depiction of a young student desperate for validation and acceptance. CALLED OUT
  • acceptance and control as manipulation?
  • i can see an empowerment in this and it’s so upsetting because damaya can’t see the bigger structure!!!!
  • meant as a mercy. oh my god.
  • okay, Arkete, I see you! trying to resist the name you were forcibly assigned!
  • omg pop lorists, I LOVE THIS
  • “Took me a while to laugh after I got here, too.” hey, cool, another punch in the gut, great
  • well, now this hurts. 
  • An alliance!!!!
  • “This is wrong. This is all wrong.” THIS IS THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY.
  • i am once again speechless
  • “Geomestric record” okay, that makes me think this is an academic thing!!!

Mark Links Stuff

You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen!
– Not only that, but my very first pre-order campaign is now live for North American readers! If you submit proof of pre-order, you can get a limited edition print that comes with the book.
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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