Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 13

In the thirteen chapter of The Fifth Season, Essun chases down her husband with the help of Hoa and Tonkee. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

“You may be a monster, but you are also great.”

What a way to open this chapter, y’all. I’m fascinated by who is considered a monster within this universe and how Jemisin has crafted this hierarchy. There are clearly multiple systems at work here: class and wealth, race and geographical location; gender and reproductive ability and identity; orogenic power. It’s all mixed up in a thoughtful, detailed depiction of a complicated society. Essun exists in a place where many of these structures harm her; some, she’s learned to work around. (And now I have a bunch of questions about the Fulcrum that I never thought to ask before. Why wasn’t Essun ever part of the Fulcrum? Why doesn’t she talk about it all that much? In this chapter, she says that the Fulcrum is dead; is that why she’s been living in Tirimo for the last ten years? Oh my god, has all of this gone over my head the whole fucking book?????) I see her as a character built for survival in some respects, since she is so skilled at adapting. Look how she’s adapted to the presence of Hoa and Tonkee, given that she set out on the journey to find Jija all alone. She intended to stay that way, but here she is, on a very different journey, and she has adapted.

I’m so pleased, too, that Tonkee is now part of this surreal trip, and it was also a treat to have the text openly confirm that she is a trans woman without exotifying her or misgendering her, either. Which does make me wonder how gender identity works in the Stillness? We had a casual mention of a trans boy in Damaya’s POV, and there seems to be none of the cis discomfort that I would expect. There are potions to help with hormone therapy, too, and I’m assuming that’s what the potion is towards the end of the chapter? But was that something easily sold or made, or is there an underground market for it? Some of these questions might be answered in the text later, but look, I LOVE TALKING WORLDBUILDING. Especially in this book! It’s been so satisfying to see how all these different aspects link up together, you know?

There is certainly a wealth of information in this chapter that helps me get a better sense of the Stillness both as a whole and of some of the smaller parts. It was nice seeing how Tonkee lived, since in the previous Essun chapter, Jemisin gave an overview of how the commless survived in the Stillness. It was also rewarding to see that specifically, to get a view of her home in a vesicle, “the ancient fallen-in remains of a solidified lava bubble.” WHICH IS SO COOL. It also made me want to know if Essun’s theory was correct: Was Tonkee once a geomest at the top university in the Stillness? What happened to her?

There’s a momentum to this chapter, though, and Jemisin does keep us too long in any single moment. It’s not long before Tonkee, Hoa, and Essun are on the road, headed for Jija. During this trip, the evidence of the end is everywhere, and lord, it’s so disturbing. Like I said in the Notes below, I also couldn’t ignore the fact that there was a lot of talk about wearing masks and the anonymity they provide? COOL, COOL, JUST FULL OF EXISTENTIAL DREAD, COOL. 

But that conversation with the Equatorials… whew, it was so revealing! Jemisin grounds us in a place we’ve never seen mostly through clothing, which is fucking brilliant. It’s a counter to the homogeneity that the ash and the masks provided, but why?

You notice how they look at you when you walk up: a sweep of the eyes, an inspection of your wrists or neck or ankles, a frown as you are found wanting. The impractical cloth has one very practical use: It is the marker of a new tribe in the process of being born. A tribe to which you do not belong. 

Not a problem. Yet. 

The end of the world affects people differently. How they behave in the wake of it depends on where they come from. What they value. Yet despite that, one thing I got out of this text: the earth doesn’t care about any of this. It doesn’t matter how well-off this woman was, or who she knew, or what power she had. As the ash descended on that comm, people died all the same. It was still an immense trauma. And it’s very likely that many of these survivors aren’t going to survive what comes next. 

I say that like I know what’s coming next. I FUCKING DON’T. I don’t know! This journey is written with a grit and a poetry that enchants me, but I must admit I am deeply, deeply nervous. Like… every word feels like it’s dripping in dread. It certainly did not help that Hoa, at the end of this chapter, had to admit that he couldn’t figure out exactly where Nassun is because there is a massive gathering of orogenes. Which doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that Hoa STILL hasn’t said what he is or how he’s able to sense where they are. Why are the orogenes gathering in one place? If Jija hates them so much that he murdered his son for being one, why the fuck would he go where there are TONS of them? How is all of this connected to that moment in the prologue where this Season began? (I’m guessing that’s what caused all this? The stone eater?) 

At least this chapter wasn’t as intense as the others! I shall enjoy this brief foray as I prepare for the next chapter to ruin my life.


  • “You may be a monster, but you are also great.” ICONIC LINE
  • omg Tonkee!!! I am intrigued that she is sticking around.
  • holy shit tonkee is a trans woman????? HOLY SHIT
  • i am endlessly fascinated by the dynamic between Hoa and Essun
  • “Because I want you to like me” HI WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN
  • oh, hey, a scene in which the world is ending and everyone has to wear masks to walk around. hey. that’s not familiar
  • Christ, this is disturbing
  • the markers of an old society becoming markers of a new society / hierarchy. THIS IS A LOT
  • an orogene saved her, and i bet she doesn’t even know it
  • oh, everyone hoping the end of the world will be briefer than it is but you don’t actually know? MOOD.
  • i know it’s dark, but the road sign joke is FUNNY
  • a gathering of orogenes?
  • okay so the Fulcrum is fully dead???
  • omg that potion! hormones????

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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