Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 14

In the fourteen chapter of The Fifth Season, I give up. I am now at the mercy of this book from here on out. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death of children, police brutality

REMAIN AT LOCATION. AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS, read the telegram from Yumenes. 

Well, that message has a whole new meaning now, doesn’t it?

What the fuck do I even SAY after this? The reveal of the node maintainers ALONE sent me to the spirit realm, never to return, and then it’s like… like all I can imagine is N.K. Jemisin typing up the end of this chapter and just CACKLING as she did so. Because I would have done the same fucking thing, knowing that I had written something that wrenches the story in such an exciting, shocking direction that PROBABLY NO ONE FORESAW. 

So, more on that in a second. A lot more, because I’m fucking RUINED, and I just… what the fuck, y’all. I was going to talk more about Syenite’s odd relationship with Alabaster, but… the chapter title. THE CHAPTER TITLE TOLD ME THE END AND IT JUST DIDN’T EVEN RESONATE WITH ME.

All right, I’m fine. (I’m not.) I’ll deal with this. (Barely.) 

Looking back over this chapter for the review is a TRIP. Look how cagey or coy Alabaster is as Syenite pokes and prods him to get him to talk about… well, literally anything about the current situation. Initially, I just took it as part of that mysterious stubbornness of his. He seemed to always delight in gently guiding Syen in a direction, but making her figure out the destination herself. That’s what I thought was happening here: He knew exactly why the Fulcrum had ordered them to stay put, and he wanted Syen to put the pieces together. 

And maybe that’s actually the case on top of everything else; Alabaster knows that sort of epiphany will always stick more than if he just outright tells her. But I also can’t ignore that there’s an element of protectiveness here: Alabaster is also aware that knowledge can be dangerous. No one can know that she can “connect to the obelisks,” because what happens to her once that’s the case? As this conversation evolved over the course of the chapter, it was clear to me that in his own way, Alabaster was warning her about the Guardians. What would the Guardians do to her if they knew she had a power outside of their system? Orogenes are not taught about this because—well, either the Guardians have deliberately hid this knowledge from them, or they didn’t know this at all. 

I don’t know which one is worse.

I assume I’m going to find out based on what happens in this chapter. The bulk of chapter fourteen concerns the walk that Syenite and Alabaster take, one whose meaning changes almost by the page. Initially: Syen is annoyed. She just wants to get away from Alabaster, but he insists on going with her in case someone attacks them. (UGH THE FUCKING FORESHADOWING, HELP ME.) But then, the conversation shifts to the obelisk, which is “wrong.” Like… not because there’s a fucking obelisk with a stone eater in it floating fifteen feet above the water. It’s… broken? In some way? I admit I still don’t get exactly what’s happening here. (And the final image isn’t making it easier.) But what’s important is what this realization in Syenite inspires. There’s a delicate back-and-forth that unfolds as Alabaster tries his hardest not to address the obvious, and for good reason: his paranoia is justified. I believe him when he says that there is most likely someone using the stone to listen in on the conversations between Syenite and Alabaster, and thus, he assumes nowhere is safe inside the building. Even when they’re outdoors, he still takes precautions. This obelisk has complicated matters in a way that he either anticipated or is surprised by, and it leaves him reluctant to be upfront.

Syenite still figures it out, though: Alabaster can also control the obelisks.

But it’s not the worst realization she has. That comes after this moment: 

“But you’re the only ten-ringer.”

“Most of my children have the potential to wear ten rings.”

Initially, I thought that was his way of saying that orogenes were powerful in ways she hadn’t considered. It was directly tied to the conversation of the obelisks. He must have known that other orogenes had used their power, too, or were at least aware they could do that. That could still be true; I wouldn’t be surprised by it. However, Jemisin delivers the blow that had me put my head down on my desk and leave it there in shock.

Most of my children have the potential to wear ten rings, he’d said, but there are no other ten-ringers in the Fulcrum. Rogga children are sent to the nodes only if they can’t control themselves. Aren’t they?



She decides not to mention this epiphany.

It is now highly likely—perhaps outright confirmed—that the child in the node maintainer that they found was one of Alabaster’s children. They send the most powerful of his offspring to be… I can’t. I can’t. My mind immediately went to Essun: How does this world justify the death of children? By either mandating their death as part of a greater good or dehumanizing orogenes so much that the murder of one just… isn’t murder. That’s what this society has bred. It’s what keeps it going: the death of some so others can live. And that’s uniquely tied in to the problem with the Guardians. The Guardians mold orogenes to be the “right” members of society, but who makes sure the Guardians are doing what they’re supposed to? As Syenite points out:

The Guardians keep their own counsel, and they object to inquiries. Vehemently.

I don’t know that this is an intentional parallel, but that made me think of the American police force. Shit, law enforcement as a whole! I feel like that’s the case, given that this moment is followed by an interaction that hit a lot of emotional points for me reminiscent of police brutality and how agents of the state are used to “cleanse” society of undesirables. I’m also trying to parse the complicated nature of what unfolds. It seems obvious that Guardian Edki believed that Alabaster was responsible for moving the obelisk; he was definitely surprised when Syenite confesses that it was her. The whole time, Alabaster was anticipating something terrible, too, given how tense he was. (What a brilliant way to build suspense, though! Introduce us to a character who walks through the story largely unafraid, and then have him suddenly seem terrified. THANKS FOR THAT.) 

WHO IS GUARDIAN LESHET? Because now I think I get why Edki is almost offended that Alabaster believed Edki was going to attack Syenite. This is only tangentially related to the obelisk, right? Alabaster did something to a previous Guardian, and that is why he was attacked. Right? Is there a bounty out for him or something? Okay, I don’t know! And I also don’t quite understand Guardians and their powers. We saw how Guardian Schaffa’s touch affected Damaya; here, there’s a much more horrifying and visceral affect that Edki has on these two orogenes. He seemed to know exactly where to stab Alabaster to keep him powerless and immobile. And then he targets Syenite, which makes no sense to me at all. If this was about Alabaster, why attack her?

It doesn’t matter for the moment. Because Syenite shifts her power upward to latch on to the obelisk, and then she’s inside it, face-to-face with the dead stone eater, the first she has ever seen up close. Based on the description of it—and the one we saw at the beginning of the book—I feel certain that they’re definitely not human? They’re actual stone creatures?

Look. I just… I still can’t believe what happened next. I can’t. But there it is, in all its absurdity! Syenite wonders internally if the stone eater is all right, and then:

The stone eater closes his mouth, and opens his eyes, and lowers his head to look at her. “I’m fine,” he says. “Thank you for asking.”

And then

the obelisk


The casual nature of that reply KILLS ME. What a way to reveal that the stone eater ISN’T DEAD AT ALL.

I’m never going to be ready for any moment in these books. NEVER.


  • Alabaster’s response to the telegram is HILARIOUS.
  • oh shit, they’ve been there over a week now
  • “I met you.” HAHAHAHA, she basically said YOU HAPPENED.
  • holy shit it’s still floating there.
  • okay great, now i feel even MORE nervous that the Fulcrum hasn’t sent them back home
  • okay, what does Alabaster know of the connection between stone eaters and orogenes?
  • “…wondering if that is what it’s like to grow up normal” GOOD BYE to all my emotions
  • pulses???
  • unable to stay up???
  • oh. oh, yes. YES OF COURSE. Who else has been able to control an obelisk???
  • wow, making the node controllers even more fucked up??? they might be unwilling spies????
  • FUCK
  • FUCK!!!!!
  • I CAN’T
  • omg, the parallels between Alabaster and Essun. the death of children and how it is justified. GOOD BYE
  • I’m so glad i did not trust Schaffa because NOW I DON’T TRUST THE GUARDIANS EVEN MORE
  • what the fuck why is a guardian here???? i mean, i shouldn’t be surprised
  • why can’t she let him touch her???
  • NO
  • I can’t do this, my heart is RACING. a knife???
  • how can guardians DO that???
  • this is a nightmare
  • omg stone eaters are like… literal stone? sort of???
  • WHAT

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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