Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 18

In the eighteenth chapter of The Fifth Season, Essun is introduced to another impossibility. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

This fucking book, y’all. I HAVE TWO MORE TO READ. This both terrifies me—What else will Jemisin ruin me with???—and delights me. Because look, the prose in this book is incredible. The pacing? Top-notch. Character arcs? LOOK AT THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE OF THIS BOOK FOR THAT ANSWER ALONE. (I still feel like I’m going to be unraveling last chapter’s reveal for basically the rest of my life.) But y’all, I also don’t want to ignore how fucking FUN this is. Every time I sit down to do a new chapter, I’m just like, “So, how will I be completely wrung out by this TODAY?” It is such a treasure to read this, to see an author so fully in command of the story and their own words, and to be challenged constantly by the text. 

So, it’s time to talk about the comm that the folks of Castrima are now using. I can’t even say “founded” because it came from long, long ago, and will probably outlast them as well. Jemisin gives us so many details here that contribute to a larger puzzle, though I can’t claim to understand the entirety of it. Right from the beginning, through Essun’s eyes, we understand that this place already seems both impossible and clearly the work of orogenes. It’s fascinating, then, that Essun still thinks within confines:

You’ve never heard of anyone doing anything like this with orogeny. It’s not for building. 

And now that I know that Essun is Syenite is Damaya, this makes me wonder about the times in between. I can see how Damaya becomes Syenite much more easily. But how does Syenite become Essun? And after all that Syenite saw and experienced with Alabaster, why does she still cling to beliefs about what orogenes are capable of? WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN THEN AND NOW? 

“Ooh.” Ykka grimaces, pityingly. “Fulcrum trained? The ones who survive it always seem to sound like you.”

In that is an admission: There are other orogenes who got out of the Fulcrum. What the hell happened to allow that? What happened to the Fulcrum?

Even without Ykka shows off in this chapter, I already had the sense that there was a new world that had begun to exist outside the Fulcrum. Still, this comm? This reveal? It honestly overshadows everything. As it should! And I love that Jemisin doesn’t use the word “epiphany” or “realization” here as she writes Essun’s experience being led underground. This is a “paradigm shift.” All of Essun’s thinking has to change, as it has had to do before when she was Damaya, when she was Syenite. Long ago, before there was an empire, someone helped construct this place. Orogenes? Stone eaters? Both? I don’t know!

I did notice that Ykka noticed Hoa is able to walk around like a human, when all the stone eaters she has met haven’t been. THAT is interesting. VERY interesting. I also feel like the quote at the end of the chapter concerning the sessapinae is what could explain Ykka’s “ability.” Somehow, she is able to call to and compel orogenes and stone eaters to come to her. Why her, though? I can easily accept that this world doesn’t fully understand the capacity of how the sessapinae can work. Look at all the shit Alabaster is able to do! And what about the obelisks helping out orogenes? There’s so much we don’t know. But I can’t offer up an explanation for what Ykka is doing. Is someone working through her, as if she’s a conduit for this gathering? Maybe??? Damn, I really don’t know shit. 

I certainly didn’t expect that Ykka would reveal a city built not just underground, but within in a massive geode. It’s brilliant. A little scary, too! But it’s been there for so long, and that itself stands as evidence to… well, a paradigm shift. Except it’s one that existed long before that shift happened in Essun’s mind. If you can create a comm like this, what does it require? The main takeaway I had was that you had to have a society that respected orogenes. Not tolerate, but treat them as valuable members of the community whose work allowed you life.

Is that the world that Essun lives in? Not at all. And so I love that this is a world beneath a world, both in a literal and a metaphorical sense. A new reality has existed below the surface for… what? Thousands of years? How many comms lived here? The skeletons found… did they all die of natural causes? Were they murdered? Did they run into the same suffocation problems as previous Castrima residents? And how long as Ykka been here? Why was Hoa so certain that Nassun was here, too?

And will the people of Castrima let Tonkee, Hoa, and Essun leave if Nassun is elsewhere?


  • Literally any chapter after the last one was gonna ruin me but I’m so EXCITED we’re back with Essun.
  • “It’s not for building.” WHAT IS IT FOR
  • A;KDJFAD;KLFDS other comms in the past DIDN’T oppress orogenes???
  • i’m losing it, oh my god YES OF COURSE SHE IS FULCRUM-TRAINED
  • camouflage for WHAT????
  • y’all i’m so nervous
  • i genuinely don’t know what Ykka is leading Essun to. at all.
  • ahhhhhhhh WHAT IS HOA!!!
  • i love the recurring motif of the deadcivs and i feel like they’ll become more important later on
  • Okay, at least that’s outright confirmation that Hoa is a stone eater!
  • Also, stop being so mysterious and maybe people wouldn’t have so many questions!!!
  • just the existence of this place shatters EVERYTHING. and it’s been here BEFORE the empire???
  • ah, her name is a lie, ahhahahaha i hurt
  • so… can they leave???? STILL NOT ANSWERED

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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