Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 21

In the twenty-first chapter of The Fifth Season, Jemisin hits me in the chest with multiple twists I never saw coming. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief

Hey, some of questions were answered!

Hey, everything hurts even more!

Let’s start here:

“You,” you say suddenly to Tonkee. Who is not Tonkee.

Again, I didn’t even have an inkling of this. In my mind, Tonkee and Binof were always two separate people, despite that in hindsight, there were clues that these were the same character. I really enjoyed that while Tonkee used a different name as a young girl, Jemisin never deadnames her and only makes one reference to her assigned birth, done to explain how she was quietly disowned by her family. It does make me wonder about the greater acceptance of trans individuals in this society. We’ve seen casual evidence of them in Damaya’s point of view, so perhaps the stigma against them is not quite as severe in the Stillness as it is in our world? At the same time, Tonkee’s family disowned her. But was that more because she was a disservice to family plans than anything? What part of her existence would have been the “scandal” that the text refers to? The public element of casting her out? Perhaps, given that Tonkee’s family’s solution was to create a new identity for her in a new use-caste and stick her in an academic setting. While there is an undeniable tragedy there, Tonkee seems to have thrived in spite of it. Her desire for knowledge—which is what first got her to break into the Fulcrum—led her to Damaya, who she then studied and followed FOR THIRTY YEARS. 

All because of that damn socket.

Which is where obelisks were built.

Not just that, but Tonkee also rightly believes that Essun can control the obelisks. We already know that Essun has interacted with them, so it’s not like this is a stretch. But… control them to do what? What are the obelisks supposed to be used for? Obviously, they’re important to orogenes, given that we ALSO find out in this chapter that they move for a reason: They move towards orogenes who might be able to use them. The amethyst that Essun used in Allia had been moving towards her FOR A DECADE. Because obelisks also “bond” to specific orogenes? And then there’s the immense heartbreak in Tonkee revealing that an obelisk from Merz was heading towards Tirimo, one that had “picked up speed in the last two or three years.”



Hmmm. It’s all very mysterious, and I am hoping that I’ll know more relatively soon because the next book has “obelisk” in the title? I AM GRASPING AT STRAWS, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING.

I also have a new theory that is a continued grasp at straws, but… is Hoa the stone-eater from the obelisk in Allia? Look, I’m just following the pattern that everyone is someone else in this chapter. Don’t judge me!!! I just… don’t understand? Why does he say that his food is him? And this part:

“Crystalline structures are an efficient storage medium.”

Okay. Storing… what? What does this fucking mean??? Look, I understand why he chose to appear as he did for safety reasons, but… he said he likes Essun. Prior to this? By chance? Why journey with her all this time???

This chapter then continues to be a LOT. I loved getting a chance to see more of Castrima, and it was amusing that it was constructed in a way that made no sense to Essun. I imagine you get the hang of things after living there for a while, but there’s something captivating about its complexity. There’s a logic to it, even if it’s a logic I don’t understand. Well, there’s that, but there’s also adaptation here. This geode community has been around for ages, sure, but people keep adding to, building out different things to serve their needs. Ykka made it clear that this place is literally a work in progress, too. 

Anyway, just some thoughts on the setting. Because now I have to move on to another shocker: Lerna is here in Castrima. He was the only still who knew Essun was an orogene (as far as I recall), and he also treated her with respect and care. (Well, there’s that whole crush thing going on, too.) His story of the past few months provides the reader with an insight into what it’s like out in the Stillness for other folks. The oncoming season has dropped the world into chaos. Jemisin filters this chaos through multiple lenses. We’ve seen it through historical quotes at the end of chapters for past seasons. We’ve seen the bulk of it through the eyes of Essun and the narrator. And we now get to experience it through someone who is nothing like Essun, who doesn’t have certain advantages that she does. Yes, he’s not an orogene, so that’s a HUGE quality in his favor in this world, but Lerna comes to understand very directly that his appearance means that his experience is complicated. He doesn’t have the “right” look or a “Sanzed bulk or height,” things that are valued in this world. Hell, Essun even theorizes that this is “probably why he’s worked so hard to prove his mental fitness.”

It has allowed him into Castrima, despite that he’s not an orogene. He’s got skills that they need as a doctor, and maybe his non-bigoted views on orogenes helped? Perhaps the others knew somehow that he wasn’t going to turn on them or disrespect them. Of course, there’s still a huge thing left unsaid here:

Can any of these people leave Castrima if they want?

Before we get to the last big twist here—and lord, it’s a big one—there’s a deeply intimate moment I wanted to address. I finish this book this week, and I don’t know HOW the fuck this is going to be wrapped up. And maybe most of it won’t! Maybe I’m going to be left on a cliffhanger, and this trilogy functions as one larger story split in parts, rather than three separate novels. Since we’re so close to the end, I have to start readying myself that this journey Essun has been on might come to a close soon. Fuck, I don’t even know who is narrating future books, and I was completely shocked by the change in narrators for The Inheritance Trilogy. So… what if this is it? What if Essun traveled this whole way, and she doesn’t find Nassun? I admit that part of me is clinging to the fact that Hoa said that he was leading her to Nassun, so there has to be a reason for that. At the same time, this has been a book about grief, about the decisions people make when they lose someone, particularly when there is an injustice present in that loss. Who does Essun become if she can’t find her daughter or her husband? What if Jija is never held accountable for what he’s done? What does that life look like?

I don’t have the answer. Lerna doesn’t either. And maybe this place is her new life. What are the other orogenes working towards? Just survival? Or maybe a radical new way of being, too. 

And maybe that’s the point of all this. Maybe The Fifth Season was always about the ways in which Essun was pushed—by Schaffa, by the Fulcrum, by Alabaster, by Meov, by her children, by the new Season—into a new understanding of the world and her place in it. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so awful for orogenes. 

Which is why the end of this chapter fits so well into this idea. The bad is getting back together, and so many people from Essun’s past are here. That includes Alabaster, who has returned to see if she can control obelisks… and also, he’s dying. 

Nothing like another punch in the heart, y’all. Am I about to find out what happened to Meov and Corundum? 


  • Who is “the band”?
  • Wait, why is she not Tonkee?
  • lmao, yes, that would be VERY exhausting.
  • OH 
  • MY
  • GOD
  • Following her WHY?????
  • “History is always relevant.” OOOOOOH I love this
  • Given her life to the secret???
  • a;alskdfj;adljflak;jf;jdfkdajf;asdjf;kladja;dfja;ksajfs
  • OH MY GOD 
  • Okay, so I was right… sort of?
  • But the obelisks were built for… what???
  • I’m interested if being trans in this world is more common or at least socially accepted in some comms. because it seems Tonkee’s family was more angry at the arranged marriage thing? but then there’s mention of a scandal?
  • ohhhhh so tonkee really DIDN’T plot anything out; she just happened across damaya by chance.
  • well, there it is. So… how did Syenite die?
  • well, great, my heart is broken again. poor uche
  • lmaaaooooo I love that Essun is like, “So… you have rocks?”
  • “This is me.” WHAT THE FUCK
  • ahhhhhhh the separation of identities as a means of hiding in plain sight AHHHHHHHHH
  • “you’re tired of reining it in” I LOVE THIS
  • except this book never is, jesus christ
  • heeeyyyyyyy, lerna, a looker, eh????
  • I was also not expecting to have to deal with the end of the world on top of everything else
  • something tells me those aren’t torture devices
  • oh no
  • no
  • oh no who is the man from Yumenes
  • FUCK
  • YOU
  • NO

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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