In the tenth chapter of The Obelisk Gate, I learn so much. I WASN’T READY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief and death, and a brief mention of suicide..
Holy shit. Well, that chapter title isn’t lying! What a massive, absurd, over-the-top thing to ask of a person, and yet? Every bit of this reveal—all the details, what Alabaster experienced and saw—fills in the gaps in the story. Y’all, I love it so much when reveals to mysteries feel this fulfilling, not just because the answers themselves are satisfying, but because they hint at an even bigger story to come. This isn’t anticlimactic in the slightest. Rather, Jemisin has just laid the foundation for one of the most ridiculous things this series might do. AND I’M STILL NOT EVEN HALFWAY THROUGH THE SERIES YET. Meaning that I’ve certainly not seen something else coming, and I’m gonna be ruined. RUINED.
So, let’s talk about chapter ten, in which Alabaster finally details what happened to him in the decade after the attack on Meov. Jemisin laces this entire section with grief, and at times, it was a tough read. And it had to be that way. In many ways, Alabaster and Essun were revisiting vulnerable ground. Just after Alabaster was taken away, Innon was murdered in one of the worst ways imaginable. Gone was all that kindness, all that potential, all that love. Just… gone. And I can’t ignore that as the years have passed, Alabaster has lost pieces of himself, but metaphorically and literally. Grief has eaten at him, and I do believe that has influenced the decisions he made over the years. Even in terms of the imagery, I feel like Alabaster believed that his life was basically over after he lost the two people he loved the most.
Let me explain. We learn that Antimony took Alabaster to Corepoint, a deadciv on the literal other side of the world, constructed around a massive hole that goes to the actual center of the Earth. There’s a lot here that definitely feels like Castrima, in the sense that it was clear that Corepoint was built by orogenes and meant to be run by them. Only now, it’s inhabited by hundreds of stone eaters. Every bit of this is a reminder of a past that did not come to be. What was Corepoint supposed to be like in the future? What was its intent? What had its creators imagined? It’s a testament to their skill that it still stands in the present, but even that is complicated by reality. Because none of those orogenes survived on in future generations to keep the city operation. And I’m definitely curious how long the stone eaters have called it home.
Anyway, what I’m leading up to is one of the most devastating lines in the whole damn book, and it also forms part of my interpretation of the entire chapter as a rumination on grief. Alabaster says:
“That’s all we make now: Better ways to do field surgery with improvised equipment. Better chemicals, so we can grow more beans with little light. Once, we were so much more.” He falls silent again, for a long moment. “I cried for you and Innon and Coru for three days, there in that city of who we used to be.”
Thinking back on The Fifth Season, I now have a different understanding of things. Alabaster wanted Essun to stay on Meov and live there, to abandon the world that had so poorly treated them. He gave up on the idea of changing the Stillness and its culture of bigotry and violence. Here, he talks about how their orogene ancestors once lived in excess, creating a place like Corepoint. (Which will be further complicated in a moment.) Do orogenes create anything like that anymore? No. There is grief in Alabaster’s words as he imagines a time when the day-to-day choices of orogenes were drastically different. He pulls that grief through time, and he mourns in that city because he lost the only things that made this awful world tolerable. That’s who he used to be.
And I know that Alabaster says he wasn’t trying to kill himself when he dove into the Obelisk Gate (I assume that is the name!), but it’s hard for me to not see a connection between the two. What did Alabaster have to lose after losing everything that mattered? His existence in Corepoint wasn’t living aside from the most literal interpretation of that idea. He was alive, but at what cost? It’s not like the stone eaters there were wonderful conversationalists! It’s not like they told him why they were keeping him safe.
But as that history came to light, Alabaster changed. He had to! As uncomfortable as it was, he knew that there was a way to genuinely change the world, even if it came at great cost to himself and to humanity. Jemisin does an interesting thing here: By revealing what the Obelisk Gate is, what the obelisks are, and what the solution is to ending the seasons, she makes it harder to categorize… literally anything. We know now what Hoa’s cryptic words about being on a “side” mean, though we don’t know which of the three sides he’s on. But even that is a wonderful thing: There’s not an easy dichotomy here! It’s not one side versus another; reality is far more fractured than that.
I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt what Alabaster said, so: Orogenes built the gate and the obelisks, hoping to tap into the power of Father Earth deeply below the surface of the world. They actually achieved this, but in doing so, they flung the moon into a distant elliptical orbit, created the Shattering, and doomed the Earth to exist with Seasons. Not just that, but Father Earth isn’t a belief, but a real, living being, and he is PISSED at what happened to him and his child.
It wasn’t an easy thing to make the orogenes the ones who destroyed the world, but you know what? I can’t stop thinking of what Jemisin wrote in the early part of the chapter about orogenes:
…then what was the point? The game was too rigged to bother playing.
Because why make them the originators of this ongoing disaster? It didn’t matter, though, because stills in this world were probably always going to view them as dangerous. It might be unfortunate that they actually did something dangerous, but it’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy. This isn’t confirming what bigots always suspected of orogenes. What it meant to me is that orogenes are deeply human, and that means they have the capacity to make horrific, self-serving decisions, ones that affect people for centuries to come.
Speaking of the passage of time… wow. Well, the stone eaters now make complete sense! Because in retaliation for the orogenes’ mistake, Earth thought it could make humans more like itself, and so it turned a whole batch of humans into stone eaters. And all the stone eaters in the world now are those same humans BECAUSE THEY DON’T DIE. Y’all, this part HAUNTED me:
“I can barely remember things that happened to me fifty years ago. Ten thousand. Twenty. Imagine forgetting your own name. That’s why they never answer, when we ask them who they are.” You inhale in realization. “I don’t think it’s what they’re made of that makes stone eaters so different. I think that no one can live that long and not become something entirely alien.”
Hi. HI. ALL THE STONE EATERS ARE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD AND ARE ALL FROM THE ERA WHEN THE SHATTERING HAPPENED. I can’t!!! I can’t fucking do this!!!! (Just kidding, I am EATING this shit up.)
I just love how this gives so much context to their behavior. I really do. They are human… but humans stretched out over impossible-to-fathom time frames. Tens of thousands of years, made to be like stone, unable to truly die… holy shit. So yeah, I get why even amongst them, there are fractures. Some probably want all humans dead. Some are against the Earth. And is it too much to hope that Hoa is amongst that third option? That third option is frightening because I don’t know what it entails, but it doesn’t seem impossible. Essun only figures out what it is after a chilling conversation with Antimony. Now look, I still have a lot of questions about the Obelisk Gate and some of the details that Alabaster revealed. (Like people living in the Gate? What the FUCK??? Or why 216 obelisks????) But right now, I just want to quote the greatest fucking thing I have ever read with mine own eyes:
What. “Alabaster said the Moon was flung away.”
“Into a degrading long-ellipsis orbit.” When you stare blankly, she speaks your language again. “It’s coming back.”
Oh, Earth. Oh, rust. Oh, no. ”You want me to catch the fucking Moon?”
All of the written word was created to lead us to this moment. ALL OF IT. I love that Jemisin is able to grant the reader this incredible reveal AND have a sense of humor at the same time. I could feel Essun’s exasperation and shock leap off the page.
So that’s what she is gonna do.
Catch the fucking MOON.
And maybe that’s really the solution. A peaceful existence with stone eaters, the Earth, humans, and orogenes, made at any cost. Because right now, the cost is millions of human lives. Already. And how many more will die as this Season gets worse? How many more will die in the coming war? Is that a price Essun is willing to pay in order to repair the world?
Y’all, I’m so ready for this. I’m ready for Essun to reconsider her feelings on the stone-eaters. I’m ready for us to find out more about the Shattering. I’M READY FOR HER TO CATCH THE FUCKING MOON!!!!
- oh this chapter title. oh no. OH NO.
- OH IS IT FINALLY GONNA TELL ME WHAT ALABASTER TOLD ESSUN
- “The game was too rigged to bother playing.” THE WAY I SCREAMED WHEN I READ THIS
- oh, my heart is gonna break. cool. cool. cool.
- ugh, I miss innon.
- BEEN WHERE. WHAT
- the other side of the world?????
- what the fuck
- how how is there a city there???
- I’m losing it WHAT THE FUCK
- I’m sorry, a stone eater CITY??????????
- this is HEARTBREAKING.
- “in that city of who we used to be” goodbye, rip mark
- the city can TALK????/
- the enemy they face is… a giant hole in the ground????
- okay wait. someone dug this hole to create the obelisks and harness the power of the earth???
- oh ok
- oh I need to go lie down
- no this can’t be true. but it probably is. oh my god, orogenes destroyed the earth???
- WHAT DOES THAT MEAN
- a three-sided war?????
- what the fuck is happening!!!!!
- SOME OF THEM WATCHED IT HAPPEN?????
- I’M LOSING IT, THE REAL VILLAIN IS BOTH HUMANS AND THE EARTH???? oh god I don’t even know! Is the antagonist just a matter of perspective????
- oh my god the stone eaters used to be human
- it all makes so much sense
- what the fuck HE JUMPED IN
- every new detail ruins me. windows??? people lived down there???
- WHAT THE FUCK
- LITERAL WAR AGAINST THE WORLD
- “I’m his ally. Not yours.” whew that one hurt ME
- omg it’s the title
- is the Gate the hole?
- “It’s coming back.”
- “You want me to catch the fucking Moon?” GREATEST LINE IN ALL OF FICTION, I FUCKING LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH
- peaceful coexistence by any means necessary. oh my god. wow.
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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