Mark Reads ‘The Obelisk Gate’: Chapter 2

In the second chapter of The Obelisk Gate, Alabaster requests something of Essun. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.

Trigger Warning: For brief mentions of trauma, death of a child

Wow. Not that I was excited to start this book, but I’m SO EXCITED to keep reading? Can I just write a reviews that’s all, “LOTS OF STUFF HAPPENED” so that I can get back to it? Please????

I’m so happy that this picks up IMMEDIATELY after the cliffhanger, and Jemisin drops us back into the thick of it. While Alabaster is still frustratingly vague, I do feel like we’re going to get a lot of answers and get them soon, particularly concerning Alabaster’s intentions. How did he know that Essun would eventually make it to Castrima? Did Antimony and Hoa communicate this, and that’s why Hoa brought Essun here? That seems possible, but I also don’t feel like Hoa would lie about this. If anything, if he doesn’t want to tell the truth, he says nothing or he just flat-out pivots the conversation. 

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. I imagine that if you read these books in real time, the reunion of Essun and Alabaster had to have felt huge. Even though it’s been a week, I still believe the text gives us this sense of absence between these two characters. One way that is communicated is how easily they both fall into their old patterns of bickering and insulting and… well, caring. It’s one of the ways how they care about one another. But we’ve never seen this through Essun’s POV, so it feels new. It’s new, and it’s also upsetting because of the context. I don’t think my prediction about Alabaster’s fate is wrong, at least not yet, and his condition hangs over the events of this chapter. How much longer does he have? Why is he turning to stone? Why are the stone eaters feeding off of him? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

So there’s a natural tension to everything happening here because I felt like Alabaster was the ticking clock. (One of many. There’s also the oncoming Season, which I’ll get to in a second.) He needs to know if Essun can still call to obelisks. And look, it’s completely understandable why she hasn’t done so since Allia. She wanted to disappear! She wanted to chase normalcy after experiencing the terrible trauma of killing her own child. Why would she toy with the obelisks ever again?

Well, because Alabaster asked her to. I truly believe no one else in the Stillness could compel her to do this, even though he still won’t tell her what’s going on. They have a history—a complicated one, yes, but this man means so much to her. So I see her as being motivated out of a loyalty to him. I see her as being so damn curious that she’ll do this just to get some sort of an answer. I see her as knowing firsthand how powerful the obelisks are as an amplifier and wanting to explore that further.

But before we get to that, Jemisin takes us through an utterly fascinating conversation that reveals SO MUCH about Castrima, how it’s run, and what the comm is planning. Which is to survive the Season underground. It’s not a terrible idea, and the fact that this geode home has outlived SO MUCH kinda stands as evidence that its possible. But as Essun waits for the right moment to ask Ykka for permission to go aboveground, she is more or less forced into a leadership role for the comm. Essun has gotten to a place in her life where she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. That’s the whole point of her new name and her decision to “hide” as an orogene for so very long. So, this is very much not something she would do willingly. Hell, she hasn’t even technically agreed to be a part of Castrima. She found the place, and now she can’t leave? More or less???

That being said: I understand Ykka’s reasoning here. It’s not just that Essun is a newcomer or that she’s spent time aboveground. There’s a specific context to it all: Essun was aboveground as the new season began. She knows things—like the Equatorials’ clothing choices and behaviors, like the landscape, like what the world has been like in the grasp of the Fulcrum, most of which I do believe is now gone. How can these things help Castrima survive? Ykka is smart to have Essun on her side, just like it’s a good idea to have Hoa help, to have Lerna help, to have as many perspectives as possible contributing to a single goal. 

From a reader standpoint, I also appreciated this whole meeting because it gave me a better sense of how things are run in Castrima. Ykka might be the leader, but she is deliberate in consulting with others. The comm has a standard of living that is different from what Essun is used to, especially when it comes to what things they value. (Like the temperature of the bathing water.) Then there’s the obvious difference: orogenes. Leading. Making policy and decisions. Not having to worry about BEING orogenes! It’s a lot, isn’t it? Even to me, this felt so new and refreshing, with the only other analogue being Meov. (I’M STILL SO UPSET.) Given that the geode seems best utilized by orogenes, I think these people have a real chance of survival during the season.

But let’s talk about those obelisks. I first want to say that this made me laugh out loud:

No help for it, then. “An obelisk,” you say, relenting. You glance at Lerna; he blinks and frowns. “Alabaster wants me to call an obelisk. I’m going to see if I can.”

To your surprise, Ykka nods, her eyes alight. “Aha! Always thought there was something about those things. Let’s go, then. I definitely want to see this.”

INCREDIBLE. You can tell that Essun thought that Ykka would be discouraged if she knew the truth, but NOPE. She is READY. I mean… shit, I was, too! Hurry up! I wanted to see if she was still capable of calling them after all those years! I am happy to say that I was not the least bit disappointed by what unfolds aboveground. First, my HEART was DESTROYED by Essun admitting that Alabaster hasn’t ever truly hurt her and that maybe he has earned a bit of her trust. Trust, a thing that Essun does not give up that easily, but that he “earned” and I’m just… very emotional about this??? Very????

AND THEN BAM, HIT IN THE FACE (not literally) WITH NOT ONE BUT TWO OBELISKS. Onyx, far “past the Western Coastals, which begins its journey to Essun because she did indeed call to it. Then there’s the topaz one, which I believe Alabaster thought would be the one Essun would call to. NOPE. TWO OF THEM. And then there’s this part, which also has my mind whirring with possibilities:

He shrugs. “I’m just thinking of similarities.” 

You understand then. Crystals in Castrima-under that glow through some means you can’t fathom. Crystals that float in the sky by some means you can’t fathom. Both mechanisms meant to be used by orogenes and no one else.

HOW DARE YOU TEASE ME WITH THIS. So… whomever designed these things designed them both? Maybe for a shared purpose??? WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

And what does it mean that Hoa ends this chapter being afraid that Essun is in danger? One of the best tropes to make me nervous is to have a fearless character suddenly have something to be afraid of. Yeah, that shit does me in every time. Jemisin doesn’t just utilize this trope, though. It’s wrapped up in a different understanding: This chapter is where Essun realizes that Hoa has been protecting her. It’s a sensation she’s not used to because who actually cares enough about an orogene to protect them? 

I’m very interested in where this relationship is going, y’all. Does Hoa view Essun as a means to an end, sort of like Antimony seems to do with Alabaster? Or does he genuinely care for her?


  • it truly IS amazing to see how quickly these two fall back into old patterns
  • wait what is essun talking about re: listening to Schaffa?
  • oh duh, for obvious reasons. I thought maybe this was hinting at some backstory I didn’t know LMAO
  • why??? why is he asking her all this????
  • precious thing??? what the FUCK
  • The whole “Your People” bit KILLS me. The Fulcrum deliberately fostered an environment where thwarting and betraying was necessary to survive. of course they don’t want orogenes to see one another as equals! oh god, the ring system probably contributed to that as well.
  • Oh, Antimony totally used her power to get inside Castrima
  • Interesting that there’s an assumption that all Imperial Orogenes were in Yumenes, therefore it’s weird that any survived. Unless Lerna is referring to something else?
  • Ooooooh, the “Hunters” use-caste.
  • did she just get made an advisor????
  • holy shit, born in castrima????
  • oh, I love that difficulty in having to shift from a person-centered worldview to a community one
  • wow, they’re genuinely going to try to live out a season underground.
  • oh no, cutter’s coming with them? I really shouldn’t be surprised about that
  • Oh, wow, she is already adapting to a new environment
  • north???? WHY????
  • that whole “He’s never hurt you,” paragraph? that ruined me. THAT hurt me
  • ONYX?????
  • a new obelisk????
  • lmaoooo at Essun assuming Ykka doesn’t know what a battery is
  • what similarities, lerna???
  • oh
  • OH
  • those similarities
  • don’t like hoa being afraid, not one bit!
  • oh, she doesn’t really know what it’s like to be protected
  • oh
  • oh my heart

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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