Mark Reads ‘The Obelisk Gate’: Chapter 3

In the third chapter of The Obelisk Gate, I would like to fight everything. And everyone. Forever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of abuse (specifically child abuse), consent

Look, I’ll just repeat what I said in the notes I took when reading this for the first time: The literal act of seeing Schaffa’s name activated my fight or flight response. I had a VISCERAL reaction to this because I HATE this character with EVERY CELL IN MY BODY. And Jemisin does a masterful thing here: she pulls us into his mind, but doesn’t pull punches. 

I love a good sympathetic villain, I do. But within the context of this series and within the context of the real world, people like Schaffa are too often excused for what they’ve done. That’s not the case here at ALL, and I loved how many little damning moments there were along the way. But it’s not just that. Chapter three has forced me to re-think the Guardians. There’s so much I didn’t know about them, and yet I still operated under some assumptions. One being that they are stills, but I think this chapter suggests that they’re like… almost orogenes? Part orogene? I don’t know.

Let’s talk about that. First, though: Schaffa survived. I KNEW IT. I knew that without seeing his dead body that his story couldn’t quite be over. And yet, despite predicting this, I don’t think I was prepared for a SINGLE thing that Jemisin did to me, starting with this:

Schaffa knows what’s coming the instant he feels the obelisk’s pulse. He is old, old, Syenite’s Guardian. So old. He knows what stone eaters do to powerful orogenes whenever they get the chance, and he knows why it is crucial to keep orogenes’ eyes on the ground and not the sky.

HI, WHAT THE FUCK???? WHAT???? He knew all this the whole time??? Of course, there was no way for us to know without dropping into his point of view, like we do for this chapter. It makes sense to me that he (and perhaps all Guardians who are overseeing powerful orogenes) would manipulate them into never looking up rather than tell them about it. Yet for Schaffa, this is just duty to the Fulcrum. Certainly, that plays a part in how he acts, and even in this chapter, we can still see it crop up repeatedly. But Schaffa is motivated by love. His version of love, of course, a love that is obsessive and dedicated and loyal and toxic. He cannot see outside of the experience he is in, and he definitely does not view his love for Syenite as a form of violence. That’s despite the fact that we saw in Damaya’s chapters that she associated his love with violence. It was always there!

Schaffa’s love for this woman doesn’t stop him from thinking shit like this:

…the Guardian who has just killed Syenite’s feral lover…

So no amount of love can get this toxicity out of his mind. He might love this one orogene, but it doesn’t negate the hatred and negative bias he has for other orogenes. He is a Guardian, after all. Right?

Except what does that actually mean?

Because as Schaffa nearly drowns to death in the wake of Syen’s destruction of everything off the coast of Meov, something happens. The text calls back to Damaya’s and Tonkee’s discovery inside the Main building. Remember, that Guardian asked Damaya if it “spoke” to her, and I believe that this is the same voice that Schaffa hears as he is dying. And in order for that voice to happen, a Guardian needs to be vulnerable. Able to be seduced. By whom? Fuck if I know! But as the text says: 

He wants to live. This is the first and worst sin, for one of his kind. 

It seemed such a strange thing to say. Why would a Guardian prefer death? And then, moments later, the answer comes: because this state leaves them open. The voice is in Schaffa’s head as he drowns, offering him life in exchange for… well, something. I don’t know. By the time I got to the end of chapter three, I still didn’t know what the cost was!!! But holy shit, THIS WHOLE PART:

We all do what we have to do, comes the seducer’s whisper, and this is the same reasoning Schaffa has used on himself too many times, over the centuries. Justifying too many atrocities. One does what one must, for duty. For life.

Y’all, I didn’t even fucking notice that until right now: OVER THE CENTURIES. How fucking old is Schaffa? Like, I can’t ignore that and what the final quote says. Who the fuck are the Guardians? Who do they serve? Who is this power that can heal a person at will, and what is the price they have to pay? I did love that Jemisin puts this reminder here: this apparently “malevolent” force that is exploiting Schaffa uses the same faulty logic that he does. 

Doesn’t feel so great anymore, does it, Schaffa? 

There is a transformation here, and as I noted down below, that’s a motif we’ve seen across the series so far. People change, and they become something else because of the world around them. Here, because of the price Schaffa paid, he appears to have lost most of who he was, aside from instinctual reactions and knowledge. I was intrigued by what Jemisin said remained:

What remains is a man with a habit of smiling, a warped paternal instinct, and a rage that is not wholly his own driving everything he does from this point on. 

Schaffa smiled because it disarmed others. At least that’s my take on that part. It was his superficial “kindness” that got Damaya to come with him, remember? She felt seen by him. When orogenes are so deeply hated and despised that it is acceptable to murder them, how do they react when someone purports to be kind to them? So it’s no surprise that from this, Schaffa developed a “warped paternal instinct.” 

But… whose rage now drives him? My gut reaction is… Father Earth? Maybe? A stone eater? I DON’T KNOW. 

So Schaffa survives, but he’s now… different. He’s forgotten much of his training, but only in a specific context, one I couldn’t nail down until the end of the chapter. It seems like his hatred of orogenes has been excised from his brain? No, that’s not quite right. It’s like the part of him that was raised to code all orogenes as terrible and needing subjugation simply doesn’t activate all the time. He still uses the slur to describe them, and there are moments where his training kicks in. For example, when Schaffa meets Eitz, the young boy who has realized he is an Orogene, there’s this exchange:

“People kill orogenes,” the boy says softly. “When they find them. Unless they’re with a Guardian.”

“Do they?” It seems uncivilized of them.

For the briefest flash, Schaffa reveals both a radical thought and recovers a part of himself. Because Schaffa does want to find child orogenes and save them, right? It’s kinda his thing, and it’s definitely what we saw when he discovered Damaya. At the same time: YES. YES, IT’S A DEEPLY UNCIVILIZED BEHAVIOR. 

However, I think there’s some hope here. Schaffa is being compelled to act because of this “anger” in him, and whatever force that is, it’s pushing him in a new direction. Somewhat, I should say. Because there are moments when his normal training takes over, you know? I see his movements in the latter part of the chapter as evidence of that. It feels so natural for him to bond Eitz to him, a process which somehow felt even creepier than it did before. What is actually taking place when a Guardian touches a person? I feel like it’s obvious that there’s a violation of consent there, especially since orogenes become very amenable to doing whatever their Guardian wants. Here’s what Schaffa wants this time, though:

Gather them, train them, make them the weapons they are meant to be.

That’s what the “anger” says to Schaffa. This is not work to be done with the Fulcrum, is it? Even though Eitz and Schaffa head south from Metter, I don’t think they’re bound for Yumenes. So… what the fuck is happening here? 

And what’s the explanation for Schaffa killing the ENTIRE household? It could be that this was instinctual, too. Once he knew that Eitz’s mother was “inadequate to the task,” he just wiped out her. She’s dead seconds later. I also wonder if the jolts of energy and memory fueled his actions. What if he stole all those lives to make himself better? What if it was a punishment because he realized none of these people would protect Eitz?

Yet even that protection comes with a cost. Jemisin reminds us again that Schaffa is particularly good at manipulation:

He’s old for such words to have the power on him that they do. They work, Schaffa suspects, because Eitz has spent the past few months living in terror of his family. It is nothing to play on such a lonely, weary state of mind. It isn’t even a lie.

What the fuck is Schaffa doing? Is he really going to collect orogenes and train them all himself? What’s the end goal here? WHY AM I STILL SO UNPREPARED FOR THIS BOOK???


  • NO 
  • the title of this chapter ALONE activated my fight or flight response
  • oh my god WHO IS HE NOW?
  • what the fuck HE KNEW ABOUT THE OBELISKS THE WHOLE TIME? and stone eaters?????????
  • it’s also ironic considering that YOU ARE THE WORST, SCHAFFA
  • I noticed that even in Schaffa’s narration, there’s dehumanization of orogenes. look how he thinks about Innon. 
  • “This is the first and worst sin, for one of his kind.” hey, WHAT. what does this mean???
  • oh
  • oh
  • oh the voice
  • the voice that the Guardian asked about when Damaya found the socket
  • help???? this seduction???? the acknowledgment that he has justified so much tragedy because it was what he has to do?
  • So much of this series thus far has been about transformation. so who is Schaffa becoming? What is he becoming? What remains?
  • “He was part of you, once.” Who? Essun? Us? 
  • wait is he losing his memory?????
  • this is all so much. holy shit. he survived. but again: at what cost???
  • What name did Schaffa give?
  • “It seems uncivilized of them.” YOU DON’T SAY
  • schaffa’s instinct takes over so QUICKLY
  • does a guardian like… feed off an orogene? schaffa describes this as a “need” and that seems intentional
  • jesus, schaffa misunderstanding who deserved protecting in the scenario
  • hey
  • what the fuck???? take more????
  • SOUTH??? whta the fuck WHERE???
  • oh my god, that quote from Emperor Mutshatee??? WHO DO THEY WORK FOR??????

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.
– If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in The Broken Earth, The Obelisk Gate and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.