Mark Reads ‘The Obelisk Gate’: Chapter 6

In the sixth chapter of The Obelisk Gate, THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST THINGS I’VE EVER READ. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of body horror, slavery, transphobia

Oh, I’m just… I’m so happy with where this book is going, and in particular, that ending??? Is too much??? And so fucking incredibly perfect???

It’s clear that a decision has been made, though, and Essun is going to stay. So it’s also really cool after writing what I did for chapter four, I get to see just how vibrant and exciting this choice is. Just because Essun has chosen to remain in one place does not mean the story is static at all. IF ANYTHING IT HAS GOTTEN EVEN MORE EXCITING??? Before we even get to THE THING, Jemisin packed this chapter with a ton of information, and I really need to talk about it. ALL OF IT. I totally get why Essun didn’t grill Tonkee on the socket in Main in the last book. She didn’t know how much she could trust her, first of all. Then there was that whole thing about THE WORLD ENDING AROUND THEM. So they were kind of distracted. A little bit preoccupied, if you will! And the context of the conversation matters, too. Essun has been trying to settle down in Castrima, taking jobs with many of the castes to see where she can help, and so things just aren’t as hectic as they were. Thus, she can question Tonkee about what Alabaster told her to see if there’s any truth to this whole Moon business. 

There’s an element of Tonkee’s geomest life that I really enjoy, though, that I found more interesting than the obelisk lore itself. So much of her pursuit of knowledge was a reclamation of herself. We already knew that she wasn’t well-received by her family, but this part just filled me with joy:

“We have texts passed down from that time, secrets that each family is charged with keeping, and which we’re supposed to be shown upon earning our use and comm names.” She scowls. “My family didn’t, because they were already thinking about disowning me. So I broke into the vault and took my birthright.” 

Two things jump out to me here. There’s not an explicit use of the word “transphobia” here (and I don’t even know if these people use the word trans at all; I suspect not), but we can see how Tonkee’s “difference” turned her family against her. So I love that she raised a figurative middle finger at them and took what she wanted, what she deserved. But I’m also interested by how history is passed down like this. No wonder no one knows what the fuck happened all those years ago. How many family secrets are kept in confidence? How many of those secrets tell a different story about orogenes? Geomests? Lorists? Sockets and obelisks and the order of the world? I can’t help but also see this as a way of controlling information. If these Leadership families get to be the tellers of all these stories, generation after generation, would they ever pursue a truth that would undo their power? Their status? Their position as the arbiters of truth? 

Because the “evidence” that obelisks predate the Shattering—the very first Season—suggest that history is not what is taught. 

Now, I love this as a history nerd, I love it as a mystery nerd, I LOVE IT AS A WAY TO GUIDE THESE CHARACTERS FORWARD. Because what if these theories—including those put forth by Alabaster in the second half of the chapter—are true? What does that mean for the players of this series? If there was once a time before Seasons, what broke the world the first time? I also couldn’t ignore the references Hoa made in the Interlude before chapter five when I read Tonkee’s logic as to why Seasons couldn’t have been a permanent feature of the Earth. They both align, right? Humans aren’t as different and adapted as they should be if Seasons were always a part of the world. Which then makes me think: Were orogenes always around? Where did they come from? 

And what were the obelisks originally doing? I thought maybe the sockets were where they were supposed to remain, and someone… took them out? I don’t know? There has to be a reason they float around in the sky. Just like there has to be a reason that they’re so drawn to orogenes. That’s the answer, right? Somewhere in there? And I bet the weird geode city of Castrima is part of the answer, too, since that place was built to be used by orogenes. 

Well… there’s also this:

Tonkee glances sharply at you. “Orogenes might be a kind of fix, too, you know,” she says. “And without the Seasons, you’d no longer be needed.”



Could they be… CONNECTED? dun dun DUN.

I have no reason, then, to disbelieve the things that Alabaster tells Essun. Combined with the interlude and Tonkee’s theories, I feel like a much fuller portrait is coming into focus. I think the stone-eaters are like… weird agents of Father Earth? I don’t know that “agents” is the right word here, but that’s what fits best for the time being. They most likely see humans of all types (but especially orogenes) as pawns. But that doesn’t explain a thing here: Antimony’s comforting “music.” I still can’t tell if there is affection, care, or love here between her and Alabaster, and it’s possible it’s hard to see because stone-eaters might express these things differently than humans. Even Essun calls out Antimony for this, claiming that she hasn’t been taking care of him. 

But Antimony says nothing. And I’m not even sure that what’s happening to Alabaster is something to be demonized. What if there is a mercy in what Antimony is doing? We don’t even know the reason why she’s eating him. (That’s a fun sentence to type.) He claims here that this was the price he paid for the Rift, but I can’t sit here and tell you why his body is slowly turning to stone since then. 

But it almost doesn’t matter why. In the technical sense, I mean. Perhaps because he did something with Antimony that day when he dumped the Fulcrum into the Rift, he is slowly becoming a stone-eater. Or just stone. I don’t need a minute, biological explanation, though. And that sort of goes hand-in-hand with the beauty of the mind-blowing revelation at the end of this chapter. You don’t necessarily need to understand something to accept it. There’s so much in this series that I don’t get, and the same goes for Essun. She’s in the dark, too, and often times, we can experience that sort of ignorance through her. What greater mystery is there than what allows orogeny? It’s not just asking where orogenes come from. How can they do what they do?

That’s not the question I thought would be answered when Alabaster asked Essun to look into his arm. I actually thought she was gonna learn why he was being turned to stone. 

Yeah. Nope.

Between the gelidity, moving, too, but in a slower and less organic way, you suddenly sess the same thing you found in the stone of him. Something else, neither flesh nor stone. Something immaterial, and yet it is there for you to perceive. It glimmers in threads strung between the bits of him, crossing itself in lattices, shifting constantly. A tension? An energy, shiny and streaming. Potential. Intention.

You shake your head, pulling back so you can focus on him. “What is that?”

This time he answers. “The stuff of orogeny.” 

It strikes me now that orogenes aren’t taught this. Essun reacts in a way to confirm to me that no one at the Fulcrum ever explained to her the inner workings of orogeny. And why would they? Why would the Fulcrum teach these people they see as both non-human and a weapon that they have something powerful, unexplainable, and gorgeous within them? They would never dream of doing that. Because the story has to be that orogenes are dangerous abominations that must be controlled. They can’t have them believing that they’re beings of energy, of potential, of intention, can they? This is all because stills have been in control of the stories and the definitions of orogenes. They hand it down amongst themselves, as Tonkee said, controlling the truth. And now, Essun isn’t just re-learning history; she is re-learning herself. 

So. The Moon. Somehow it was lost, and I’m certain now that this was the great loss that Father Earth despaired over. I still don’t know how you “lose” a Moon, but it’s gone, and I also believe Alabaster’s assertion that this is part of what caused the Seasons. I also know that there’s no question why Alabaster did all this. Why open that Rift? Why send the world into a new Season? Why not do anything else?

That’s when you no longer need an answer to the question. There is such a thing as too much loss. Too much has been taken from you both—taken and taken and taken, until there’s nothing left but hope, nd you’ve given that up because it hurts too much. Until you would rather die, or kill, or avoid attachments altogether, than lose one more thing. 

Jemisin immediately places this within the context of the book and Essun’s decision to kill Corundum rather than let them live a life of slavery. But it’s also easy to see a direct parallel to the real world: How much is too much? At which point is the whole rotten system so rotten that it’s better to bring it all crashing down rather than try to repair it from within? So, is that what Alabaster meant? Does he want Essun to help him destroy it all? Does he expect her to agree that it’s all too much, that there’s nothing left to save in the world? Maybe. And maybe she is at that point, especially since she’s given up on finding her daughter.

Still, I haven’t given up hope myself, and the final moment of this chapter was so damn rejuvenating. Earlier, Alabaster had not shared the word that was used by the originators of the obelisks, the one meant to describe orogeny. Y’all. Y’ALL.

He starts to shake his head, winces as this causes him pain somewhere, sighs instead. “They called it magic.”

It’s meaningless. Just a word. But maybe you can give it meaning somehow. “Magic,” you repeat, memorizing. Then you nod farewell, and leave without looking back. 

Magic. They’re fucking magic. Of course this society in the Stillness doesn’t have this word. How can you subjugate and oppress orogenes if what they do is MAGIC? How can you tell them they are worthless outside of the Fulcrum if their bodies contain magic? How can you tell their stories and assume your own supremacy when orogenes are FUCKING MAGIC? 

Magic. MAGIC.

I love this. I love it so deeply, and I want to see Essun find her own magic. 


  • okay so… I’m guessing from the title that Essun is joining Castrima?
  • lmao, well, she’s trying!
  • oh shit, obelisks WOULD be satellites! so… where the fuck is the Moon, then??? did they really lose it??/ omg is it just floating out in space, missing its planet
  • oh well now I’m wondering if obelisks have motivations!!!
  • we still don’t know why that one over allia had a STONE EATER inside of it!!!
  • well, guessing we’ll see that yellow stone again
  • if the obelisks pre-date it WHAT ARE THEY FOR
  • oh wait. tonkee saying life isn’t different enough. the interlude!!!
  • okay this theory FITS. doesn’t it??? these adaptations are deviations from what is the “norm,” but only slightly!!!
  • a;kfdsa;lfsdalfdsjfklddjk oh my god
  • what if the obelisks aren’t supposed to be floating around???
  • what if they form…. a GATE
  • I truly cannot deal with alabaster being eaten by antimony. it just… fucks me up. so much.
  • hey, the sound of antimony’s eyes moving? cancelled. absolutely cancelled.
  • oh. right. keeping her kids safe helped her refine her control.
  • holy shit, alabaster hasn’t ever spoken about his mom 🙁 🙁 🙁
  • well, there’s the confirmation I needed: the Fulcrum is gone forever.
  • look inside his arm????
  • y’all I am not ready for this
  • what the fuck???
  • becoming????????
  • lmao look how quickly they fell back into old patterns. I know this scene is tense but it’s so fucking FUNNY.
  • “everything’s so wet inside him” I’M FUCKING DYING
  • WHAT
  • IT’S WHAT?????
  • what is it called!!!!!!!!!
  • oh I am so excited. this is incredible.
  • the loss of the moon CAUSED the seasons??? WHERE IS THE MOON
  • his only child
  • I am fucking LOSING IT!!!!
  • this is so incredible. what price will essun pay??? 
  • “There is such thing as too much loss.” I… am crying now. fuck. 
  • this. fucking. book.
  • magic
  • fucking
  • I can’t
  • the poetic POWER of that fucking line
  • hey what the FUCK is that quote at the end

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!
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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