Mark Reads ‘The Obelisk Gate’: Chapter 9

In the ninth chapter of The Obelisk Gate, Nassun discovers a new sensation. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For extended discussion of abuse

So, after reading this, I have two primary questions about this entire plotline:

1) What is the purpose of this weird Guardian/orogene comm in the Antarctics?

2) How much control is the thing inside Schaffa asserting on his life? 

Truthfully, I think the actual answer to this question combines these two realities, as I feel the first Schaffa chapter heavily, heavily suggested that this force that saved his life guided him to this place. In some ways, he feels like a literal pawn. That being said, I wanted to analyze this chapter from these two queries, as I think it’ll help me figure out what’s going on here.

The Comm of Jekity

I just realized that there’s an interesting parallel between Jekity and Castrima, one that I bet we’d see all over the Stillness. Jekity has been around a long time, but its past is full of loss. It seems every comm goes through this at one point in time or another: They thrive. They suffer enormous setbacks. They nearly die out (or they actually do). And someone tries it all over again. It’s a constant cycle of rebirth and survival, isn’t it? In Jekity’s case, though, I wonder if there’s a clue to the future. Jekity fell apart because of mistakes, accidents, and a refusal to unify to face a common problem. Is that why this new comm might actually succeed? Because Schaffa has unified everyone around a common goal?

What is that goal? My initial worry came from this bit, describing the ten orogene children who were a part of this comm: 

There were ten, but when one of the children caused a brief but powerful earthshake amid a temper tantrum one evening, the child vanished. Maite did not ask questions. It’s good to know the Guardians are doing their jobs. 

It was easy for me to assume what happened here, because it’s what happened at the Fulcrum: the tenth child was murdered. And even if it’s possible that Schaffa is not truly reconstructing the Fulcrum in Jekity, there are elements of that system that he’s still clinging to, like this one. Difficult orogene children are removed from the equation. Right? 

Thus, the obedient orogene children remain, and there are nine of them aside from Nassun. The first one she meets says something very, very interesting:

“Yumenes had the Fulcrum, and Jekity has this: A place where you can be yourself, and always be safe. Schaffa and the other Guardians are here for us, too, remember. This is ours.”

But is it? Is it truly a place where they can be themselves? What does that actually mean? I questioned this not because I didn’t believe the children; I just wondered if they were regurgitating what they were told or if this really was an accurate take on this place. For what it’s worth, as Jemisin introduced me to the other children, they seemed happy. I didn’t get a sense of the same competitive, nasty energy that we see in The Fifth Season during the Damaya chapters. There’s genuine affection and a desire for friendship here, and the fact that this kids are allowed to pursue this? That gives me pause. If anything, I felt the Guardians and teachers of the Fulcrum deliberately sowed discontent among the students so that they wouldn’t team up with one another. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. (With one exception! Lashar’s coldness towards Nassun has more to do with Lashar’s upbringing and class issues. Okay, maybe “class” isn’t the right designation here, but you get what I mean.) 

So, they do seem to have more freedom than I expected. They’re also all self-trained, so to speak. They’re not taught by other orogenes because there are no adult orogenes anywhere. (Which is a fascinating contrast to Castrima.) That also seems by design. Why? Why not show them an adult orogene? Or use that source of knowledge? Is it because nearly all adult orogenes were routed through the Fulcrum? Are Schaffa and the other Guardians deliberately trying not to repeat the same means of training? AHHHH, I DON’T FUCKING KNOW. Later, Schaffa states that it’s good that Nassun and the others are not at the Fulcrum because:

“And that’s good, because there are… things you can do.” His face twitches. Flicker of silver through him again, then quiescence. “Things you are needed to do, which… things that Fulcrum training cannot do.”

Which leads me perfectly to my other question. 

The Strange Silvery Threads

Nassun mentions these whenever she can sense that there is something or someone else inside of Schaffa. I believe it’s intentional that these moments happen only when discussing orogeny. Is the thing inside Schaffa deliberately guiding him towards a certain plan with the orogenes? But that also makes me wonder about agency: Is Schaffa himself changing his mind when he addresses orogenes differently? Or is he being forced to do so? Honestly, I think both are happening, and probably at the same time, too! It’s hard to tell in each instance, though my guess is that the silver flicker is this being exerting its will power on Schaffa. So, Schaffa is a direct pawn, of sorts, right?

Except then… lord. There’s a masterful use of suspense here in this chapter as Jemisin repeatedly inches Schaffa closer and closer to discovering who Nassun’s mom is. I didn’t think we’d actually get to that point within the chapter, but the text escalates continuously as Nassun reveals more and more about her upbringing to Schaffa.

And then she lets him know more than she is even aware of:

“She got really quiet. Then she said, ‘Are you sure you can control yourself?’ And she took my hand.” She bites her lip then. “She broke it.”

Schaffa’s breath pauses, just for an instant. “Your hand?”

I was speechless. I just kept staring at the book as the reality of this reveal washed over me. She did the same thing, y’all. She did exactly what Schaffa did to her in order to instill fear of disobedience. For Essun, that was how Schaffa loved her, and so, she imitated it. This is the cycle of abuse, made painfully literal here. It was an astounding and upsetting thing to read, and it explains so much. These techniques worked, yes, and Nassun became terrified of revealing her orogeny, but there was no real love exchanged here. None. Nassun did not look to her mother like Essun looked to Schaffa. 

And this is where I believe Schaffa himself—not his controller—reacts genuinely. He tells Nassun that that was wrong. 

He is staring at the ground, and there is a strange look on his face. Not the usual wandering, confused look that he gets sometimes. This is something he actually remembers, and his expression is… guilty? Rueful. Sad. “It’s wrong to hurt someone you love, Nassun.”

This doesn’t mean I am now going to immediately trust Schaffa, but that seemed genuine. I do not think the thing inside Schaffa made him say that. So he does feel remorse over what he did to Essun? Perhaps? Lord, that’s a lot to unpack, but before I could do that, Jemisin knocked me flat with the absolutely bizarre exchange that happens between Nassun and Schaffa. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. See, I could write everything off as a side affect of the thing at the base of Schaffa’s neck that he acquired when he nearly died. But then he says this:

“I am always hurting, little one. It’s part of what Guardians are.”

Like… literally? Do all Guardians have these silver threads? Have I completely misinterpreted what they are? And why does Schaffa say that these threads will kill Nassun? What the hell is that about? I don’t understand! Is this what Guardians normally used to kill orogenes? Oh god, the tenth one from Jekity. Was that one killed by whatever those silver threads are? I DON’T KNOW. But Nassun doesn’t care. It’s so fucked up that she has seen so much senseless violence that sensible violence is perfectly acceptable to her, you know? And she’ll accept it from Schaffa because at least he’s straightforward with her. It’s better than no reason, right?

My god THIS KID. I’m so fucked up by all this, y’all. 


  • oh my god, IT’S NOT AN ESSUN CHAPTER.
  • but also, THE MOON, so I am still just as excited
  • (and wary, because FUCK SCHAFFA)
  • wow, crush me immediately with Nassun finding a home
  • tibbit-run? no thanks NO THANKS
  • a special Guardian facility??? I don’t like it. NOT AT ALL.
  • three Guardians????
  • NO
  • so… I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. 
  • why this community? Why this place? What the fuck is Schaffa doing here?
  • So, Jija gets a new name. What about Nassun? 
  • oh, she’s just her first name. hmmm. I have feelings on this. 
  • Eitz!!!
  • can they be themselves??? excuse me for being EXTREMELY PARANOID about LITERALLY ALL OF THIS
  • okay I just need to know: are these kids actually happy???
  • the hair touching scene I’M GONNA CRY
  • nassun being kind to paido 🙁 🙁 🙁
  • is Wudeh like… someone with celiac disease????
  • I love all these children forever
  • oh. nassun talking about uche. oh.
  • o u c h
  • it hurts
  • “exaggerated”???? schaffa COME ON. uggggghhhhh
  • WHAT IS GOING ON WITH SCHAFFA??? I noticed that the thing inside him activates when it concerns matters of orogeny!!!!
  • what the fuck FOUR RINGS ALREADY????
  • okay what??? what is this place FOR? They train themselves????
  • does schaffa know who she is yet???
  • okay, so it’s possible to cure them, but is that the point of this place? Something tells me it’s not?
  • ooooh, he used a different word to describe her. was that the thing inside schaffa or is he genuinely trying to be better?
  • no
  • no
  • nope
  • no
  • NO 
  • NO 
  • NOPE
  • ALSO
  • I… I don’t know what to feel about Schaffa saying it is wrong to hurt someone you love
  • I am losing it
  • what the fucking fuck
  • holy shit what is happening. how much is schaffa realizing the ramifications of what he did?
  • wait
  • wait!
  • WAIT
  • he needed it????
  • afd;alksjf;alksdjf;alksjfa;ljksd oh my god schaffa
  • why do guardians ALWAYS hurt? what ARE they???
  • “You’re going to kill me anyway.” HELP ME
  • I’m exhausted. this book is so fucking good. 

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.