In the fifteenth chapter of The Obelisk Gate, Nassun learns why her mother is the way she is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of slavery, abuse, and the death of children.
Holy shit. IT JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER AND BETTER AND BETTER??? Every new development in this book thrills me and makes me excited for what is to come, and Steel’s introduction is absolutely responsible for that here.
First thought: What is Hoa talking about in that opening paragraph? I really want to know more about the history of the stone eaters, y’all! What has their existence been like since Evil Earth made them? Is that what he’s referring to?
After this opening, Jemisin wastes literally no time dropping us into a tense and confusing nightmare. I didn’t expect for us to be in the Antarctic Fulcrum so soon, but knowing what happened in the last Nassun chapter, I was immediately worried. We knew that the three Guardians of Found Moon saw this Fulcrum as a potential threat, and it seemed damn obvious that they wanted to take it out. But why sit with these orogenes and talk about the Season and their actions since it began? It seemed almost cruel! If their intent was to wipe this place out, why even entertain a conversation? I wonder, then, how much of what we see here is Schaffa going along with what Evil Earth wanted so that he could feel some relief from the pain he was under. I feel like I’m not misreading this: Schaffa’s silver (the sign Nassun recognizes as his master) is exceptionally active throughout this chapter. Granted, I knew that some of the terror here was because these orogenes hadn’t been visited by Guardians, and they all likely suspected they were going to be killed if they couldn’t prove their usefulness. Isn’t that what they were doing? Look at what they talked about: helping nearby comms. Fortifying the Fulcrum. Planning for the future. It’s what Nassun can’t understand, though, that drives the tension. She doesn’t get at first that all Fulcrum facilities must close during a Season. And not “close” in the nice sense: purged. Right?
I’m guessing, then, that this kills two birds with one stone. Schaffa, who is trying to right by Nassun and the other orogenes, does not want the Fulcrum to know what he is doing; he certainly doesn’t want anyone to find out about Found Moon. But Earth, through Schaffa, also wants vengeance. What better way to achieve some of that than through wiping out a Fulcrum facility?
(I’m only now understanding the tragic irony of this line: “Your pet seems uncomfortable with the idea of mass extermination for no reason.” HELP. )
So, after Serpentine lies about why there are no longer any Guardians, it’s clear that Schaffa wasn’t going to waste anymore time. The fight that unfolds is exceptionally violent and disturbing. It’s… lord, it’s so much. It is, first of all, a reminder of just how vicious the Guardians can be. And these are contaminated Guardians, ones who are working out the whims of Evil Earth, so it’s even more spectacularly awful. Hell, I even forgot that Guardians can shut down orogeny. But it’s the affect this has on Nassun that’s more interesting to me. While this is unfolding, one of the orogenes shatters Nassun’s torus, leading her to this:
Her mother learned that trick here, in the Fulcrum, this is how people from the Fulcrum train young orogenes, everything Nassun has known of her mother is tainted by this place and has always been—
It’s a deeply heartbreaking moment, and soon after this, Nassun is given the pieces of her mother to finally make some sense of her. That doesn’t mean she necessarily sympathizes with Essun. It’s that she is now in possession of a context she never had. Take her conversation with Ajae, for example. Ajae casually talks about having her hand broken, an act that was deeply traumatizing for Nassun, like it’s normal for this to happen. She connects the dots between what Ajae says to the legacy of what she has lived with:
The Fulcrum is why her mother never loved her.
Is why her father does not love her anymore.
Is why her brother is dead.
It’s not surprising to me that someone as observant and thoughtful as Nassun is able to realize how poisonous this place is, how its politics and morals have been the real contaminant in the world of the Stillness. She understands this, and she reacts with a counterforce that she sees is appropriate. As she later tells Schaffa when it is done, she knew that the Fulcrum was wrong and it made her mother wrong. During this, though, there’s an unspoken, silent conflict that unfolds between Umber and Schaffa, and I wonder if Earth was telling Schaffa to kill Nassun right at that moment. I say that because of what Nassun says to Earth at the end of the chapter while speaking to Umber, plus, Nassun is very much aware that Schaffa “has damaged himself in the eyes of his fellow Guardians by choosing not to kill her.” Yet even then, I believe Jemisin gives us the clues to figure out what’s happening here. Look at this scene:
The silver has gone quiet in Umber, or as quiet as it ever gets in any of the Guardians, but the glimmering lines within Schaffa are still alive, active, tearing at him. He fights them, though, and is prepared to fight Umber, too, if necessary.
The silver only appears when you fight the will of Evil Earth, so… what exactly is Schaffa resisting? Again, given what we’ll see at the end, I think that Evil Earth had no real use for Nassun and wanted her dead!
Speaking of use, though… holy shit. Y’all. Y’ALL. A STONE EATER VISITED NASSUN. Oh my god, of course they would seek out someone else they could use as a pawn against Evil Earth, and who better than a child orogene who is far more talented than most orogenes? I can’t ignore that we spent the first book in this series watching Essun struggle to utilize an obelisk, and here’s Nassun, with far less training, able to fall into the magic of an obelisk almost effortlessly. And thus, this stone eater, Steel, approaches Nassun, and he tempts her with a possibility: being an ally to his cause. Y’all, I did not understand what Steel meant the first time around, but I GET IT. I DO:
“You were wrong,” he says, in his strange echoing voice. “The people of the Fulcrum, and the Guardians, are not to blame for the things they do. You wanted to know why your Guardian must suffer as he does. The answer is: He doesn’t have to.”
Steel is placing blame where it belongs: right at the feet of Evil Earth. That is the real source of this entire nightmare, and I should have realized that because look what he does after he says this! He quiets the silver in Schaffa, allowing him a respite from the constant pain in his body. Then he promises to teach her how to fight “his tormentor, his master, too. If you wish.” And for what it’s worth, I do believe it’s not really in exchange for anything, at least not in the terms Nassun thinks. Stone eaters see humans as pawns, and that’s what she’ll be to Steel. At least that’s my take on this. He wants to end Evil Earth’s reign, and he sees Nassun as a means to an end.
But I also love the agency Jemisin grants Nassun in the end. Nassun is upfront with Umber and, by extension, with the master that controls Umber, Nida, and Schaffa. It’s so fascinating to me, too, that this is framed as an issue of love and loyalty. Nassun repeatedly refers to love when thinking of Schaffa; she literally says that she will “die, or kill, or remake the world,” for Schaffa, all because he loves her. So here we’ve got a contaminated Guardian (and Evil Earth) assuring Nassun that he won’t kill her.. because he will trust in Schaffa’s love for her.
That’s huge, y’all. What does Evil Earth even know of love? Is the Earth thinking of their only child, the one that Nassun glimpses before she falls asleep? Is that something they truly understand?
- hey, that opening. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN
- OH. OH MY GOD SHE IS IN THE ANTARCTIC FULCRUM ALREADY? Wow, love how this lets me know I should buckle in IMMEDIATELY.
- I can’t believe they’re THERE
- the way Nassun is drawing parallels to her mother.
- what the hell is HAPPENING here!!!!
- so what is Schaffa’s intent? Why is he pretending to care about Fulcrum regulations?
- what the fuck
- that happened so fast?????
- oh my god
- holy shit this all happening so fast????
- oh shit, he knows they’re contaminated!!!
- that… that was not a dead bug
- holy shit THE HAND BREAKING
- oh my god NASSUN IS PUTTING TOGETHER THE PIECES OF HER MOTHER’S TRAINING
- oh my god, what is nassun doing with the sapphire???
- DID SHE JUST KILL ALL THE OROGENES???????
- “This place made her wrong.” I’M YELLING, THIS IS TOO MUCH.
- what the fuck is happening between Schaffa and Umber????
- oh god is Schaffa constantly fighting this magic?
- I love that Nassun is figuring out the obelisk so quickly.
- SHE TURNED ALL THE OROGENES TO STATUES
- WHAT THE FUCK.
- OMG, Yes, THINK. I love this.
- “What good is power if it comes on a spiked leash?” H E L P
- holy shit, I was literally asking where Guardians came from earlier???
- nope, DON’T LIKE WHATEVER THAT IS UNDER THE SLAB
- A STONE EATER
- this is fucking TERRIFYING
- wait, why is the fulcrum or the guardians not to blame?
- “he doesn’t have to” WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN
- what just happened? the silver died?
- HAHAHA FDASLDKHJFADSFHADSKJLHFASDFHASDKJFHASDKJLFHASDF
- OH MY GOD, OF COURSE STONE EATERS WOULD KNOW HOW TO FIGHT EVIL EARTH
- I am losing it, this is SO EXCITING.
- oh. oh my god. she’s not talking to Umber
- THE WAY NASSUN TALKS ABOUT LOVE I need help
- is that light
- IS THAT LIGHT WHAT I THINK IT IS
- ;kljDF;KAJS;FKLAJD a mural of the MOON. also! Look how they destroy the past and all evidence of it!
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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