In the sixteenth chapter of The Obelisk Gate, Essun learns new stakes. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.Â
So, that opening? Thatâ€™s… thatâ€™s very interesting. I still want to know the context of the narrative framing device. Why is Hoa telling her the story and why this way? I WILL KEEP ASKING THIS UNTIL I KNOW OR FIGURE IT ALL OUT.
Anyway, so… hi. This chapter. Itâ€™s a lot. Itâ€™s gorgeous and heartbreaking and complicated. ITâ€™S SO COMPLICATED. Because up to this point, weâ€™ve been given all the information that we need to understand both Essun and Ykka, even if we definitely know more from Essunâ€™s perspective. God, I love it when you finally come to understand why something happened earlier in a story, and this chapter gives us that. Now I know why Jemisin made sure to include Ykkaâ€™s backstory as she did, why Castrima is contructed as it is, WHY ALL OF THIS IS IMPORTANT. Because Ykka has hope where Essun has little to none of it, and the text makes it clear why that is.Â
This, of course, does not make things easier for us, but such is The Obelisk Gate, a book that constantly challenges the reader and their assumptions. So, letâ€™s start with Hoa, who is now â€œrebornâ€ in a sense, and heâ€™s returned to his original form, the form that Essun saw as Syenite all those years ago above Allia. I love that we finally get a better sense of the timeline, that Hoa was put in that obelisk on purpose and that he was freed (Iâ€™m assuming) when Alabaster opened the Rift. He sought out Essun in Tirimo, and he assumed the form of a young boy because… well, shit. I feel like thatâ€™s obvious, right? Sheâ€™d just lost her son, who was the second child sheâ€™d lost, and Hoa thought that appearing as a young boy would soften Essun to him.Â
Within this is a powerful examination of what it means to be human. Hoa was once, as were all the stone eaters. But do they consider themselves that now? Some certainly do, but not all of them, and thatâ€™s the crux of this huge conflict. Itâ€™s not just stills versus orogenes, nor is it everyone versus Evil Earth. Thereâ€™s that dreaded third option: the stone eaters against the humans. I loved it, then, that Hoa declared himself a human because Essun considered herself a human. He used her as a barometer to measure himself, and thereâ€™s something so uniquely incredible about that, especially since stills officially and socially do not consider orogenes to be human.Â
And wrapped up in all of this is… I donâ€™t know what to call it. I know that from his own words, Hoa sees Essun as a means to an end… sort of? But I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s the only thing here. After reading this chapter, thereâ€™s a sense that he might actually care about Essun as a person. Heâ€™s dedicated to herâ€”outright, that is, since he literally says he doesnâ€™t want to let the other stone eaters kill her or use her. That doesnâ€™t mean he wonâ€™t use her himself, but I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m imagining that something else is blooming here.Â
And maybe thatâ€™s also my reading of his answer to Essunâ€™s question. She wanted to know why he was here, and he says:
He is silent for a moment. Then: â€œYou asked if I was all right.â€
It is such a simple thing, but maybe thatâ€™s it. Maybe thatâ€™s all it took. Essun offered up interest, maybe a little sympathy, and Hoa thought: This is the one. This is the one who is different from all the others.
Itâ€™s interesting, then, to see how the story moves from Hoaâ€™s answer to the next portion of the story, which is Essunâ€™s confrontation with Ykka. Her conversation with Hoa awakes the â€œmothering instinctâ€ in her, and her concern switches to something new: Whatâ€™s going to happen now that the grey man has made his offer? What will life be like in Castrima now that this horrible conflict has reared its head? This is where the core of the disagreement with Ykka comes about. For Essun, cynicism is natural. Not just natural, but a survival technique. She grew up in a world where her family rejected her; where she was harmed horrifically for being an orogene; where she was functionally enslaved by the Fulcrum in order to be allowed to live; where that same targeting influenced her life in horrific ways, not the least of which was everything that happened in Allia; Meov. Thatâ€™s it. Just all of Meov. And then Tirimo, and Uche, and this whole terrifying, wretched journey to find her surviving daughter. Why on Evil Earth would Essun ever trust stills again? Why would she assume the best of them, when that act could get her and other orogenes killed?
Grey Man has now introduced doubt into Castrima just by offering a new home. Nevermind that I donâ€™t believe that anyone will be allowed to survive; my guess is that EVERYONE in Castrima will be killed off. Thatâ€™s beside the point. As we come to see, his appearance and offer has already started the unraveling. Why else is Ykka having these meetings? Trying to convince others? She knows that this threat is real. Itâ€™s just that she approaches it differently. Even after Essun gets Hoa to tell her the truth, Ykka doesnâ€™t give up on her sense of hope. And what Hoa has to sayâ€”and what he theorizesâ€”is horrifying! The stone eaters most likely want to kill Essun so that the Obelisk Gate is never opened. That way, the Moon is never returned, the Season lasts forever, and the world will belong to those who can survive any Season: stone eaters. Orogenes would be wiped out. Itâ€™s that what the stone eaters want? To never worry about the only things that can kill them?
And yet, Ykka still holds. I loved this bit:Â
Ykka looks up at you. â€œCastrima isnâ€™t wherever you came from.â€
Itâ€™s not. Sheâ€™s right! Ykka has a different history, one where she wasnâ€™t persecuted for being an orogene like Essun was, and she also lived without the Fulcrum. Her view on community is naturally very different! Again, she has hope. Like this statement:
She stops, and a muscle in her jaw flexes once or twice. â€œStills learned to hate us. They can learn differently.â€
But does Essun believe that? Or believe that itâ€™s possible? Right now… no. She doesnâ€™t. And for good reason. So whatâ€™s the solution? Anticipate that the stills will turn on the orogenes? Create an alliance and fight back against Grey Man and the others? I donâ€™t have an answer, and this chapter doesnâ€™t give us one, either. Itâ€™s not supposed to, though. Jemisin has designed this so that we understand where each of these characters come from, and that will help us readers later as the two of them decide what to do about the fate of Castrima, and, for that matter, the fate of orogenes as a whole.Â
I also want to have hope, but lord, Iâ€™m scared.
- oh no, WHAT old friend, IS THIS GOING TO RUIN ME
- of course it is. itâ€™s hoa. Iâ€™m already ruined.
- oh okay, that opening??? that is FASCINATING.
- not cracks but veins????
- wait how can he be OLDER what the FUCK
- the lie????
- THE WHOLE BACK-AND-FORTH ABOUT BEING HUMAN OH MY GOD
- oh my god, stone eaters can be trapped in obelisks!!!!
- ALKSDFJ;ADSLJFA; WHATâ€™S THE ONE WAY TO KILL THEM
- clean???? that probably doesnâ€™t mean what I think it does
- oh my god, the flashback to Hoa washing himself HELP ME
- â€œThen one in particular.â€ ITâ€™S THAT ONE HOA WARNED HER ABOUT IN THE INTERLUDE
- â€œI only did that for you.â€ great, my heartâ€™s been stomped on again
- AH IT WAS THAT STONE EATER
- what???? it was time?? TIME FOR WHAT????
- I love essunâ€™s name for the stone eaters, LMAO
- OH MY GOD HEâ€™S BRINGING UP WHEN SHE ASKED HIM IF HE WAS OKAY
- Iâ€™m certainly not
- oh, right!!! he canâ€™t walk anymore
- â€œyouâ€™re not my typeâ€ WELL, SHIT
- ENOUGH TO BE CALLED A PEOPLE AND NOT A MISTAKE
- OH MY GOD
- there it is
- ONLY ONE PEOPLE
- oh shit, of COURSE the stone eaters would feel envy
- oh, fuck ME, thatâ€™s what the gray man wants????
- AN EXTINCTION OF ALL HUMANS
- â€œStills learned to hate us. They can learn differently.â€ I YELPED SO LOUD, HOLY SHIT.
- this is so complicated!!!! I get why both women feel as they do!!!!
- I WASNâ€™T READY FOR THIS CHAPTER
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