In the eighteenth chapter of The Obelisk Gate, I’ve been destroyed. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of racism, slavery, death (including death of a child), grief.
I feel like… everything just happened in this chapter. Everything that could have happened in the history of the world now transpired in just one chapter. I’M BEING RIDICULOUS BUT I AM DISTRAUGHT. This… is so much. SO MUCH.
The Gray Man
It is kind of hilarious that as soon as Hoa is alone with Essun, he’s all, “By the way, I lied to everyone. Whoops.” Hoa. I had already coped with your last reveal, and it’s not even true?
“What he really wants is someone who will open the Gate for his purposes.”
Which Hoa is unsure of. SO. GREAT. We’ve got a murderous stone eater ready to kill Essun if she doesn’t open the Gate for… unknown reasons. GREAT.
Knowing the ending? Shit. SHIT. It’s really hard to read the final conversation between Alabaster and Essun. I kept hoping for some last minute solution, something that would save Alabaster’s life. He couldn’t die! He was so important to this story, and he meant so much to Essun, and… well, I’m realizing he also served his purpose. He gave what information he could to Essun about what to do with the Obelisk Gate. He trained her. He helped Essun look at the world differently. He taught her to look up. And then Alabaster paid the price for his actions. They had consequences, and we knew he had long accepted those consequences, but still. It hurts. It hurts because even as his own body was falling apart, Alabaster couldn’t let go of hope. Some of that hope was reserved for Meov, but he kept some of it for Castrima, too. Castrima, the city in a geode beneath the ground, where orogenes worked in positions of power. Why did Alabaster believe that it was worth it to pursue peace when stills so consistently destroyed orogenes?
“There was a chance they wouldn’t.” You shake your head. The words are so impossible to believe that they sound like gibberish. But he adds, “Any chance was worth trying.”
I don’t think it’s a stretch to see this belief throughout his life. Any chance was worth trying for. Why even come to Castrima? Why even tell Essun what he knew?
Any chance. And she was that chance.
This whole chapter is fucking relentless, y’all. From the moment Essun was jolted awake by the sounds of angry shouting, it never let up. At all. Jemisin is brilliant to basically keep a clock running in the background, letting us know just how close we are to the big Castrima vote. Will they stay? Cast out the orogenes? Fight back against any possible invaders? However, before the vote even happens, this gets DARK. This is yet again another very strange thing to be reading in 2020, especially when this sort of bigotry-based conflict is fucking everywhere. And because the orogenes work so well as a metaphor, there’s little distance here between fantasy and reality.
Still, it’s upsetting for the obvious reasons—I really, really liked Cutter—and for the insidious ones. This place is not Meov, and just because orogenes were in positions of power did not make anti-orogene feelings or thoughts or actions non-existent. I recall a scene earlier in the book where Essun overheard a conversation that confirmed that some of the stills in the comm were not happy with who was running the place. So, what we see here? It was always there. I am inclined to believe what Cutter said, and I’m inclined to believe that the stills who witnessed it either saw what they wanted or lied about it. Because wasn’t Cutter in hiding for a long, long time? Wouldn’t he know how to blend in and not call attention to himself? Why would he just lie about someone hitting him on the back of the head?
The decision that Ykka made to cull him was practical. It was a way to keep the stills of Castrima happy, placated. I get it; she knew this vote was important and she needed to keep her people on her side to survive whatever was about to come. That doesn’t make me feel any better about Cutter being executed based on the word of stills who have every reason to protect themselves and throw an orogene under the bus. And in the end, did it matter? Did Ykka get what she wanted? Not by her means, no. Which makes his death bittersweet. What was it for? A temporary alliance that would fall apart hours later?
Because the countdown continues, and the next major disaster strikes when Essun catches a woman harassing and assaulting some of the orogene children. Again, this shit was always brewing under the surface here. It was never gone, and with Gray Man’s threat hanging over everything, Castrima was falling into panic and mob behavior. Who would have stopped Waineen from strangling Penty in that context? And if a second orogene was murdered, who’s to say that a third wouldn’t be? A fourth? All of them?
Not One More
This whole series opened with a particular cruelty: A father murdering his son because of who he was. The world of the Stillness values orogenes in only one specific context: enslavement. Even without the Fulcrum exerting their power over everything, centuries of oppression of orogenes have made this cruelty normal. It is absolutely nothing for a still or a Guardian to murder an orogene, and it is no less or more cruel to them to murder a child. I am now getting the bigger picture at work here: This world is so violently dysfunctional and fucked up that murdering a child is normal. Expected! Rewarded! And it is not hard to see this same standard when you hold this book up as a reflection of our world. We live in a place where Tamir Rice can be murdered, but some teenage shithead white nationalist is allowed to murder people and walk away free.
Two of Essun’s children have been murdered.
Another… is lost.
She saw firsthand what fate Alabaster’s children were given: a life of the most brutal enslavement as node maintainers.
And how many young orogenes were taken away at the Fulcrum because they weren’t perfect, obedient students? How many children have been executed simply for being an orogene.
Not. One. More. Child.
That is the order that Essun throws down, and she means it. Her life has been defined by the death of children, and here, as she watched Waineen torment another kid, it was time for her to put her foot down and refuse. Not just refuse, but to imagine hope, that there could be a world in which orogene children were not separated from their families and eventually killed.
Any chance of that was worth it to Essun.
It is a terrible thing, then, that Essun’s blast of power at Waineen balloons into the very thing Lerna was worried about: Essun taking out the whole comm at once. It is what Alabaster tries to stop with the last of his energy, the very last bit of his life. That’s another thing that made me realize that Alabaster had come to the end of his story: Essun was finally much, much stronger than he was. More so? Maybe. Eventually, I think she’ll surpass him. But that little realization of their power discrepancies… that hurt in hindsight, too.
It’s still hard to believe. He’s gone. There’s no way he’s coming back. He’s given Essun that last bit to attempt opening the Obelisk Gate, but she now has to do this on her own. She can’t go to him for support or wisdom. He’s just… gone. I’m crushed, y’all. He’s so vital to this series, such a necessary character, but his time is up.
Essun’s is not. And I had to loop back to Alabaster’s words on hope again, because that’s what I see the ending as: Essun telling herself and the rest of Castrima that there is a chance. She took it, y’all. LITERALLY. She strolled up to that ballot box and she DISMANTLED IT TO IT’S “COMPONENT MICROSCOPIC PARTICLES.” Then she says the most incredible, badass, necessary thing in the whole fucking book:
“Leave. Go join Rennanis if they’ll have you. But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any other part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people.”
Because that’s exactly what they were doing. Have been doing. Will continue doing. Who counts as a person anymore? That conversation and policy enactment is an act of violence, one perpetrated on orogenes for centuries.
Essun said, No more. No more of this divide-and-conquer shit, no more setting others up to be killed, no more bullshit.
“This is a community. You will be unified. You will fight for each other. Or I will rusting kill every last one of you.”
And that’s how Essun find hope. Through force.
Not. One. More.
- counting down… no. nope. not at all.
- I’m already nervous and I’ve only read the chapter title
- WHAT THE FUCK
- WHY DID YOU LIE
- I ALREADY FREAKED OUT ABOUT THAT
- Oh wait
- what are Gray Man’s purposes???
- I’m real worried about alabaster
- “Any chance was worth trying.” how does this book know how to cut me just so. over and over again
- so, counting down to the vote, right? to find out whether they’ll all be hung out to dry or not?
- this moment of rest and peace… it’s both touching and immensely nerve-wracking
- IS IT HAPPENING
- it’s happening isn’t it
- DAMN IT
- OKAY GUESS WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS
- OMG Essun gave Penty the Mother Look. BLESS.
- this is… very bad
- so bad
- what is ykka doing???
- WHAT THE FUCK DID SHE JUST KILL HIM?????
- fuck me, what is this book???
- oh god, she’s attacking a KID????
- oh fuck, the way essun makes that comparison between Waineen and Jija… OUCH.
- ESSUN DID WHAT
- not one more child I AM SPEECHLESS
- I genuinely don’t know what to say.
- I didn’t even know essun could do that
- oh no
- fuck you
- I’m done.
- I’m heartbroken
- “The crimes of any are the crimes of all.” my breath STOPPED reading this.
- this is so much
- his last message 🙁 🙁 🙁
- the rings. THE FUCKING RINGS
- ummmm essun???? what are you doing????
- THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE DOING
- NO VOTING ON WHO GETS TO BE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!
- OH MY GOD
- SHE DID IT
- this chapter was like a whole novel, y’all.
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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