Mark Reads ‘The Obelisk Gate’: Interlude / Chapter 14

In the fourteenth chapter of The Obelisk Gate, I am once more ruined. Just add it to the list. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

I’m gonna start this off by saying that as intense as this series has been, it’s got the BEST sense of humor about itself, y’all. There were so many laugh-out-loud parts in this chapter, and let’s point to that chapter title as one example of it. I’m glad that there’s both terror and humor in the same story, y’all! In this chapter in particular, I even commented on how much I loved the growing dynamic between Essun, Ykka, and Hjarka. I’m getting to see them as… well, shit. Friends! Like, they might actually become friends! I do love that trope of people who have zero interest in one another, but are shoved together due to circumstance, coming to respect and enjoy those they’re with. And I feel like that might be happening here? Maybe? Oh, I should probably not come to like anyone in this book because BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN TO THEM. But still!

I think that’s also due to what Jemisin does with the narrative at this point. The six month time jump is necessary to help give us this sense that both Tonkee and Essun have found their place within Castrima. (Gotta shout out that brilliant line where Essun discovers her purpose, and it just says, “Congratulations.” I just imagine it being said in the most deadpan matter of all time.) Because of that, what we see on the page isn’t necessarily a slow development after Tonkee’s arm is severed and then reattached. There was growth prior to this! So it’s not like Jemisin is skipping over the “important” parts either. We needed to get to a point of relative “comfort” (not that this situation is comfortable, per se) so that the huge change would hit even harder. So, how is that comfort represented? Tonkee’s arm is reattached and she begins to actually contribute to the comm, even though she’s still thorny as hell. (NEVER CHANGE.) Hjarka and Tonkee begin to see one another!!! A WONDERFUL AND VERY QUEER DEVELOPMENT! I just… oh my god, this is one of those pairings that makes so much SENSE once it’s on the page. They are… weirdly perfect for one another? EXCELLENT. And it’s because of this that Tonkee tries to help in her own way, which is… unnerving? Necessary, though! Ykka needed to know that the comm was running out of meat and that the ill-effects of this would soon begin to show. But she also tells Ykka this for a very Tonkee reason:

“Well, I won’t be able to continue my studies if we all start killing and each other, so.”

Just… it’s such a Tonkee display of logic, isn’t it? 

Other things change. Essun stops training orogene children, passes it along to Temell, and starts training Cutter. (While, hilariously, Ykka refuses training or exchange of skills.) A trading party heads out and never comes out. A baby is born; the future of Castrima and procreation is discussed. A Breeder tries to get Essun to have another child. Alabaster slides ever closer to death. 

And then Hoa returns.

I realize now just how important that interlude was for this chapter. I have to wonder if the stone eater who eventually shows up is the one that Hoa speaks of, the ancient one who is utterly opposed to what Hoa is doing. I feel like the greater mythology is (excuse the pun) solidifying here, that we know by now that Hoa opposes the stone eaters who want humans gone. (Well, maybe just orogenes?) Still, there’s a lot left to be revealed here, and that’s on top of the immense, nerve-wracking threat that Rennanis poses to Castrima. Honestly, I initially did not think this was as bad as it actually is. And I get why! Yes, there were parts of this that put Castrima at a disadvantage. As I said down below, there was so much unknown here! How many people were in Rennanis? How did they figure out there were people in Castrima? Did they know that the comm was underground? Were they fully intending to assume control over Castrima and make it their own? Were they planning an imminent invasion? And how the fuck were they going to survive any attack? Well, at least Castrima had a number of orogenes, right? And no one from Rennanis had ever been inside Castrima’s geode, so that put Castrima at an advantage. Right?

Ha. Well, I had some optimism. 

An army. Not only is there an army in the forest basin, but Jemisin drops one HELL of a plot twist into this chapter. Y’all, just in terms of building dread and suspense, I LOVE HOW SHE DOES IT. It is so terrifying bold that this unnamed stone eater just appears in the crowd discussing Rennanis, and he does so by LETTING ESSUN SEE HIM MOVING. Oh, and then he’s just casually holding HOA’S SEVERED ARM. It speaks so much to the threat: look what they did to Hoa. Look what they can do. Look at what is possible. So when he says that they wish no harm on Rennanis, we know that’s just a platitude. Or maybe he meant that he wasn’t going to harm them right there. The chapter title comes to fruition: the people of Castrima are invited to become a part of Rennanis. 

Well, not all of them:

Then he drops the other boot. “But we have no use for orogenes.”

Yeah. I HATE THAT. And right there, that’s when I knew how absolutely disadvantaged Castrima was. First, SOMEONE HAS NOW SEEN INSIDE THE GEODE. While I’m sure the stone eaters knew about it and could “see” inside it, here’s the absolute confirmation for the WHOLE COMM that the stone eaters of Rennanis can infiltrate their home without any hesitation. And who can stop them? Apparently, Hoa had been keeping them away. What of Antimony? Did she care about anything or anyone other than Alabaster? On top of that, Essun does an amazing thing by severing the stone eater’s arm effortlessly. Except now she’s revealed just how fine-tuned her orogeny is, so the Rennanis comm will certainly know that. Right?

Now there’s a new threat. A genuinely frightening one. And guess what? Because I’m reading The Broken Earth trilogy, that means THIS ISN’T EVEN THE BIGGEST THING IN THIS CHAPTER. I can barely fathom what we see in the final scene of this chapter. Using Hoa’s arm and the magic emanating from it, Essun makes her way back to her apartment to find the rest of Hoa’s body, split into numerous pieces, his body literally consumed by other stone eaters. It’s gory and terrifying, but I WAS COMPLETELY NOT READY FOR WHAT THIS BOOK WAS ABOUT TO DO. There’s something so vulnerable and intimate about Essun feeding Hoa rocks so that he can “heal.” (Not even sure that’s the right word, y’all. What is this process even called???) After she does so—in a scene that calls back to multiple moments in The Fifth Season, such as Hoa’s first appearance and the garnet obelisk—and absolutely haunting and gorgeous thing occurs. Jemisin’s prose really shines here as she describes the magical frenzy that leads to Essun’s furniture floating in the air and a weird substance encasing Hoa. What we’re watching is one of those massive geode-like things forming. Chalcedony, the book calls it. We saw one before, right? That’s what Hoa came out of in the beginning of The Fifth Season. And then the text tells us this in an absolutely stunning moment where we switch to first person in just one sentence, then back to second, and I LOVE THAT PART SO, SO MUCH. But not as much as the surprise that Jemisin leaves waiting for us inside the geode:

Because what rises from the split in the geode, moving too human-smoothly at first but rapidly readjusting to a familiar sort of punctuated stillness… is the stone eater from the garnet obelisk.

Hello, again.

Didn’t I actually guess that this was Hoa the whole time? Or maybe I said it was another think like Hoa. Either way: Fuck. Y’all. FUCK. That was Hoa???? Why? Why was he stuck in that first obelisk? Why is his appearance different? WHAT’S GOING ON????



  • This first line is so fucking ominous and feels like a personal attack.
  • wow I love all of this. hoa trying to instill the truth in essun. but what is the context for these interludes? why is he telling essun all this?
  • devoured? by WHAT
  • oh, by stone eaters. GREAT.
  • HE DID WHAT?????
  • who is the other old one?????
  • some greedy allies up north??? help him do WHAT???
  • oh my god he is LITERALLY calling her a pawn OH MY GOD

Chapter 14

  • I’m already fucked up just from a three-page interlude, and now this chapter title feels like it is taunting me. this whole book is. constantly.
  • holy shit, they reattached tonkee’s arm.
  • I… kinda respect Tonkee just being difficult all the time, and the “arm chopper” thing is fucking hilarious.
  • oh, lerna.
  • HELL YES, HJARKA AND TONKEE. oh my god. she brought her dead animals??? is she a HOUSE CAT? I mean.. sharp teeth. so maybe.
  • I’m screaming, this is the best development ever.
  • I’m now screaming because tonkee justified her reveal about meat deficiency because she won’t be able to continue studying if everyone becomes a cannibal. HER MIND.
  • oooh, training cutter!
  • oh no. what the hell is in Tettehee???
  • JESUS, YKKA IS RUTHLESS. But I get it!
  • oh no, unearthed trauma. 🙁 🙁 🙁
  • christ, alabaster.
  • The delivery on “Congratulations” KILLS ME
  • what? why did the assailants leave behind… a flag?
  • oh fuck. rennanis. FUCK.
  • part of why this is stressful is because EVERYTHING is unknown!!! how many of them are there? Why couldn’t the Hunters see them???
  • lmaaaooo I love the dynamic between hjarka, essun, and ykka. so much.
  • oh SHIT, that’s what the spinel can do??????
  • y’all, I LOVE how the section where essun is in the topaz is written. she is so FREE.
  • an ARMY???????
  • well this is a nightmare
  • everyone is way calmer than I would be, lmao
  • wait what
  • who is that
  • what is he HOLDING
  • an arm
  • I don’t want to know do I
  • NO
  • NO!!!!!
  • wjata’;ldksfaksdfjs
  • what the fuck!!!!
  • rennanis has a stone eater???????
  • fuck no
  • no use for orogenes?
  • yeah, I don’t believe Hoa is dead. for obvious reasons!
  • OH
  • oh my god is Hoa leading Essun to him?
  • hey this is EXTREMELY upsetting!!!!!
  • I cannot fucking deal with this
  • or this whole book, for that matter
  • oh. oh!!! of course! feed him rocks!!!!
  • I literally have never experienced anything like this in a book. LITERALLY NEVER
  • “where Hoa once was” HI WHAT THE FUCK DOES THIS MEAN
  • what THING???? what is the THING????
  • oh my god, that shift to first person was ELECTRIFYING, y’all. 
  • hi
  • hi 
  • fuck you all
  • fuck you all again
  • I’m sorry, HOA IS THE STONE EATER FROM THE GARNET OBELISK??????????????? I AM SO LOST. because… oh my god. I initially thought that but then just accepted they were two separate stone eaters? oh my gffukcing godd I am lossin it
  • that last line is just… oh my god, nk jemisin must have had the time of her LIFE writing this shit. 
  • that… quote at the end. FUCK.

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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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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