In the nineteenth and penultimate chapter of The Obelisk Gate, Essun prepares for the attack on Castrima. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Holy shit. AND THIS ISN’T EVEN THE LAST CHAPTER.
This chapter opens with such a haunting, disturbing image: Essun walking through the now-occupied Castrima-over while the people who came to kill her and the comm watch her. One thing that’s so striking as I read this back a second time is how confident the Rennanis people are. They operate without any doubt that they’ll win, that they are going to conquer this comm and delight from the spoils of said conquest. And then, in a very literal sense, Essun stands out. Not just because of where she is, but what she’s wearing, how she looks. It’s a powerful visualization of Essun not belonging amongst these people, accented by her orogeny. Because that’s the real reason she would never belong to this comm, right?
I remarked in the notes below that I also found the “justification” of the Rennanis comm’s violent raid was so… mundane. But it has to be, right? It’s all survival, nothing more. Danel’s explanation to Essun never feels lofty; it’s not terribly philosophical; and she has no interest in right or wrong. It’s just what her and her people need to survive the Season, right? Everything increases their odds, from the supposed storecaches that Castrima has to the limiting of their population… every choice is measured against this. Will it help them survive? Then there’s no other morality but that, no other way to make a decision.
It might be mundane or simple, but it’s also scary as fuck. As soon as it was revealed they had a Guardian? GOOD. BYE. I was done, I knew this wasn’t going to go the way they all thought, and I started getting worried. N.K. Jemisin cares not for my feelings! How many absolutely wild fucking twists have I been dealt in these two books? This is just preparation, friends.
I was right, though. I wasn’t ready for what was to come.
Thankfully, Essun is saved by Hoa. (And while Essun won’t ever get used to being pulled through the Earth, I also will not get used to reading about it. It’s so disorienting!) Essun, however, returns largely unscathed (though dealing with immense pain from that terrible Guardian knife) but with the worst news: this attack is basically guaranteed. There was no reasoning with Danel or her people. At this point, we learn of multiple plans to protect Castrima or to escape from it in case things get bad. (It looked like things were already getting bad, for the record.) And look, I thought any of them were possible at that point! I kind of assumed that the Rennanis army would get inside, so the escape plan was feasible. Tonkee’s plan… lord. Effective? Yes. Incredibly nightmarish? OH, ABSOLUTELY. Note that this is finally brought to light after the brief freak-out over a potential spy. THEY DON’T EVEN RESOLVE THAT. The strongbacks breaking through completely upstage this, but I’m not forgetting. Who the fuck might be a spy? I’m guessing if this is true, then they were offered something lucrative in Rennanis?
Whatever, BECAUSE BOILBUGS. That horrifying bit from earlier is turned into a weapon here through “controlled orogeny.” And while it is one of the most disturbing things in the whole damn book, it’s certainly not the most interesting. It’s the controlled orogeny part that makes this such a monumental chapter. One thing that I enjoyed about what Jemisin does here is that Essun is just wrong. Understandably so; she comes from the training and the mindset of the Fulcrum. It makes so much sense to me that she would interpret Ykka’s orogeny through that framework. But because of that—and the accompanying arrogance—Essun is unable to see the full portrait of Ykka the orogene. It’s a tough realization, especially because what a hell of a time for her to realize that the answer to Alabaster’s puzzle was RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF HER. But it also speaks to something kind of beautiful. Look how often Ykka and Essun have butted heads over this comm. We see that in this chapter! Ykka tells Essun not to threaten other people. And this conflict between stems from their vastly different experiences. Essun is used to having to wield power in a specific way, one which Ykka has not needed. Essun struggled with parallel scaling for a long time, but it turns out that Ykka and many of the other “feral” orogenes have been doing it. JUST CASUALLY.
I think that’s because their mindsets are so different. Even Ykka’s orogeny is literally different in almost every way. The Fulcrum teaches orogenes a precise form of control. As Essun puts it, she can move pebbles, but Ykka can’t. But why would Ykka even need to do that? Her precision is exact in ways that Essun can’t even imagine, and instead of thinking of her that way, Essun discounted her.
But Ykka can form a network with other orogenes, and the prose describing this? Gorgeous. Both that and the obelisk network passages are some of the best writing in the whole damn series: detailed and evocative and fiercely emotional, too, because Essun is realizing what she is truly capable of, and that’s a beautiful thing. I loved this part in particular:
It is a dance, of sorts. Her orogeny is like… a river with eddies, curling and flowing in patterns and at a pace. Yours is faster, deeper, more straightforward, more forceful, but she modulates you so efficiently that the two flows come together. You flow slower and more loosely. She flows faster, using your depth to boost her force.
It’s kinda intimate, isn’t it? And that makes sense, too. In order to properly create a network, you have to be vulnerable with another orogene. You have to trust them and let them into the magic you possess! I think that’s a reason why Ykka invites Essun to get drunk together. They actually connected in this meaningful way, and I bet Ykka understands Essun better now that she’s seen Essun’s orogeny and magic at that level. It’s all about this damn connection!
AND LOOK WHAT IT UNLOCKS. Essun is able to see the entire network of silver threads and magic that inhabit literally everything in the whole world, and it allows Essun to enact Tonkee’s plan. Which is every bit as horrible as I thought it would be AND MORE. Holy shit??? It’s so violent? And way worse than Terteis’s death by one boilbug?
But this act is interrupted by the incursion of the Rennanis army. WHICH IS UPSETTING. I know a lot of people died, since later, Essun will note that she can’t connect to certain orogenes anymore. Jemisin gives the sequence such a terrifying chaos, as we’re ripped from one act to another, including the AMAZING moment where Hoa destroys another stone eater. Stone eaters fight in such a strange manner, but I loved how all that was communicated to the reader.
And then… shit. The onyx obelisk. It unlocks it all, which is exactly what we were told!!!
Which allows you to finally remember: The onyx is the key.
Alabaster didn’t want her to create a network of orogenes; he was trying to tell her to create a network of obelisks. Using one obelisk unlocked potential in Essun that she previously couldn’t conceive of. That’s been the case multiple times over these books. But what happens if you access all of them? So Essun uses the key—the black onyx—the unlock the Obelisk Gate, and holy
She crystalizes multiple stone eaters. (But not Gray Man, unfortunately.) She travels to Rennanis and turns LITERALLY EVERY FUCKING RESIDENT OF IT TO STONE. She then does something that made me almost burst in to tears:
She finds Nassun.
SHE FINDS NASSUN. Oh my god, y’all, she’s been trying to find her for so long, and she’d mostly had to give up! She had to stop looking, and then, when she possessed the greatest power of her life, SHE FOUND HER.
So, question: Will Nassun be able to sense that? I’m guessing so. But she’s not going to be too excited about that, will she?
One last thing, and y’all. It’s the BIGGEST THING. Antimony shows up, and there is a new stone eater next to her:
Only its eyes are black, and though they watch you with only faint recognition, with a puzzled flicker of something that might be (but should not be) memory… something about those eyes is familiar.
How ironic. This is the first time you’ve ever seen a stone eater made of alabaster.
NO. NO. THERE’S NO WAY. Except??? Stone eaters used to be human, so maybe…? I don’t even how that’s possible, but was that actually Alabaster????
HOW WAS THIS NOT THE LAST CHAPTER.
- I’m so scared.
- Is Hoa talking to the Gray Man? To Earth? oh god.
- Probably the latter
- I’M BACK TO BEING SCARED AGAIN
- “All things change in a Season.” help me HELP
- ALSO this chapter title is so darkly hilarious
- whew, the ramifications of what essun did. damaging ykka’s authority
- oh god, a low bar. THIS IS TOO REAL
- THIS IS SO CREEPY. the Rennanis people are just… here???
- it is so wild to me that essun is just walking through all this
- “Indifference is worse than hate.” how does this book cut through me so CONSISTENTLY
- yes, why ARE they bothering castrima???
- god their reasoning is so… mundane
- NOPE, WHAT IS THAT BUZZ
- NO THANK YOU
- I HATE IT
- wait what the fuck
- AND HOA OH MY GOD
- oh shit HE PULLED HER INTO THE EARTH
- it’s so heartbreaking that alabaster still feels so present in essun’s life
- wait, that IS a good point. how DID the rennanis people know so much???
- a spy??? no NO NOOOOOO
- OH SHIT ykka called out essun for threatening people
- wow ykka had a whole contingency plan!!!
- OH. TONKEE HAS ANOTHER PLAN
- IT’S A FUCKING NIGHTMARE
- Ykka is indeed a mystery
- SHE KNOWS HOW TO PARALLEL SCALE????
- ALABASTER’S FINAL WORDS
- THIS IS A HELL OF A TIME TO REALIZE YKKA NEEDS TO TEACH YOU
- “Maybe she failed your tests because they were the wrong tests.” I YELLED WHEN I READ THIS
- this is so fucking cool!!!
- MAGIC IN EVERYTHING!!!!!
- she’s finally doing it OH MY GOD
- what is she gonna do to these soldiers
- I’m scared
- HOLY SHIT THE BOILBUGS
- NOPE THEY FLY
- N O P E
- this is a waking nightmare.
- no, what happened? what’s happening to the orogenes?
- HOA WHAT THE FUCK
- THIS IS A NEW WAKING NIGHTMARE
- oh my god, I forgot that moment at the riverside in the first book!!!
- hoa reshaping his face to look more like a boy = the total emotional destruction of me
- THE ONYX OH MY GOD
- WHAT IS HAPPENING!!!!!!
- SHE CA SEE THE WHOLE OF THE STILLNESS
- NOT A NETWORK OF OROGENES
- A NETWORK OF OBELISKS
- KLASJDF;LKAJSDFLK;AJDF OH MY GOD SHE IS SEALING THE STONE EATERS IN CRYSTALS
- I am speechless
- she did it
- she turned all of rennanis into stone
- OH MY GOD
- OH MYGOD
- SHE FOUND HER
- SHE KNOWS SHE IS ALIVE
- YOU ARE KIDDING ME
- WAS THAT
- OH MY GOD
- LITERALLY ALABASTER????
- this chapter wrung me out
- “What if it isn’t dead?” I’m…. I can’t.
Mark Links Stuff
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