Mark Reads ‘The Obelisk Gate’: Interlude / Chapter 20

In the twentieth and final chapter of The Obelisk Gate, Nassun makes a choice. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

What the fuck, y’all???

Interlude

Let’s start here because EVERYTHING IS A LOT. This ending is… holy shit. How??? How did I not think of this? Alabaster used the Obelisk Gate and paid a price, and I COMPLETELY FUCKING FORGOT THAT. So is this a pyrrhic victory? Perhaps. The Rennanis people have been neutralized or murdered, but at what cost? Castrima is badly damaged, so much so that its not going to be livable in a short while. There are ramifications everywhere in this Interlude, and they conclude arcs before the next book begins. One of them is purely emotional: Hoa is finally admitting himself that he loves Essun. It’s been obvious before this that he cares about Essun, though I have to admit that early in The Obelisk Gate, I was worried that he saw Essun as nothing more than a pawn in this war against Evil Earth. That’s not what I think anymore, and watching this relationship grow has been one of many undercurrents to the book that I’ve loved. It’s such a strange relationship, of course; I wouldn’t call this romantic love, at least not yet? But there’s a clear devotion here, one where we never have to doubt that Hoa will do anything within his power to protect Essun.

But what does that mean now? Was all of the Antimony/Alabaster stuff just a precursor? Was that all a warning of what would eventually happen to Essun? Because there was an immense personal and physical cost that Essun paid here, all so she could save the people of Castrima and herself. (More on that angle in a bit.)

But I position you carefully, so that you will be comfortable. And I place your arm atop the covers, so you will know as soon as you awaken that you must now make a choice.

Your right arm, which has become a thing of brown, solidified, concentrated magic. No crudeness here; your flesh is pure, perfect, wholesome. Every atom is as it should be, the arcane lattice precise and strong.

This is very new, something I don’t believe we’ve seen before. But it’s immediately countered by the other ramification:

Your stone hand is shaped into a fist. There’s a crack across the back of it, perpendicular to the hand bones. Even as the magic reshaped you, you fought.

Each of her arms, reshaped by magic. One is pure magic, the other… well, Essun is now slowly turning to stone. FUCK. Fuck!!! And does this mean she can’t open the Obelisk Gate again? Is it a one-time-only thing, like it was for Alabaster? Did she waste her sole attempt? Or is it even fair to call it that? Because she’s alive. She knows Nassun is alive. She saved most of the people of Castrima. And there’s still hope here! The other major development is that because Essun turned all of Rennanis to stone, it is now an empty comm. There’s a place that the people of Castrima can go to. Is it a perfect solution? No, and the Season is still getting worse, alongside a whole host of other unknowns. LIKE THE WAR WITH EARTH. THAT WHOLE THING.

But Essun made her choice. She will soon know what she is and what she can do. And this marks an important point in her journey, so I think it’s the best place to end this book. She will wake and have an important choice to make, but… well, I’ll get there.

Nassun

The truth is that Nassun has lived a life full of meaningless. 

I didn’t get that until the end of her chapter, the final one in The Obelisk Gate. Why would she feel what she felt here? Well, she was raised to see her power as something to hide. She was raised to equate love with pain. She was treated poorly by her mother in the name of protection. And what little happiness she did have was shattered by her father murdering Uche. Look at what has happened since then. Everything that held meaning in Nassun’s life—especially the love her father had for her—was turned upside down. The world literally broke.

So what was she to hold on to? What would truly have meaning to her?

At this point, it’s just Schaffa, and you know what? I feel like Steel knew that. There’s a sense here that Steel is manipulating Nassun’s vulnerability. It’s just a theory, and I’m not totally sure of it, but… okay, for example. Why would Steel tell Nassun that Essun’s use of the Obelisk Gate was petty and useless, that it was “small and selfish”? Was he trying to sway her? This stone eater is never mentioned by Hoa, so I can’t quite tell what “side” he’s on. Is he for humanity? Against it? Against the orogenes? 

That’s not important for Nassun’s journey, though, and like Essun, she has made a life-changing decision. Nassun knows that everything in her life, aside from Schaffa, has held her back:

Suddenly it doesn’t matter. Nassun sighs and rubs her face with her hands, as weary as Father Earth must be after so many eternities of hate. Hate is tiring. Nihilism is easier, though she does not know the word and will not for a few years. It’s what she’s feeling, regardless: an overwhelming sense of the meaningless of it all.

So this is her, forging that meaning. And in order to do so, she has to shed the last remnant of her life. (Or at least the last remnant still currently in her life.) Jija. Her father, who doesn’t love her like a father anymore, who hates what she is like so many people in the world, all of whom expect the worst of her because she is an orogene. And so, as Jija tried to kill his daughter because of who she is, his fate had already been sealed. She was probably going to get rid of him anyway, right? But note that she wanted to turn him to stone—perhaps to be able to look at him later—and wasn’t able to. Because at the last moment, she is harmed by Jija’s knife, one last injury that he is able to inflict on her literally as he is dying. 

And then Jija shatters.

It’s not lost on me that as Steel tells Nassun that she will kill everything she loves, as he begins to recruit her to his side, Jija’s eye looks up at her from the pile of debris that was his body. Her father stares at her one last time as she is told that the Moon is coming back, and Steel needs her to catch it. But something is wrong here. Why did this all feel wrong? Why does Steel say this will be terrible? Why does he tell Nassun that “no one will ever suffer again”? We know that’s why the Seasons happened in the first place, but… fuck. Is there some other part of this we don’t know about? Is Steel working on behalf of Evil Earth? Because that’s what this sounds like!!!

And Nassun just wants it all to end. It’s a manifestation of nihilism, isn’t it? If the world is meaningless, then she’ll do anything, right? She can become anything or anyone and it won’t matter. Schaffa will love her regardless.

Right?

OH GOD I DON’T KNOW. I genuinely don’t! But I also don’t know if this pits her against Essun or if she’ll have to work with her. They’re both trying to bring the Moon home. What if it’s for a different reason, though?

I’m so glad I don’t have to wait another day to read the start of The Stone Sky, y’all. I NEED IT NOW. But I’m also just so happy to be reading these books. Experiencing them remains an odd experience in 2020, something that Jemisin never could have intended. But what she did intend was to draw from history, and unfortunately, a lot of this shit is cyclical. I can’t say I’ve caught all the possible references throughout these two books, but I can see calls to elements of chattel slavery, to Jim Crow laws, to citizens being required to live in the shadow of these legacies. And that’s not even touching all the science at work here! This is to say that as I head into the final chapter, I love that these books have so many layers to them, and I can’t wait to discover more.

NOTES

Interlude

  • oh god this interlude is already making me emotional. Hoa loves Essun, doesn’t he? 
  • fuck, is that penty???
  • oh no. THE GEODE
  • ha! trapped stone eaters!
  • this is all so… intimate???
  • wait what
  • make a choice?
  • her arm is concentrated magic??? what does that mean???
  • WHAT
  • WHAT
  • STONE HAND
  • WHAT
  • THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED TO ALABASTER
  • OF COURSE
  • OF COURSE IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN TO HER
  • OH GOD SHE WANTS TO BRING NASSUN TO HER
  • “Of course.” hey I’m b r o k e n
  • I love how jemisin communicates that as a stone eater, hoa has no real sense of time passing

Chapter 20

  • wait is the opening of this chapter talking about nassun???
  • oh god nassun senses her mother, right???
  • YES, SOMETHING IS HAPPENING UP NORTH!!!!!
  • oh god she’s figuring it out.
  • hey wai
  • wait
  • what
  • jija what are you doing
  • nihilism??? wait what is happening here
  • what is she saying!!!!!
  • OH
  • OH NO
  • WHAT IS SHE ABOUT TO DO
  • OH
  • THAT
  • SHE’S DOING THAT
  • I
  • oh my god
  • I don’t even know what to say
  • NO
  • DON’T LISTEN TO STEEL, NASSUN
  • HIS EYES OH MY GOD
  • WAIT… catch the Moon? isn’t that what they wanted Essun to do???
  • oh my god
  • OH MY GOD THAT LINE

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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