In the tenth chapter of The Stone Sky, Nassun understands. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, body horror, sexual assault/rape, slavery
Holy shit. Y’all. Holy SHIT. I mean, I should have known from that opening that this chapter was going to completely devastate me, but oh my god. You know, throughout the book, the characters refer to Earth as Evil Earth. It’s a common phrase, too, a means of communicating anger or frustration. And from the perspective of some people, I understand why Earth is viewed as an “evil” thing.
And this chapter definitively flips everything on its head.
It’s not a surprise, nor is it shocking, as Jemisin long ago hinted at or outright said that Earth was furious for what was done to it. We also knew that Earth was sentient because of Schaffa’s POV chapters; Earth spoke to him!
That being said: All these pieces come together in a scene that is deeply uncomfortable, that is terrifying, that is emotional and intimate, and it hits so damn hard. It’s because Jemisin rightly chose to compose this scene so we’d see it through Nassun’s eyes. Which character would be uniquely positioned to understand what Earth felt?
The same one who had everything taken from her.
So, let me back up, because I do want to talk about the vehimal’s journey to the core. Even in that, Jemisin links this to a deeper metaphor of exploitation and hubris. It would be easy to be impressed the vehimal, and indeed, it’s designed in a way to impress. Of course, it was easy for me to remember how Hoa, all those years ago, realized that things could be built for comfort. Here, Nassun experiences Sylanagistine technology for the first time, which both intrigues her and frightens her. It’s a bizarre experience for someone who has virtually nothing to compare it to. There is nothing like a vehimal on the Stillness… at least not anymore. So, as Nassun sinks into this experience, she is both full of wonder and anxious. I can’t ignore that her anxiety is only made worse by Schaffa’s behavior, and I correctly guessed that as he got closer to the core, the more intensely he felt Earth’s willpower on him. There is, of course, another angle:
He bares his teeth suddenly, and thrusts his fingers into his hair. “Familiarity, but no, no… context! No meaning! Something about this journey is wrong. Something is wrong and I don’t remember what.”
This echoes the warning that Steel gave: it was a mistake to bring Schaffa along on the journey. Because if Schaffa had kept his memories from his time before his contamination, he would have remembered that his corestone came from the center of the Earth. I have like… a million questions about that. Who the fuck harvested it? I think it’s clear that the same people who exploited the Earth must be the same who managed to make these devices. Oh god, the socket from The Fifth Season!!! Oh shit, of COURSE a Guardian would become corrupt near a place that was a direct conduit of sorts to the core. I FEEL LIKE I UNDERSTAND A WHOLE NEW THING HERE. (I know I’ve said this before, but this series has to be a TRIP to re-read.) I bet the Guardians were given these implants to curb their orogeny, but were always told to avoid any possible connection to Earth, since their corestones were LITERALLY from the core. (Can we also acknowledge how I didn’t figure this out despite that the answer is LITERALLY in the fucking name. Good bye. GOOD BYE.)
So, we have Schaffa’s anxiety, which Nassun is empathetic to, making her anxiety worse as the vehimal crawls along the tunnel, descending into the Earth. All this became my anxiety when Jemisin introduced the chasm: the massive hole that I assume was carved out by the Sylanagistine in order to reach the core. Knowing the endgame of this chapter, I now feel a different type of horror. Before, it was the unknown. As the vehimal approached the chasm and then tipped over the side, this was like if I boarded the MTA near my house and then forty minutes later, it turned into a roller coast that was just a drop and nothing else. THIS IS TERRIFYING. But knowing that this was all constructed—that the original builders tore up the Earth and siphoned away the life of the core—makes this so much more upsetting. Nassun is pitching into a nightmare of many layers.
Which is the perfect time for Schaffa to say this:
“I have done this before,” he says, but he sounds uncertain. “I have survived it.”
This truly did not comfort me in the SLIGHTEST. Okay, sure, you survived. MOTHERFUCKER. HOW. HOW DID YOU SURVIVE. (This is all the more ironic because… fuck. Did he survive it this time? And at what cost to himself?)
And then they launch.
God, the sequence is… beautiful. Scary. Bizarre. And it contains another of my favorite passages in the whole series, which comes from Schaffa as the unbearable pain mounts in him with each passing moment:
“The Leadership families of Yumenes believed that orogenes once ruled the world,” he says. “That their duty was to keep your kind from ever regaining that much power. That you would be monstrous rulers of the world, doing back to ordinary folk what had been done to you, if you ever got the chance. I don’t think they were right about any of it—and yet.” He gestures, as she stands there illuminated by the fire of the earth. “Look at you, little one. If you are the monster they imagined you to be… you are also glorious.”
What a fucking MOMENT. Nassun’s response… look, it’s not that I ever doubted her love for him. I understood it was complicated and affected by so many various factors. But y’all… she loves him. Because he understands her, deeply and truly and unconditionally. Isn’t that what she’s wanted this whole time?
Which is also why the next sequence of events is so brutal and devastating. Nassun does not link the silver to Earth until the vehimal is plunging toward the core. Her epiphany is fucking horrifying, y’all, and Jemisin does such a fantastic job grounding us in her fear, reminding us that she is both immensely powerful and a young girl who is essentially watching her father figure suffer in front of her. She can’t even excise the corestone or cut off the silver from it, and then… oh lord.
And here, within the sanctum of its heart, the Evil Earth notices her back.
hi HELP. This whole exchange was just… one of the wildest things in this whole fucking series. The faces. THE FUCKING FACES. Oh my god, the warnings earlier in the book about burial:
Obligation, the Earth returns, in wavelets of heat and crushing pressure. Nassun bares her teeth, struggling against the weight of its contempt. What was stolen, or lent, must be recompensed.
Jemisin uses three very particular words in this section: “recompensed,” then “raped,” and then “reparation.” I don’t believe for a second that she used any of these lightly, and in the reality she has constructed here, they each feel apt and necessary. This is what happened to Earth when people harnessed magic and greedily wanted even more. As the text notes, it’s clear that those who made the obelisks never thought Earth was aware or sentient or alive, and they just saw another resource to be plundered and drained. It is an act of violation, a gross destruction of consent, and an act so vile and violent that only reparations can truly begin to repair what has been done. It is through this, too, that Jemisin writes Nassun as the empathetic child, the one desperate to understand the world around her because she wants to be understood, too. At least that’s one reading I really enjoy of this text, and also: perhaps I am projecting because I RELATE TO THAT NARRATIVE A WHOLE LOT. But even if that’s way off base from the intent, Nassun still sees a parallel struggle within her own life and what is unfolding on the Stillness in the present time:
And oh. Does Nassun not understand this? Her hands tighten in Schaffa’s shirt, trembling as her hatred wavers. Can she not empathize?
For the world has taken so much from her. She had a brother once. And a father, and a mother whom she also understands but wishes she did not. And a home, and dreams. The people of the Stillness have long since robbed her of childhood and any hope of a real future, and because of this she is so angry that she cannot think beyond THIS MUST STOP and I WILL STOP IT—
—so does she not resonate with the Evil Earth’s wrath, herself?
Earth eat her, she does.
It’s a moment that diminishes the very idea that Earth is… well, evil. Can you say this entity is evil when something so horrible has been done to it for such an absurdly long length of time? Earth was exploited and drained; their child was flung away. (Which makes me think that the Moon is also a sentient being, too.) So even though Schaffa may be hurt beyond healing, and even though Nassun may never consider herself an “ally” to Earth, she comes to the same conclusion, to the same end:
“This has to stop. I will stop it.” She closes her eyes and the lashes stick together, wet. “I promise.”
She does not know to whom she makes this promise. It doesn’t matter, really.
You know what? I think Nassun is going to accomplish this goal. I think that even if Essun makes it to Corepoint, even if she initially tries to stop her daughter, her daughter will convince her to let it all burn. I FEEL THIS. DEEP IN MY SOUL. I also know it is risky as hell to put a prediction out like this because I have been so very wrong about this series before. Not all the time, but a LOT of the time.
Oh, I am also excited because the next chapter is in Syl Anagist GIVE IT TO ME.
- that… that opening. it’s rude. unfair. it is a PERSONAL attack.
- a thing just struck me: Hoa, back when he was just a tuner, realizing that things could be made to make a person comfortable. and now, nassun is in a vehicle created by a sylanagistine that is designed for comfort.
- omg six hours!!!! that’s not too bad for a trip THROUGH THE LITERAL EARTH.
- oh, right, everything is living!
- HEY, DON’T LIKE THAT. Why is something wrong??????
- also I want you to know that this is literally what my anxiety feels like: Familiarity with no context, but I definitely know something is wrong LMAAAOOOOOO
- is it because he’s moving closer to Evil Earth???
- wait WHAT
- OF COURSE
- If everything is living, then EVERYTHING is alive
- oh no
- say no
- please stop
- oh god
- I am SHAKING what the FUCK is happening!!!!!
- oh my god it was a window the whole time????
- oh what is this????
- “I have survived it” WHY THE FUCK IS THIS NOT THE SLIGHTEST BIT COMFORTING.
- never has a single word instilled such a bone-deep fear in me
- WHO WOULD HAVE LIVED DOWN THERE??????
- HOLY SHIT, she’s actually touching it?????
- “If you are the monster they imagined you to be… you are also glorious.” WHAT A LINE, Y’ALL.
- oh shit, so magic is responsible for the vehimal!!!
- OH GOD
- THAT SINGLE THREAD
- I KNEW IT AND YET
- IT’S STILL
- TOO MUCH
- OH MY GOD
- THE LITERAL NAME
- HOW DID I NOT PUT TWO AND TWO TOGETHER
- OH MY GOD
- STEEL’S WARNING
- HELP ME
- OH MY GOD THEY’RE IN THE CORE????
- I CAN’T BREATHE
- EVIL EARTH
- “Hello, little enemy.”
- I can’t
- I can’t deal with this book
- oh oh oh my god she’s going to remove it???
- SHE CAN’T.
- OH SHIT
- THE MOON OH SHIT. EARTH IS TALKING ABOUT THE MOON
- THIS IS INCREDIBLE
- HOLY SHIT
- OH GOD THE WARNINGS ABOUT BURIAL
- THAT CLUE WAS PLANTED SO LONG AGO
- THE EMPATHY. MY MIND IS BLOWN.
- I don’t know what else to say. this chapter was… wow. I thought chapter 7 was my favorite, but maybe this one is. wow. what an amazing, amazing thing.
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