Mark Reads ‘The Stone Sky’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of The Stone Sky, Nassun makes her way out of her home, and then she has an epiphany. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death (including death of a child), grief, abuse of a child

Holy shit. Well… it’s not like Jemisin didn’t warn me! I knew at the end of The Obelisk Gate that Nassun was sliding towards nihilism because of what she’d been through, and now? Oh my god, this is becoming not just a struggle for survival, but I think we’re going to see an epic philosophical showdown as well.

Is the world worth saving? If so, are people worth saving, too? 

It’s not lost on me that as Essun just learned that maybe there is a value in community she never truly saw, Nassun is shedding her own, becoming more and more alone. I think we’ll see that as an intentional thing that Jemisin does. What if Essun becomes less alone as Nassun becomes more? How will that reflect in their respective beliefs about what to do with the Moon? 

I don’t know yet, but I’m interested to see how Nassun’s experience will shape her. Here, in chapter four, we are getting to see deep within a character who has been dealt a great deal of trauma. Some of it was generational, passed on to her by the world and by a mother who was oppressed by the Fulcrum. And ever since she discovered that her younger brother was murdered by her father, look what she’s seen. Felt. Had done to her. More than ever, I understand why she has such a deep attachment to Schaffa, even though his history is a goddamn nightmare. (A history that I think stretches back to Syl Anagist, given that he admits to having seen the Moon.) He’s consistent. Supportive. He’s loving in a way that fills all the vacancies left by her parents’ love. That’s not something I put together until this chapter. He loves her unconditionally, which is something that her father could not provide. He also lets her be herself—her full orogene self—which is what her mother denied her. In short, he fulfills her needs in a way her actual parents do not

But it’s not just about catering to Nassun; I think she recognizes that even when he makes hard decisions, it’s to protect her. She is the center of his decision-making process. Look at the orogene children for an example of this. He doesn’t kill them all, nor does he ask Nassun to kill them. Despite it being the most pragmatic option, given what they’ll go through, he knows that this will be a horrible trauma for her to experience. What’s more important to him is that this journey to Corepoint be something that only he and Nassun make. They cannot have anyone slowing them down, holding them back, or distracting them. So, at the literal crossroads, Schaffa tells all of Nassun’s only real friends—if you can even call them that—that they must not follow them anymore.

This might be the practical thing to do, but guess what? It negates exactly NONE of the heartbreak of the scene. Y’all, this was fucking rough. For many of these kids, Found Moon was their only home, and it certainly kept them safe. And now what? What are they supposed to do? Survive as a group? On their own? Until the next bigoted group of stills turns on them, and they have to fight for their lives or prove that they’re valuable enough to be spared?

Basically: Yes. Deshati, one of the children, calls it like it is, which inspires Schaffa to give a chilling recommendation:

“Kill only one, initially. Pick someone who tries to harm you—but only one, even if more than one tries. Disable the others, but take your time killing that one person. Make it painful. Make sure your target screams. That’s important. if the first one that you kill remains silent… kill another.”

In this, Jemisin reminds us of the calculated brutality not just of survival, but of Schaffa the Guardian. Because of course he would know how to use death and torture to keep a group of people obedient and afraid. Who better to teach a lesson like that than a Guardian? That being said… there’s still a tenderness here, even if Schaffa knows that these kids will most likely not survive that long. I’m thinking particularly of how he treats Deshati:

When he stands to kiss Deshati’s forehead, there is so much sorrow in the gesture that Nassun aches afresh. “‘All things change during a Season,’” he says. ”Live. I want you to live.” 

I don’t think he believes she is going to live, but I believe he wants her to. In a sense, these children are part of his last-minute attempt at redemption, aren’t they? (I say last-minute because the dude has lived for AGES and it’s only now, at what I’m guessing is the very end of things, that he is trying to examine what he’s done and repair what little of the world he can. At least I think that’s what he’s doing, especially since this chapter outright confirms my long-held guess that Earth is speaking to the contaminated Guardians. He’s resisting Earth’s desires this entire time, and Earth wants to wipe out humanity, right? Well, Earth also wanted Schaffa to kill the orogene children, too. Just take everyone out. 

Which worries me. It worries me because of what else is revealed here, what epiphany Nassun has. So many pieces fall into place, and while some were things I guessed or were outright hinted at either, this still felt so shocking to have all of it discussed so openly. Nassun, Schaffa, and Steel are bound for Corepoint, the only place where Nassun believes she can properly “catch” the Moon. Based on what Alabaster told Essun about Corepoint, I am very interested to see how Nassun will be received there. We know that there are tons of stone eaters living around the massive hole that descends to the center of the Earth. Will they enjoy that she is trying to bring the Moon back? I mean… I have to assume so, given that Steel just complicated everything by revealing that HE WAS THE GREY STONE EATER FROM RENNANIS. And he baited Essun as a way to get her to go to Corepoint to capture the Moon! Except she’s clearly not doing that, so it makes sense that they’d turn their attention to Nassun, who has the ability and the desire. And then… Earth. Evil Earth is another variable I have to consider. Doesn’t Evil Earth want their child back? If Nassun has made it clear she’s going to catch the Moon, why would Earth want Schaffa to kill her?

Because this is the chapter where I also find out that EARTH SENT THE CONTAMINATED GUARDIANS INTO THE WORLD TO FIND OROGENES WHO COULD ACTIVATE THE GATE. Oh my god. THE FUCKING NAME. IT JUST HIT ME. FOUND MOON. These motherfuckers were supposed to find the moon and bring it back IT WAS RIGHT THERE IN MY FACE. So… oh god, is that why Earth wanted Schaffa to kill the other kids? Because they weren’t useful to Earth? Oh, my brain. MY HEART.

Actually, that’s what I can say about Nassun’s emotional breakdown in the final part of this chapter. Nassun has lived a short life of trauma, of contradictions, of living in a world that punishes her for who she is, despite that she’s never had a choice in the matter. Look, there was something deeply relatable about Nassun’s desire to be “ordinary”! I think any of us who have lived a life on the margins know what she was talking about, and I’m certain a whole lot of you have had a moment in your past where you wished you were “normal.” But Jemisin, through Nassun, takes this further. Nassun might feel this at times, but in the end, she doesn’t actually want to stop being an orogene, and she certainly doesn’t seem to want to “cure” the world of them, either. She also recognizes the struggle she and other orogenes will have in the future unless something changes:

“I know they—the stills—won’t ever stop being afraid. If my father couldn’t—“ Queasiness. She jerks her thoughts away from the end of that sentence. “They’ll just go on being scared forever, and we’ll just go on living like this forever, and it isn’t right. There should be a—a fix. It isn’t right that there’s no end to it.”

So what is that end? She definitively states that she doesn’t want to fix orogeny. That’s not the problem with the world. The problem is other people. And in a stunning sequence rife with pain and grief, Nassun revisits the moment she found her younger brother dead, and she is overwhelmed by her rage over what was done to Uche. She draws a direct line between the hatred Jija felt towards Uche—murderous, all-encompassing, intensely violent—and what she now feels towards the world. This one line… lord, it BROKE me:

This. This is the Jija in her, making her thrash and shout and weep. She feels closer than ever to her father in this moment of utter broken rage.

Christ. I know Jemisin isn’t making an equivalency here herself, but instead taking us into Nassun’s thoughts over her own grief and the injustice that is possible to divorce from it. Because this isn’t just about loss! It’s not simply anger at Uche being dead; the reasoning for his death is just so deeply, deeply wrong. How do you rectify that? How can you ever repair or fix a harm that has caused such an extensive loss of life? Remember, many of the quotes at the end of these chapters have addressed orogenes murdered for helping stills. HELPING! So, yeah, fixing or repairing this world? Why? Why not just burn it all down and be down with it? 

I think that’s what Earth wants, though. And I worry about Schaffa telling Nassun to “make the end you need.” Because what does that entail? I think it’s this:

In Schaffa’s arms, safe and accepted, she sleeps at last, amid dreams of a world glowing and molten and in its own way, at peace.

It’s a scary thought, but you know what? As someone interested and invested in things like prison abolition and the abolition of the police, I can’t claim this is a faulty outlook. You can’t reform something designed to break people, designed to enslave people, designed to value some lives over others.

You have to burn them all down. 

So maybe that’s what Nassun is going to do, which would pit her against her mother, who is just trying to fix the world rather than start over. Again: it’s a philosophical battle as much as its personal. And is the Old Man’s Pucker located exactly where Essun is right now??? It’s at the center of a grass forest… okay, so maybe not, but I got worried. I am still worried about where this is going.

NOTES

  • Oh, this chapter title. I’m… I’m scared.
  • “until one looks closely at some of the pieces” HELP ME, THIS WAS TOO MUCH.
  • I just want to state that I am very worried about the fate of these children
  • this is… fucking heartbreaking
  • jesus christ, all this shit about the clarity of fear????
  • well, looks like it was good to be worried about the kids. where the fuck are they supposed to go????
  • “We wouldn’t still be alive if you weren’t okay with that.” MY JAW IS ON THE GROUND, HOLY SHIT.
  • I AM YELLING, SCHAFFA’S ADVICE
  • this is so oddly intimate and caring, what the fuck is happening to me
  • NOPE, NO THANKS. because I forgot the Guardians “go” somewhere during a season. WHERE??????
  • I feel gutted. this was so hard
  • oh god COREPOINT?????????
  • tell me more about corepoint NOW!!!!!!
  • oh my god it is LITERALLY the only thing on the other side of the world
  • OH SHIT AN ORIGIN FOR FOUND MOON????? I’m losing it
  • lksjfd;kladsjf;ldasjf;lkasjf;laksjf;laksj I love that I have spent so much time trying to figure out what being contaminated meant and here, Schaffa outright says it’s Earth telling contaminated Guardians what to do. so they’re pawns for Earth!
  • L;KADFJS OH.
  • OH.
  • EARTH PROBABLY WANTS TO WIPE HUMANS AWAY
  • OH SHIT
  • THIS CHAPTER IS RUINING ME, IT’S SO GOOD.
  • OH MY GOD. how fucking old is schaffa??? he saw the Moon? Was he alive during Syl Anagist???
  • nassun realizing that most stills won’t ever stop being afraid of her because her father couldn’t… that broke me
  • well now I’m crying
  • OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING
  • “She feels closer than ever to her father in this moment of utter broken rage.” I’m… done. this whole chapter has ended me.
  • NO. THE REFERENCE TO DAMAYA AND THE SOCKET. NOOOOOOOOOOO
  • OH, HOLY SHIT. She didn’t use orogeny ONCE during her outburst
  • “Make the end you need.” THIS WORRIES ME.
  • I AM LOSING IT, IS THIS HER ENDGAME. IS SHE GOING TO HELP EARTH
  • STATIONS?!?!?!?!?
  • WAIT
  • is
  • is that where Essun is right now????
  • FUCK ME
  • FUCK ME HOW DID I NOT REALIZE STEEL WAS THE GREY STONE EATER FROM RENNANIS
  • AS;DKFJAFSFASDASFDK I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE
  • THIS BOOK REPEATEDLY RUINS MY LIFE
  • OH MY GOD what this all suggests??? is nassun going to end the world???
  • these quotes at the end of the chapter… they’ve all been about orogenes helping stills, but paying a terrible price for doing so.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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