In the sixth chapter of The Stone Sky, Nassun and Schaffa journey to THE PLACE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For talk of grief
Look, I try to avoid direct spoilers in that little preview that’s posted to the site, so I didn’t want to say what THE PLACE was. This chapter has me so impatient, and if we’re still following the pattern of the last sets of these, the next chapter is a “Syl Anagist” one, meaning that I won’t find out what happens now that they’ve entered the Guardian-accessible entrance to that long-forgotten city.
Oh, holy shit, I’m so, so excited.
And this isn’t even the only thing going on here! Unsurprisingly, there’s this intense emotional undercurrent within the trek to Old Man’s Pucker, and it’s not solely about Nassun making her fateful journey to the place where she can, as she puts it, “make a world that will hurt no one else.” I remain so fascinated by the Schaffa/Nassun relationship, particularly because Jemisin chose to develop such a complicated dynamic to him. As far as I can tell (since I have so much of this book left to read), she’s avoiding any sort of traditional or expected redemption story for Schaffa. That’s not to say that Schaffa isn’t trying to redeem himself in some way, but it’s more that Jemisin hasn’t framed it so that’s the focus of his arc. It definitely helps that most of his story is seen through Nassun’s eyes!
That means her interpretation of him takes center stage, and in chapter six, Nassun is more direct than ever that she views Schaffa as not just a father figure, but family. This line in particular is one of many that gave the reader insight to this very strange symbiotic pairing. (Or familial pairing, I should say.)
Not even other orogene children; Nassun misses the others, misses their chatter and the comradeship that she enjoyed with them for so brief a time, but at the end of the day, she resented how much time and attention Schaffa had to give them. She’s old enough to know that it’s childish for her to be jealous of such a thing. (Her parents doted on Uche, too, but it is horrifyingly obvious now that getting more attention isn’t necessarily favoritism.) Doesn’t mean she isn’t glad, and greedy, for the chance to have Schaffa all to herself.
Hi, this is such peak sibling energy? I imagine some of you who have other siblings can relate to this very notion, and that feels intentional. Jemisin is pulling Nassun in these emotional directions to make it believable that she views Schaffa as a father. It’s natural to want this kind of attention! (I know I said this down in the notes below, but oh, this whole chapter made me want a young adult novel from Jemisin some day. I BET SHE WOULD KNOCK THAT OUT OF THE PARK, TOO.) Yet it’s what we see her do about Schaffa’s pain and how his implant tortures him that makes this so much more powerful. Weird, yes, but there’s a endearing nature to Nassun’s desire to want to help Schaffa. I say “weird” because I also don’t want to forget just how messed up this dynamic is always going to be. The age gap ALONE brings all sorts of problems, as well as the fact that Schaffa is still a Guardian. A contaminated one, yes, and one who is also resisting Earth’s will every waking second of the day.
Nassun sees how much he is resisting, and it matters to her:
Schaffa, however, has not taken silver from her or anyone else since the day she offered all of hers to him—the day she realized the true nature of the metal shard in his brain.
Which is clear to me now, too. That’s what that odd connection was that we saw early in the series whenever a Guardian touched the back of the neck on an orogene. They were siphoning some of their magic, drawing the orogene to them. I loved it, then, that Jemisin called that act for what it was: parasitic. So what does that make Nassun’s relationship to Schaffa as she willingly gives him her silver so she can sleep?
She thinks maybe she understands why he stopped. Something changed between them that day, and he can no longer bring himself to feed on her like some sort of parasite. But that is why Nassun sneaks him magic now. Because something changed between then, and he’s not a parasite if she needs him, too, and if she gives what he will not take.
(One day soon, she will learn the word sybiosis and nod, pleased to have a name for it at last. But long before that, she will have already decided that family will do.)
Isn’t much of this series about power imbalances? About the institutional inequality meted out on people who aren’t even viewed as people in this system? The whole thing is deeply, chaotically poisonous and parasitic. So what happens when an agent in this system refuses to participate? Again, we’ve talked about this before, but it looks like he is choosing these things, rather than being forced to treat Nassun better. There is an agency here that gives weight to what he does, and the same goes for Nassun. That doesn’t mean their relationship is pure and good all the time, and I think there are so many different ways to analyze the two of them together. Shit, my opinion on this could change by the end of the book! I have no idea what it’s gonna be like at Corepoint! So then I read shit like this?
She is determined to be a better daughter to Schaffa than she was to Jija. Everything will be better, until the end.
IT HURTS. It hurts because I am then reminded that Nassun thinks she was a bad daughter. IN WHAT WORLD??? Well… hers. From her point of view. And that crushes me, especially since it complicates this whole parasite/symbiote thing. In Nassun’s mind, this might be her best version of a family, but look how fucked up hers was! So is this all symbiotic relative to what she went through?
Oh, this is so fascinating to me, y’all. And I’m thankful this book is deeply, deeply complex in this way because it makes for such a fundamentally satisfying read. I love books that make me want to immediately re-read everything, and I’m already getting that urge, long before I’m even done!
I am also CONSTANTLY a nervous wreck reading this because it’s just so relentlessly suspenseful? Let’s talk about that, because I love that Jemisin uses a tried and true technique here: to introduce frightening shit that exists just off the page in order to build atmosphere. We’ve got the threat of dusk and exhaustion that makes the journey to the center of the Pucker bad enough, but this caldera-within-a-caldera has creatures waiting for darkness to fall. Look, I’ll be very honest here: I used this same technique in Each of Us A Desert because it’s one of my favorite things!!! Our minds can come up with some much dark shit if we’re given hints of what lays just beyond our sight. Here, it’s sound that Jemisin uses to scare the daylights out of me. Y’all, my face was all twisted up in horror once those horrible screeches started ringing out. Absolutely not! I hate them! HURRY UP AND GET SAFE, I DISLIKE IT.
And then Jemisin adds another level to this when Schaffa tells Nassun not to use her orogeny to get them to the center quicker:
“Other Guardians may be near, Nassun. It’s unlikely at this point, but still a possibility.”
OH. OH OKAY. WHY THE FUCK WOULD OTHER GUARDIANS BE AROUND THIS PLACE???
Ah, but then he has said that they all go somewhere during a season, and that this station that Steel told them about is the means by which they do it. “Do you remember something?”
“Nothing more, sadly.” He smiles a little, knowingly, as if he can tell what she’s doing. “Only that this is how we get there.”
His smile fades, expression settling into that familiar disturbing blankness for the briefest of instants. “Warrant.”
OH, FUCK YOU. NO. NO!!!!!! Does that mean they have to pass through Warrant to get to Corepoint? Is Schaffa about to take Nassun through the place where ALL THE GUARDIANS WAIT OUT A SEASON???? Look, this is just where my mind went!!!! EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS BAD. Oh my god, I’m realizing more and more that Schaffa’s missing memory, while a good thing in some ways, is also horrifying. It’s good because it allows him to make better, more moral choices sometimes. But in this case, him not really knowing what he’s doing—and just going by instinct—makes me so fucking nervous. Why? Why do you have to pass through this deadciv to get to Warrant? What’s in Warrant? WHY IS THIS BOOK LIKE THIS????
I need Nassun’s next chapter NOW. Now!!!
- oh. why does Jemisin hurt me so much with just the chapter titles? my heart SKIPPED reading this one.
- this book saying something is “uneventful” is also anxiety-inducing.
- yeah, not surprising at ALL that there is almost no one on the road.
- you know, I’m well aware that this isn’t remotely a young adult or middle grade book, but jemisin writes from that headspace very, very well. I love that moment of nassun realizing she was resentful of attention the other orogenes got from schaffa. it’s so damn realistic!
- oh nassun. giving schaffa your magic???? to ease his pain????
- THE SYMBIOSIS = FAMILY LINE. GOOD BYE. I HAVE PERISHED.
- I cannot deal with her saying she wants to be a better daughter. my HEART
- oh wow, the weirdness to nassun of yemenes being time. being history. being size. I love all of this.
- oh god, her asking about her mother 🙁 🙁 🙁
- oooooh, I know that from hiking/camping. STILL WATER IS BAD. AVOID.
- oh, wow, a crater INSIDE another crater????
- hi, no, hate that screech, HATE IT
- the ruin is UNDERGROUND????
- why is the silver like this here??? why does this all make me so terribly nervous???? my face is a MESS reading this!!!!
- wait WAS he there at the Shattering????
- no, this trip is too stressful. I HATE IT. oh my god, are they going to make it by dusk?
- I’M SORRY
- OTHER GUARDIANS
- OH NO
- YOU’RE KIDDING ME
- THIS IS HOW YOU GET TO WARRANT?????????
- NO I NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING
- TELL ME
- OH MY GOD hoa breaking the narration with that line directed to Essun??? seriously WHY IS HE TELLING HER THIS STORY.
- this is truly mesmerizing. I genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen
- a fucking doorway
- oh my god. where does the tunnel go???? like… literally through the earth???
- the word “chitinous” activates my fight or flight instinct
- oh my god this is happening. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. THE LONG-FORGOTTEN CITY.
- every one of the quotes at the end of these chapters is devastating. every. one.
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