In the ninth chapter of The Stone Sky, Castrima ventures across the desert. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For talk of death
Hey, so! Brief little thing that I just can’t go without saying: I love that I’m reading this just a few weeks after publishing my secondary fantasy book that’s set in a post-apocalyptic environment and involves a long trek across the desert. It’s an odd and delightful coincidence. Well, not the only one: both this series and my book deal with the weight of storytelling, and I also toy with first- and second-person narration. I mean, it’s all surface level similarity, as my book is vastly, vastly different, and also I wish I could write at like…. half the level of this series. A TENTH OF THE SKILL AND CRAFT MASTERY.
Anyway, just wanted to mention that as I dive into this NIGHTMARE because I weirdly know more than the average person about how to survive long walks across the desert? I did months and months of research for Each of Us a Desert, which included a trip to the Sonoran Desert, where I gave myself (with supervision) the initial stages of heat exhaustion because of course I did. I’M FINE, I DON’T RECOMMEND IT. This helps me appreciate the immense thing that Jemisin accomplishes in a chapter that’s not nearly as long as it could have been. Which is the point, one which Hoa will make later on. This chapter has a visceral feel to it, and Jemisin’s prose brings us into this hellish experience. So, on that level, I do appreciate that we don’t get every detail, that this isn’t an hour-by-hour journey. Over the course of a few weeks, the people of Castrima suffer, all in the hope that they’ll reach the other side of the Merz and enter the Rennanis territory.
Hope is literally the only thing that keeps these people going, because lord, there is not much else. However, it’s important to note that while Castrima as a whole has a specific goal, Essun’s is slightly different. We know she is still going to separate from Castrima to attempt to “catch” the Moon, so her journey across the Merz is devoted more to the survival of this comm. Plus, she doesn’t have to worry about herself. If things go bad for her, Hoa can always just nab her and take her to Corepoint. However, she commits herself to staying and helping, and it’s a sign that she is genuinely taking Ykka’s words about community to heart:
Except you’re going to help as much as you can—and because you won’t die, you’re going to watch a lot of other people suffer. That’s the least you can do, now that you’ve committed to the cause of Castrima. Bear witness, and fight like earthfires to keep death from claiming more than its share.
Which she does. Like I said, it displays a new thinking: Essun is trying to see herself as part of a whole, something that does not come natural to her. Over the course of chapter nine, she does what she can. Unfortunately, she’s also limited because of her brush with the Obelisk Gate in the last book. If she uses her orogeny, more of her body will turn to stone. Thus, she’s thrust into a role that’s less active than she might normally take! She doesn’t use orogeny; she isn’t in a leadership position; so she must persist, and she must observe. It’s very, very different for Essun, and even from a narrative perspective, it’s a jarring change. She mostly walks, rests, seeks some comfort and warmth from Lerna, and watches. She bears witness.
That makes Hoa’s interruption so much more powerful. It’s almost like he’s doing this out of courtesy to her, knowing how much suffering she went through, how much she saw in other people. I say that because he definitely did what he could to help the others. God, I loved those reveals, y’all. Hoa is not heartless, and he gave small mercies to those who needed it. Of all the things he did, though, this one RUINED me:
Ontrag, who had not told Ykka about the growing pain in her side and chest, or her shortness of breath, did not live long after the comm left her behind. I went back to her on the night that she died, and tuned away what little pain she felt. (You heard the song. Antimony sang it for Alabaster once. I’ll sing it for you, if… ) She was not alone, at the end.
LIKE. OKAY. FIRST OF ALL. Even if this didn’t explain a HUGE thing from the last book, it still would have destroyed me. It’s just so intimate? And kind? But it DOES have that extra bit of context! Now we know what Antimony was doing in the last book, which means that all stone eaters still possess their abilities as tuners, right???
There’s one other thing I didn’t address, and I want to loop back to talk about it. I am SUPER into the idea that Essun will take both Danel and Lerna with her on her journey. I made a joke below about them being a ragtag band of human disasters, but honestly? I love when this trope crops up! There’s so much potential here for growth, for plot twists, for interesting character dynamics to pop up. What will Essun’s journey look like if she actually accepts help? Because we all know she’s the kind of person who thinks doing it alone is necessary, and in this specific context, she has no reason to seek out people to come with her. Yet both Lerna and Danel make it clear that if Essun allows it, they’ll be there with her.
I don’t know how that’s going to work. Will Hoa take all of them to Corepoint, one at a time? And once they’re there, how will the others help? I don’t know yet, but I sure as hell want to find out.
- omg dew-catchers! I love it!
- oh. snow. OH.
- oh that’s why you don’t go in deserts. OH THIS SHOULD BE FUN
- jesus, this is gonna be real intense, isn’t it
- on a positive note, I really wanna bake some cornbread soon
- wow. it’s wild that she’s at ten rings now. like, in another context, maybe it would be something to celebrate
- who am I kidding, the whole system is rotten, WE ARE CELEBRATING NOTHING
- OH SHIT DANEL WANTS TO HELP
- wait she’s a lorist????
- oh man this feels so, so important after the last syl anagist chapter!!!!!!
- “the hero of the story never does” I’M SCREAMING THIS IS AMAZING
- hahahahaaha oh my god I love this so much
- oh. oh no. does danel know something about rennanis that no one else does
- I’M AFRAID
- “hardening in more ways than one” good bye to my heart
- oh my god so… lerna. danel. essun. hoa. I’m already into this ragtag band of human disasters traveling together
- NO. NO MORE GREATER HARDSHIP. STOP IT
- HI THAT ACID RAIN STORY IS HORRIFYING
- “it’s probably not menopause yet” oh god then…. oh GOD
- jesus this is fucking AWFUL
- man, ykka breaking for even the tiniest moment? that broke me. BROKE ME.
- FUCK. they lost nearly three hundred people.
- “Was this too fast?” THAT WHOLE BIT. THAT WHOLE SECTION IS SO GOOD
- “Suffering is your healing, at least for now.” MY MIND IS BLOWN
- hoa. HOA HELPED
- OH MY GOD
- THE SONG
- THE SONG IS TUNING
- HOLY SHIT.
- “You survive. For now, at least.” why is this book like this.
Mark Links Stuff
– My second novel, EACH OF US A DESERT, is now out in the world!
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