In the eleventh chapter of The Stone Sky, Essun makes her choice. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief, death of a child
This came full circle, didn’t it?
It is impossible to engage with the greater meanings of The Broken Earth trilogy without talking about dead children. It’s at the core of Essun’s struggle. The book opens with Uche’s death, which is later made even more tragic when we find out about Corundum and what Essun chose to do as Schaffa came to take him away. And now, the final truth has settled in place: Essun is pregnant once again, and Hoa is using her to reproduce, to create another stone eater as Antimony did with Alabaster as he died.
Is that what the chapter title is referring to? Has Essun accepted her role in all of this? Will her home be found in Corepoint as she goes to reclaim the daughter she recently let go?
Maybe. There’s such an intense emotional depth in this chapter, and indeed, so much of this book is about stories set up long ago coming to a close. (Which is exactly what a trilogy should do!) In a way, Essun had made peace with her choice: Nassun would be better off without her and with someone she chose as a guardian, as a parent. Essun would use the Obelisk Gate to catch the Moon, and in the process, she would die. But as this chapter unfolds, epiphanies motivate Essun to shift. Change is inevitable in this world, isn’t it? Nothing is static in the Stillness, especially as the Earth moves beneath their feet. Even when Castrima makes it to Rennanis, there’s no guarantee or certainty. As I said in the notes below, my sense of relief over the group finally making it to Rennanis was immediately shoved off a cliff and replaced by dread. But that’s just life now, isn’t it? The Season is unfolding, and unless Essun stops it (or Nassun ends everything), not one person will outlast the Season. They’ll all die before it ends. Sure, there will undoubtedly will be a generation born during the Season, but will they outlast it?
And if they do, what price will they pay? There’s a terrible tragedy here, but it’s one that has a new context. Prior to getting to Rennanis, the group stops at a node maintainer facility. Turns out that Essun had suggested to Ykka that they use the already-existing nodes to help stave off the worst of the Rifting. Practically, it makes sense, especially given how limited the orogenes are in Castrima. It’s fucked up and there’s no way reasoning away that truth. But Essun does something different here: She forces Ykka to know what these facilities are and what price must be paid for comfort. I do wonder how many people across the Stillness ever knew the truth. Were node maintainer facilities spoken of openly? I assume not, since Essun, who worked for the Fulcrum, didn’t even know the truth. But that’s not what she wants to do for Ykka:
Because if she’s going to make this choice, then she needs to know exactly what price she—and Castrima—must pay.
You will do this—make her see these things, make yourself face it again, because this is the whole truth of what orogenes are. The Stillness fears your kind for good reason, true. Yet it should also revere your kind for good reason, and it has chosen to do only one of these things. Ykka, of all people, needs to hear everything.
And survival is everything to Ykka, isn’t it? So it wasn’t surprising that she chose to go along with this, but at least she didn’t choose this out of ignorance. She knows the price these children are paying to keep Rennanis safe. And it’s also not presented as this wonderful thing, either. Like… it’s still fucked up, even though Ykka knows!
At the same time… wow. Everything is fucked up. The scene where everyone showers in the node facility? Fucked up. Lerna casually dropping that he’s noticed that Essun hasn’t menstruated and is probably pregnant? Fucked up. Lerna posing the question of what Essun would do if he asked her not to go to Corepoint? THE STATUES IN RENNANIS??? Jesus, it’s a lot. IT ALWAYS IS. I mean, Rennanis as a whole fascinates me because I truly didn’t expect it to be as large as it is. That’s comforting on one level—all of the survivors of Castrima will have actual HOMES. There’s more than enough food and supplies. After the hellish journey across the Merz, I couldn’t HELP but be relieved.
There’s always something else. Like I said: everything is fucked up in the Stillness. The very nature of this world—what people made it, how they are responsible for this nightmare—is that there will always be some form of strife. Generally speaking, too, it’s orogenes who bear the brunt of that strife. But what about this circumstance? Ykka has flipped the dynamic, sure, and out of necessity and survival, stills have to look to her and the other orogenes in order to survive. But that’s even more extreme in Rennanis because it’s actually too big. Granted, no one might come from the north because of the Rifting, but what happens if another comm decides to attack them from any other direction? IT’S BACK TO BEING FUCKED UP AGAIN.
So, Jemisin gives us this grand view of Rennanis and the potential problems Castrima will face in their new home, but then closes in on a more personal angle in the final moments of the chapter. It starts when Essun does some exploring and notices that a significant number of the Rennanis statues are just missing. From there, Hoa admits that the stone eaters have opportunistically devoured many of them, which is how Essun puts it all together:
“You’re making another one now. Aren’t you? From—from me. If it’s not about food for you, then it’s… reproduction.”
Let it be known that I ACTUALLY KNEW THIS. Sort of! Because there was that strange stone eater at the end of the last book that I wondered if it might be Alabaster? And it sort of is? Except not quite? Hoa shares an important distinction with Essun, explaining why she can’t talk to him:
“More importantly, because we are fragile at the beginning, like all new creatures. It takes centuries for us, the who of us, to… cool. Even the slightest pressures—like you, demanding that he fit himself to your needs rather than his own–can damage the final shape of his personality.”
First of all, I love the terms Jemisin chooses here: fragile. Cooling. Pressures. Shape. They’re all in metaphors of rock formation! But I also love that this moment is what finally pushes Essun out of reluctance, out of not caring, out of not recognizing what she has. Essun has lost so much; that’s undeniable. But it’s always easier to focus on what was lost rather than what was gained, and here, Jemisin reminds Essun of that through this interaction with Hoa. She has friends. REAL friends, which isn’t something she’s had… shit. In ages? If ever? Not just friends, but a home:
Which reminds you that you have Castrima, too, if you want it. This ridiculous comm of unpleasant people who are impossibly still together, which you have fought for and which has, however grudgingly, fought for you in return.
That leaves one last piece of the puzzle, too:
And maybe it means you’re choosing one of your children—the one who has the best chance of survival—over the other. But that’s no different from what mothers have had to do since the dawn of time: sacrifice the present, in hopes of a better future. If the sacrifice this time has been harder than most… Fine. So be it. This is a mother’s job, too, after all, and you’re a rusting ten-ringer. You’ll see to it.
And that’s when this all falls together. Essun has been trying to control how people love her. She pushes them away or shuts them out, and Hoa pushes her to accept that some people want to be in her life, even if that means they will accompany her to the end of her world. Even if that means that Essun will seek out her daughter. Even if that means death. Because:
Maybe Nassun isn’t the only one you needed a home for. And maybe not even you should try to change the world alone.
AHHHHHHHH I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. SO VERY MUCH. Y’all. I… still don’t know what this ending is going to look like. I’M SCARED.
- what… what does that mean. Almost home????
- oh shit. WHERE is her new home? is this title ironic?
- ha! a goat!!!
- oh god WHAT PLAN
- THE RIFTING
- OH MY GOD
- HOLY SHIT
- that plan.
- oh shit. the node maintainers. Y’ALL. SHIT.
- this is so fascinating because how many people who benefitted from the node maintainers never knew what they were?
- I don’t know why, but triple guards on the goat is so FUNNY to me
- oh okay, the shower sequence broke my heart
- HOA. that… that was a LOT.
- UGH THIS SCENE WITH LERNA
- OH IT TOOK A TURN
- I WAS READY TO WRITE ABOUT AFFECTION AND BOUNDARIES
- FUCK THIS WAS A LOT
- wow. rennanis. they fucking made it!!!
- love how I experienced relief that was immediately bulldozed by dread
- “castrima must live amid the corpses of its conquered” good BYE
- THAT MOMENT WHERE ESSUN THINKS IN THE VOICES OF SYENITE AND DAMAYA. OH MY GOD
- did…. did hoa eat some of the statues??????
- NOT HOA
- LOTS OF STONE EATERS
- OH MY GOD
- OGH MY ALK;DFL;ASFDKLFADSJKLAFSDLAFSD
- THAT’S HOW THEY REPRODUCE????
- oh my god I technically knew this the whole time!!! that weird stone eater that Antimony made!!!!!
- OH MY GOD SHE CAN’T TALK TO HIM
- THIS IS SO PAINFUL
- I AM CRYING AGAIN
- oh god
- SHE IS GOING TO GO FIND NASSUN
- “I think that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.” I want you all to know i’m in pieces. this fucking book.
- the final line of this chapter… I just burst into tears agin
- what is that letter at the end!!!!
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