Mark Reads ‘The Stone Sky’: Chapter 13

In the thirteenth chapter of The Stone Sky, Nassun and Essun march towards their destinies. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death and grief

I… I don’t want this series to end. I know it has to, and it’s so clear we are approaching the natural point in this story for it to end, but I just… love these characters so much. And the writing. AND THE STRUCTURE. God, the structure of this entire trilogy is fascinating, and The Stone Sky is no exception to that. I’m not even done with this book, and it’s so obvious to me why this won the Hugo for Best Novel after the others. There is literally no one doing shit like this in speculative fiction, y’all.

Anyway. I’m going to split this by character at the start, just for ease of talking about it all.

Nassun

Even on the dark side of the world, even at the apparent end, what mattered most to Nassun was love. 

I see this as integral to her arc over the two books she was in. It’s what she craved growing up; it’s what she thought she had in her father; it’s what faded as her father understood that she was an orogene; it is what she found in Schaffa. And now, Schaffa is dying. There was no reason for Nassun to deviate from her plan: to love Schaffa and the world so much to grant it mercy. To pull the Moon into the Earth and destroy everything, guaranteeing that no orogene would ever be tortured again. No unhappiness, no suffering, no fear, no terror. Ever again. 

“Some things are too broken to be fixed, Schaffa.” Inexplicably, she thinks of Jija. The ache of this silences her for a moment. “I… I can’t make anything better. But I can at least make sure the bad things stop.”

But there’s a bit immediately before this that is particularly cutting in its honesty, and I want to highlight it, too:

As big as the world is, Nassun is beginning to realize it’s also really small. The same stories, cycling around and around. The same endings, again and again. The same mistakes eternally repeated.

Even as a child, Nassun understands this crucial element of her world, and it’s one we see in our world as well. We absolutely cycle through the same mistakes, and it’s why we are currently in a period of immense upheaval and strife. We didn’t learn. Practically nothing we are seeing in the world—massive uprisings, state-sanctioned violence and extrajudicial executions, complete disregard for science and collective care in the midst of a pandemic—is something we haven’t seen before.

We’ve seen it all.

We’ve done it all.

And we are barely, barely changing.

So maybe it’s all too broken. That’s certain one thing at the heart of prison abolition and the demolishment of the police, and they’re both important, personal causes to me. Some systems are too shattered to ever repair, and we need to sweep away the sharp shards before they claim more lives. As upsetting as the thought is in the context of The Stone Sky, I get why Nassun wants to do this. I really do. Jemisin has brilliantly filtered this entire world and its violent systems through the eyes of a child, and thus, there’s a certain purity of interpretation here. She isn’t jaded in the way adults are, and she is also far more willing to cast out things that make no sense or don’t work. 

Take the scene where she looks into the hole at Corepoint. She’s not impressed by it:

The hole feeds no one, provides no shelter against ash or assault. It doesn’t even scare her—though that is meaningless. After her journey through the underground city and the core of the world, after losing Schaffa, nothing will ever frighten her again.

How could it? How could she ever see Corepoint as anything other than a monument of exploitation? She knows what that place did to Earth. She has seen how this act stretched forward across time and led to the current nightmare: the Seasons. The oppression of orogenes. Endless suffering. So why let it persist?

Because there was not a single reason otherwise, at least not until Earth manipulated Nassun with Schaffa. 

Y’ALL. WHAT A WAY TO FINALLY REVEAL WHAT WARRANT IS. Oh my god, I AM STILL REELING. I have some theories about two things in particular, since Jemisin doesn’t hand us answers directly. First: LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS:

This facility’s corridors were beaten and clawed out of the shield volcano over a period of days or weeks—hurriedly, though it isn’t clear why. Nassun can tell the hurried nature of the place, somehow, to her own amazement. Fear has soaked into the walls.

They weren’t supposed to survive, remember? And so I see one possible explanation for the hurried construction of Warrant: Earth needed somewhere for these people to go. It wants to use them, right? I believe Earth always controlled the Guardians to some extent as part of the war it waged on humanity. And what better way to do that than to allow Guardians to survive the Seasons, during which, I recall, all orogenes are supposed to be exterminated? Because orogenes add another piece to this puzzle: They’re the only ones who can stop Seasons. All those quotes at the end of the chapters have built up a new legacy, one that was wiped away by—I’m guessing—both the Fulcrum and Guardians. Average citizens can’t know how truly useful orogenes are, right? They have to see them as tools and as monsters. 

So, back to the creation of Guardians. I bet Warrant was created very quickly during the first Season as a way to keep the Guardians alive. That brings me to another theory: 

Strangely, the silver threads in each Guardian are reaching out to the ones around them. Networking together. Bolstering each other, maybe? Charging one another to perform some sort of work, the way a network of obelisks does? She cannot guess.

Initially, I mistakenly thought of the Guardians as individual agents, fighting against Earth, and maybe that’s what the connection does. But no, this place has to be controlled by Earth, give what Earth does with Schaffa. So I think that tiny thread of silver is Earth’s continued control of them, keeping them in slumber and healthy, ready to come back out of the Earth when the Season is done. 

Which… might happen. Because holy shit, the REVERSAL. The parallel! Nassun’s whole decision was swayed not just by her experience, but by Steel begging for mercy, asking for their suffering to end. And here, Earth pulls one last manipulation: It grants Schaffa mercy. Not out of any sense of goodness, but because Earth knows Nassun is going to destroy everything with the Moon. So, what does Earth give her?

A reason not to end everything. 

That reason is singular: Schaffa. Schaffa very well could die tomorrow, or he could survive for a few years. Or, Nassun could make a different choice, one she thought of before:

Steel never said it couldn’t be done, only that it shouldn’t. Maybe Steel is wrong. Maybe, as a stone eater, Schaffa won’t be alone and sad forever. Steel is mean and awful, which is why no one wants to be with him. But Schaffa is good and kind. Surely he will find someone else to love.

Especially if all the world is stone eaters, too.

Humanity, she decides, is a small price to pay for Schaffa’s future. 

Well, there goes my theory that she was going to do what she originally set out to do. Holy shit, is this going to happen?

Wait. Let me back up again.

Essun

You can look back to Demaya, to Syenite, to Maov, to most of Essun’s life, and you can see hard it is to believe that people care about her. Not everyone, of course. She grows close to Schaffa at one point, and I don’t doubt that there was love between her and Jija. And yet here, at the end of things, it’s still hard for her to believe that anyone would follow her to Corepoint. Loneliness is what she knows. And to use something my therapist tells me all the time, humans often go with what they know and is familiar, even if that emotion or behavior is extremely negative. It’s more comforting for Essun, in her own twisted way, to believe that she is a lone fighter without anyone who cares about her. Hoa knows that this is absurd and even calls her on it:

“Sorry. I wasn’t expecting this.”

“Weren’t you?”

TELL HER, HOA. 

I also found it interesting how Jemisin contrasts the two solutions for ending the Seasons. Nassun’s plan is definitive. You can’t have a Fifth Season if the Earth doesn’t exist anymore. Essun, however, knows that her action is risk reduction. It’ll end the current season, but “negotiation” with Earth is still required to actually stop the ongoing nightmare over the Stillness. There’s almost no real certainty here. It would require faith in the future and in other. It would require hope. Is there a whole lot of that? Not necessarily, but I still admired that these people still wanted to try. Trying was better than inaction, right?

And so, with Lerna, Hjarka, Tonkee, and Danel at their side, Hoa and Essun take everyone through the Earth to Corepoint: 

You keep yours open, though, as the world goes dark and strange. You feel no fear. You are not alone.

That sentence was so damn striking, y’all. Because it’s a direct admission: Essun knew she wasn’t alone anymore. I mean, she’s known that for a while, but having it stated so openly? Oh, this was a MOMENT. She accepted it, and my heart grew A THOUSAND SIZES. 

Which was perfect timing for it to break a thousand times immediately after! I should have expected resistance, but I wrongly assumed it wouldn’t happen until they arrived in Corepoint. I loved how disorienting the scenes in the Earth were. That was partially due to me believing that Essun would have an interaction with Earth, and then I was distracted by the bizarre, twisting battle, where silver is thrust and flung at everyone as a means of getting any of the humans to let go of Hoa and immediately die.

So yeah. It hurt when Essun slowly realized the truth: Lerna didn’t make it. Jemisin handed us a red herring by having Essun express so much guilt about her fate and not being able to see Lerna’s child come to life. I just… I didn’t expect this. But the shock gave way to something else at this point: 

It isn’t what should have happened. You’re the one nobly sacrificing yourself for the future of the world. He was supposed to survive this.

And this line was important, too:

You shake your head in… confusion? “He’s… he was… so much younger than me.” You expected him to outlive you. That’s how it was supposed to work. 

I can’t claim to understand what went into the writing of this series, but I constantly see grief as this major force within the book. It was there from the very beginning, and even the death of Uche is quietly referenced here: Essun’s son was so much younger than her; he was supposed to outlast her. So was Corundum. So were any of the children murdered by the Fulcrum or stuck in node stations or kidnapped by Guardians. On a personal level, it’s something I continue to struggle with after the death of my ex and my best friend. He was so young. Twenty-eight years isn’t enough time on this planet. This isn’t how he was supposed to go.

But how are any of us “supposed” to go? There’s no guarantee at all, and the cruelty of life is that very unknown. At some point, we’re just… gone. And we’ll leave behind people who will wonder this very same thing. Why them? Why then? 

I was already in a tender state, and then that last scene was like a semi truck plowing me over:

“Nassun!” you blurt, because it’s her.

The girl framed by the doorway is taller than you remember by several inches. Her hair is longer now, braided back in two plaits that fall behind her shoulders. You barely recognize her. She stops short at the sight of you, a faint wrinkle of confusion between her brows, and you realize she’s having trouble recognizing you, too. Then realization comes, and she stares at you as if you are the last thing in the world she expected to see. Because you are.

“Hi, Mama,” Nassun says.

I burst into tears. Simply put. I’ve been waiting for this so long, and I don’t know how either person will react. It’s scary, too, because I know Nassun does not have the same feelings towards her mother as she once did. But Essun found. She tracked her down. And they have finally been reunited.

At the possible end of the world.

NOTES

  • oh. oh my god
  • THAT CHAPTER TITLE
  • HELP ME
  • “She is such a good child, at her core.” well, that broke me. that whole aside was just… wow.
  • I mean this imagery: her mother is supposed to catch the moon, while Nassun is going to have the moon smash into earth and destroy everything. GOD THIS BOOK
  • hi. what. WHAT. wait a second. I thought the book she was reading was written by Alabaster? Did she find another one? Clearly Hoa wrote it and I assume he meant Kelenli? because
  • um
  • what
  • but now I see why the spare key—those 27 obelisks—are so important!
  • the switch in perspective? from third person to second in the same chapter? I LIVE.
  • Essun’s feelings about Lerna HELP 🙁 🙁 🙁
  • lmaaaoooo YKKA IS MY FAVORITE, I LOVE HER SO MUCH
  • Wow, so Tonkee thinks they’re coming back? I just assumed this would be death for anyone who would come. 
  • it’s really hitting me that i’m finishing this series in this batch of reviews. I am… sad.
  • “It’s a rusting quest.” LMAAAOOOOOOO
  • god it’s also so fascinating that this solution still requires work. faith. hope. negotiation. whereas nassun’s is just YEP, ALL DONE, GOOD BYE
  • of COURSE tonkee is excited
  • “You feel no fear. You are not alone.” THE SHEER FUCKING MEANING OF THIS LINE, THE WEIGHT, THE GROWTH, THE INTERNATIONAL IMPLICATIONS
  • I love that the massive hole in Corepoint doesn’t impress Nassun. it’s such a great way to distill down her feelings on all this
  • the moon. oh my god. OH MY GOD THERE IT IS
  • AHHHH THE TWENTY-SEVEN
  • THIS IS HAPPENING
  • HELP
  • wait
  • what’s happening
  • wait schaffa???? what the fuck!!?!?!?!
  • NO
  • NMO 
  • ASDKLF;LKJSDFKL;AJDSF
  • NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
  • NO THIS IS A TRAP
  • OH GOD essun, I feel like you’re about to find out why it feels like there is a giant sun underground
  • oh
  • oh it’s happening now
  • shes gonna find out
  • WAIT
  • ARE THOSE OTHER STONE EATERS????
  • is there a battle happening???
  • oh my god
  • oh shit okay, so they didn’t see Earth
  • NO
  • NOOOOOOO!!!!!
  • LERNA!!!!!
  • Well, didn’t expect this to hit so hard, but once Essun said that Lerna was so much younger than her, I lost it. shit.
  • wow, tonkee already figured out something like the vehimal must exist
  • OH
  • OH FUCK
  • THAT BUILDING
  • WARRANT
  • F U C K
  • HOA WARNED ME?????? HE WARNED ME THAT WARRANT WOULD BE IMPORTANT
  • why was this place constructed hurriedly
  • the guardians. I can’t. I CAN’T. 
  • WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS!!!!!!!!!
  • is the communicating how they all fight against Earth?
  • the node maintainer chairs. no. the chairs they use to install corestones, right?
  • what the fuck, he had it removed? or earth did? what is happening????
  • i’m crying again
  • of course this is happening. of course he is dying. but why would earth do this?
  • oh
  • OH MY GOD
  • IT’S A MANIPULATION
  • what the fuck I… what do I say. NASSUN
  • NO OH MY GOD
  • I’M CRYING AGAIN
  • “Hi, Mama.”
  • I fucking burst into tears, y’all.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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