Mark Reads ‘The Stone Sky’: Chapter 14

In the fourteenth and penultimate chapter of The Stone Sky, Hoa witnesses the end. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of trauma, death, grief

Three points of view in one chapter. First, second, and first person.

The end of days. 

Look, I didn’t expect that Nassun and Essun would have a hug-filled, tear-jerking reunion. The two of them were too ideologically opposed in their current state; there was too much each of them did not know about the other; time was not on their side. Still, Jemisin crafts a painful, stressful, and electrifying finale to this three-book struggle, one that has worldwide, systemic implications for the Stillness, yet is deeply, deeply personal. It had to be these two at the end of the world, y’all, whatever that end might be.

And I really thought Nassun was going to do what she set out to do. 

There’s a generational commentary here, too, because Nassun isn’t just younger, her experiences were nothing like her mother’s. That’s also how the end comes about, but I’ll get to that in a moment. I couldn’t ignore how this reunion was complicated not just by their time apart, not just by what had happened in the past two years, but by the simple fact that Essun was now seeing her daughter fully come into her power. It is an awe-inspiring thing, of course, but it broke my heart. So much of this did. Essun was proud. Her daughter was more powerful than Essun ever ended up being. She learned to stand up for herself and what she thought was right. This part specifically felt like a dagger to my heart: 

The biggest changes are immaterial, though. The wariness in her gaze, nothing like the shy diffidence you remember. Her posture: shoulders back, feet braced and square. You told her to stop slouching a million times, and yes, she looks so tall and strong now that she’s standing up straight. So beautifully strong.

Her orogeny sits on your awareness like a weight upon the world, rock-steady and precise as a diamond drill. Evil Earth, you think. She sesses just like you. 

This was Essun’s legacy standing before her. This was the product of her parenting style. This was the end result of Nassun spending time with Schaffa, growing close to him and coming to see him as a father. It is a conclusion that Essun both hoped for and never could have ever dreamed of. 

I just… goddamn. When the fight began, it was hard. Point blank. It’s supposed to be. And to Jemisin’s credit, not a single thing happens here that is out-of-character for Essun or Nassun. Even though Nassun understands that Schaffa was literally a different person to Essun, she obviously wasn’t going to budge on “saving” him. I also knew that Nassun wasn’t going to take a single order from her mother. Functionally, she’d given up on her parents; Schaffa now filled that role. There was a moment where I thought the tide might turn: Essun telling her daughter that she wanted to help. I really thought it might bridge the chasm between the two of them, but then, this is followed by a miscalculation. I didn’t catch it the first time around, but y’all: ESSUN DIDN’T REALIZE THAT NASSUN KNEW SHE WAS GOING TO DIE. Thus, it’s easier to understand why Essun relentlessly pursues her daughter and makes the choices that she does. She was trying to save her; she believed that Nassun needed her. 

But like I said, after all this time apart, they’re different people. They don’t actually know or understand each other like they once did. A great example of that: Nassun’s powers have more or less eclipsed Essun’s. She can blend magic and orogeny…

Like the tuners used to. 

Essun doesn’t even know what her daughter is using the Obelisk Gate for! Her concern is the death of her daughter:

She’s going to die right in front of you if you don’t do something.

Lord. Reading that again… jesus. It was a clue. It was the key to what Essun would eventually do. Because she’s already lost two children. And this singular grief of hers has guided her, pushed her, challenged her, held her back… of course it would matter in the end. So that’s what Essun’s focus becomes: stopping her daughter not because she’s concerned about what Nassun is doing, but because she’s worried what will happen to her after.

Hoa warned me. Warrant was important. I DIDN’T FUCKING EXPECT THAT ESSUN WOULD USE THE CORESTONES IN LITERALLY ALL THE GUARDIANS TO GRAB ENOUGH POWER IN ORDER TO CALL THE ONYX TO HER. HOLY SHIT. Y’ALL!!! The Guardians were crystallized and they’re gone. That’s it. Forever gone, at least as long as Earth doesn’t make anymore of them. So, look, I have no idea what’s in this final chapter, but isn’t this a good thing? Isn’t this a step towards making the world better? 

All of this builds to the finale. All of it has been. Because it matters that Essun wanted to rewrite the world, to give it a fighting chance to be better, but not with an instantaneous solution. As outlined in the last chapter, humans will still have to do work. It required of them a substantial, soul-shifting change, particularly those in power who have coasted by on top of this rotting, vicious system. 

Nassun, however, wanted to destroy it all. Her solution was complete. All-encompassing. And at the end, as Essun crawls towards her daughter, Jemisin introduces one tiny thing into Nassun’s mind: doubt. 

It is nothing more than that. Barely even a thought. But it whispers, Do you really have nothing else?

Is there not one person in this world besides Schaffa who cares about you?

Because what we have here is a struggle of wills based in love: Essun loves her daughter and wants to save her. Nassun loves Schaffa and wants to save him. 

And then there’s Hoa:

I love you both. How can I not, after all this? I am still human, after all, and this is a battle for the fate of the world. Such a terrible and magnificent thing to witness.

This unfolding poetry is part of the gorgeous prose, too. I really cannot praise the writing more, y’all. Like I said: There is nothing like this. Jemisin is writing CIRCLES around everyone else in the filed. Look at this set of sentences!!!

It is a battle, though, line by line, tendril by tendril of magic. The titanic energies of the Gate, of the Rifting, whip and shiver around you both in a cylindrical aurora borealis of energies and colors, visible light ranging to wavelengths beyond the spectrum.

This whole scene is breathtaking. On a character level; on a line level; on a story level. 

Because Essun’s desire—to save her daughter—clicks into place as she watches the start of Nassun’s crystallization, and y’all, this whole sequence broke me. It is one of the saddest things I’ve ever read, and I immediately started crying:

She’s aware of it, you know somehow. She made this choice. She is prepared for the inevitability of her own death.

You aren’t. Oh, Earth, you just can’t watch another of your children die.

So… you give up.

I ache with the look on your face, because I know what it costs you to give up Alabaster’s dream—and your own. You so wanted to make a better world for Nassun. But more than anything else, you want this last child of yours to live… and so you make a choice. To keep fighting will kill you both. The only way to win, then, is not to fight anymore.

I’m sorry, Essun. I’m so sorry. Goodbye.

I knew that if Essun succeeded, she would die. I guess I never thought that if she lost, she would die, too. But she does, uttering her daughter’s name with her final breath, turning her face up and into a smile:

So rusting amazing, your little girl. You are proud to lose to her strength.

Yeah, I’m crying again. Because this is what it took for Nassun to realize something Essun just realized herself: She isn’t alone. There are other people in the world who care about her. But her mother dies—because of her—in order to save the world, to fix it. 

Because the world took and took and took from you, too, after all. She knows this. And yet, for some reason that she does not think she’ll ever understand… even as you died, you were reaching for the Moon. 

And for her.

An option appears. An ending manifests. I didn’t guess it, and I certainly didn’t anticipate it. Essun’s will is in the onyx because the onyx touched her, knew what she wanted, and then, Nassun does, too. 

The end is here:

Open the Gate, pour the Rifting’s power through it, catch the Moon. End the Seasons. Fix the world. This, Nassun sesses-feels-knows, was your last wish.

The onyx says, in its ponderous, wordless way: Execute Y/N?

And in the cold stone silence, alone, Nassun chooses.

YES

Alone.

She was alone when she finally realized that she wasn’t.

Just bury me right here, y’all.

NOTES

  • how does this series continue to devastate me with CHAPTER TITLES
  • AND NOW WE’RE BACK TO FIRST PERSON
  • why is hoa telling us this???
  • how does hoa know what nassun has been through?
  • the changes in nassun, oh my god
  • “She knows you better now than ever before in her life.” goodbye
  • CHRIST THIS JUST… OH MY GOD. TOO BROKEN TO FIX.
  • THIS IS SO MUCH MORE HEARTBREAKING THAN I EXPECTED
  • omg I love the detail about what danel is doing during this scene
  • o h m y g o d this is tearing me apart
  • SHE ISN’T JUST USING OROGENY
  • TUNING OH MY FUCKING GOD
  • OH MY GOD
  • essun realizing that nassun is the student alabaster wanted… this is too much
  • I genuinely do not know how essun will get to the onyx. at all.
  • that buzzing is warrant, right?
  • this is one of the most intense climactic scenes in a trilogy I have ever read
  • “You don’t hate them; you just don’t care.” THE SOUND I JUST MADE
  • OH MY GOD I GENUINELY DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. she does want to make the world better! but what if the onyx doesn’t want to help her?
  • THE GLIMMER OF DOUBT
  • OH MY GOD
  • WHATLE;JSA;DFJASD THE ONYX A;DKJF;ALKDSJF;ALDJF;ADFJ
  • oh that image of the moon through the onyx like an eye. INCREDIBLE.
  • “Such a terrible and magnificent thing to witness” I AGREE. THIS IS TOO MUCH
  • oh fuck the guardians got jeweled!!!
  • NO
  • NASSUN NO
  • I AM SO STRESSED OUT
  • NO
  • NO NO NO NO
  • OH MY GOD
  • SHE CAN’T WATCH ANOTHER CHILD OF HERS DIE
  • “You are proud to lose to her strength.” i’m BAWLING
  • this is so fucking much
  • EXECUTE Y/N
  • Y E S
  • OH MY FUCKING GOD
  • I DID NOT EXPECT THIS AT ALL
  • I’M STILL CRYING

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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