In the final chapter of The Stone Sky, Hoa tells a story. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of slavery, grief, and death
I’m not ashamed of how emotional things make me anymore. And really, after the experience of reading that one chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown earlier this year, I feel like I could do ANYTHING. I’m happy that I don’t feel shame about being an emotional person! Given my upbringing? It feels like the greatest gift of all. I’m free of that.
So there’s nothing that makes me hesitate to tell y’all that this just fucked me up. It’s a beautiful, fitting ending to this trilogy, and it also struck a sad nerve in me.
I’ll explain why, but first, I want to talk about the meaning of the first half of the coda. As I had said in recent reviews, Essun’s solution to the Seasons and to the terrible war unfolding between humans, stone eaters, and Earth was to offer recompense and healing to Earth. By returning the Moon, even if the immediate, ongoing Season got worse, ideally, they could begin repairing the Stillness. But this still required work. It was not a fix-everything-at-once solution. No, it was just the beginning. I think that is a vital point to make in a series about a world so broken that some people truly believe that the best option is to throw it all away. Understandably believe, I should say! Because at no point did I not get why some factions wanted destruction. I understood Nassun; I also understood Steel.
And yet, in the aftermath of her choice, Nassun has to deal with the ramifications of what she’s done. Her mother is dead, and she can’t deny that Essun wouldn’t have died like this if it wasn’t for her. Essun was always planning to die, and I braced myself for this reality. But dying while climbing towards her daughter, uttering her name for the last time? That’s heavy. So yes, this whole coda is dripping in grief. The loss of Essun. The loss of Schaffa, who passes during the time that the stone eaters negotiate with Earth. The loss of an end for the stone eaters. Because I see grief in Steel/Remwha, who so desperately wanted an end to a life that had none.
Even in that, there is transformation. In grief and sadness and loss, there is the chance to change. To grow. To imagine something else. With the stone eaters, that starts here:
He says: “I only wanted it to end.”
Gaewha—Antimony, whatever—says, “That isn’t what we were made for.”
He turns his head, slowly, to look at her. It is tiring just to watch him do this. Stubborn fool. There is the despair of ages on his face, all because he refuses to admit that there’s more than one way to be human.
Gaewha offers a hand. “We were made to make the world better.”
And if you look back at what happened that inspired Earth to create the stone eaters… Gaewha isn’t exactly wrong, right? The world had sunk to such a low place, and Earth lashed out. So, there’s a choice. There is always a choice. So the stone eaters choose differently. They go down to Earth in the core and offer both a sign that they will do things differently—by returning the moon and destroy all the obelisks but onyx—in exchange for the beginning of peace. Earth, on the other hand, finally lets all those countless souls go.
It’s a start.
That’s all that it takes, right?
Which Nassun doesn’t quite understand. To be fair to her, her grief over the loss of her mother becomes the grief she has over the loss of Schaffa, who dies by the time Hoa returns to her. So when she finds out what the stone eaters negotiated, she isn’t really relieved. What practical application does that have to her life? She can’t use orogeny again, lest she turn to stone herself. If humans need to cooperate to survive the Season that’s still unfolding, how the hell is Nassun or any orogene ever supposed to undo this system? Won’t people just go back to what they were? How the world was?
And then holy shit, Hoa delivers one of the best moments in the series, a brilliant condemnation of the Stillness and of our world in the process:
“Imprisonment of orogenes was never the only option for ensuring the safety of society.” I pause deliberately, and she blinks, perhaps remembering that orogene parents are perfectly capable of raising orogene children without disaster. “Lynching was never the only option. The nodes were never the only option. All of these were choices. Different choices have always been possible.”
First of all, that reference to Essun… OUCH. But in this, there’s a callback to Meov, right? Wasn’t that an entire culture that figured out a different choice? But even more powerful is the stated truth: There was always another choice. All of these things were not simply the way of the world, no matter how stridently a person claims that is the case. In our world, we can choose an existence without the police. Without jails or prisons. Without state-sanctioned violence and extrajudicial executions. Without war. Without imperialism. Without lynching. ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE A CHOICE.
And Nassun has choices before her. Can she imagine a new future?
“Orogeny,” I say, sharply so she will pay attention, “was never the only way to change the world.”
Jemisin does not give answers. She does not spell out how this change will happen. Indeed, when she finally brings us to the explanation for the entire framing device for this entire trilogy, this is still about possibility. Because Hoa has been telling Essun—not Essun the human, but Essun the stone eater—how she lived and what she went through so that she could have an understanding as she moved forward. This wasn’t to mold her into the same person. Essun the human? She’s gone forever. There’s no getting her back. As Hoa states:
There is always loss, with change.
There is more.
And we’ve reached the part that was so hard to read, because I’m still dealing with loss.
You say, in an echo of the voice you once had, “What is it that you want?”
“Only to be with you,” I say.
I adjust myself to a posture of humility, with head bowed and one hand over my chest. “Because that is how one survives eternity,” I say, “or even a few years. Friends. Family. Moving with them. Moving forward.”
There have been times when this pandemic felt like an eternity. I think most of us thought that March lasted five thousand years. But it all had a particular sting for me because I was alone. My roommate was quarantining elsewhere, I was by myself in a brand new apartment that I’d moved into forty days prior, and I had no friends in the neighborhood.
And every day, it was not lost on me that the love of my life was dead and not there with me.
The biggest thing—of many things, trust me—that I’ve had to learn this year is how to be alone again. Only literally, though. Because I’m not actually alone. Grief is an isolating force, but as I’ve fought my way forward, I’ve strengthened friendships I do have, that grief and depression made me not see. Still, it’s hard, because I do think some parts of this nightmare would have been easier to swallow if I’d just had someone by my side. I thought about past relationships while reading this, and it’s true that I suffered and persevered while in those, too, and there’s something beautiful about having someone you can turn to in a really intimate way when shit gets rough.
But there are other ways to love.
Other ways to feel fulfilled.
Other choices available to me.
I’ve spent most of this year learning to be. Not just alone, but to exist as a whole person outside of a relationship, both one that I thought would last for the rest of my life (but obviously didn’t) and one that I thought changed me so much that I would never be whole again. It’s not true. As the world has further pitched into a nightmare, I’ve found new friends and old ones. I found my family. And I’m doing my best to move forwards.
So I cried reading this and the acknowledgments, too. Guess I was right, then, about some of the source of this trilogy. But I also cried because I’m writing this just two days from the closing of polls in my country, in which the US will either begin to reject fascism or will welcome it with open arms.
I don’t want to be patient. I don’t want to imagine a world without choices.
Let’s get to it.
Because we’ve all got work to do.
- wait WHAT IS THAT OPENING.
- wait did hoa
- DID HOA MAKE A STONE EATER OUT OF ESSUN AFTER ALL
- lmao tonkee I LOVE IT
- oh my god the moon is waning!!!
- the niess. holy shit. it’s DONE
- “That isn’t what’s going to kill him.” FUCK.
- holy shit, hoa meeting with Steel
- “We were made to make the world better” AHHHH OH MY GOD
- oh my god all the original tuners on the moon are here!!!
- the negotiation is happening I AM OVERWHELMED
- OH MY GOD
- FORTY THOUSAND YEARS
- EARTH LET THE SOULS GO
- months. MONTHS PASSED
- okay the wildflowers in the hand… I started crying again
- I did not think I would reach a point where I felt sad about schaffa dying
- but here we are
- oh wow. nassun can’t use orogeny again without further turning to stone. I forgot that detail
- as;dlfjkda;fklj just because it’s horrible doesn’t make it less true. DAMN, HOA.
- ALL. OF. THESE. WERE. CHOICES. YES. YES. FUCK ANYONE WHO SAYS ENSLAVEMENT HAD TO HAPPEN
- OH MY GOD
- THE FORMAT OF THIS WHOLE FUCKING SERIES
- HOA IS TELLING IT ALL TO ESSUN
- TO KEEP HER TOGETHER
- TO PRODUCE A STONE EATER VERSION OF HER
- I’M CRYING AGAIN
- ESSUN, BORN AGAIN
- Because that is how one survives eternity
- I can’t
- “I want the world to be better.”
- i’m reading the acknowledgments I HAVE TO
- oh god times of change
- oh oh no. I wrote that whole thing about grief in the last review
- i’m crying all over again. ugh, my heart
- the thousand bureaucratic indignities of life after death… y’all, that cut so deep. it’s so true.
- wow. wow. this was just… the best.
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