Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 5

In the fifth chapter of The Fifth Season, Essun meets someone on the road. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. 

Trigger Warning: For grief/death, general anxiety about the apocalypse

This world is genuinely ending, isn’t it? I haven’t really acknowledged that, so from a narrative structure standpoint, chapter five works as a necessary reminder that The Stillness is about to change once again, and in order for that change to happen, a lot of people are going to die. 

(That is a deeply uncomfortable thing to write in 2020.) 

The chapter title warns us of what is to come: Essun is not alone. There are other survivors, each of them escaping the violence of the earthquakes that are tearing The Stillness apart. This chapter makes me aware that this is not over, that there is more suffering to come, that there may be more survivors to come. And how many will survive? Will the Stillness be able to rebuild itself?

I learned a little bit more about orogenes, like how their use and transfer of energy affects their body:

To keep the power in, though, to not turn the valley’s aquifer into a geyser or shatter the ground into rubble, takes an effort that makes your teeth and the backs of your eyes ache. You walked a long time to try to burn off some of what you took in, but it still brims under your skin even as your body grows weary and your feet hurt. You are a weapon meant to move mountains. A mere walk can’t take that out of you.

So, there’s a physical cost to the use of an orogene’s power. Good to know. I now know that orogenes have an instinctual reaction, based on what Essun did in her last chapter. Actually, it’s not just instinctual; there’s this sense that the orogene power is right under the surface, ready to bubble over at a moment’s notice. Essun reacted so quickly when she was attacked. Is that meant more as a sign of how hypervigilant she is? Is she used to having to be that vigilant all the time because of who she is? SOME FOOD FOR THOUGHT. 

So, let’s talk about the roadhouse. In the lead up to it, Jemisin paints a stark portrait of the world around Essun. That image of the glow in the wrong direction of the sun… oh, that’s so UNNERVING. There’s also a tiny threat laid at our feet, too: What if Essun runs out of food? What’s her endgame here? Once she finds Jija… what then? I hadn’t really thought of that, and… shit. Has Essun thought that far, either?

But it’s the presence of the survivors at the roadhouse that is most disturbing:

None of them looked like survival fetishists or would-be warlords. What you saw at the roadhouse were ordinary people, some still caked in filth after digging themselves out of mudslides or collapsed buildings, some still bleeding from wounds haphazardly bandaged, or untreated entirely.

The immediacy communicated in this is so incredible. It’s clear that this tragedy just happened, that people have gathered specifically because they are survivors. 

And what the fuck are they supposed to do now?

I don’t know. I don’t know what world awaits these people. The narrative is designed so that I remain ignorant, so yes, I feel personally attacked here. Are any of these characters going to live? Is Jemisin going to fulfill the promise made at the beginning of the book, or is something else waiting for me?


Let’s talk about Hoa. Hoa is the being who crawled out of that object in the prologue, right??? He has to be. The fact that Essun felt him before she saw him feels like the biggest confirmation of that, but I have to accept that I don’t know what I’m doing here. It’s possible he is someone else entirely. Still: this part. THIS PART:

He sits in a hunched way that would look odd in an adult and is perfectly normal for a child who hasn’t been told to sit up straight.

UGGGGH, THAT’S BECAUSE HOA ISN’T HUMAN, RIGHT??? And when Essun asks him where he come from, look how he just completely dodges answering it! NOPE, NO, WHO IS THIS BOY. Is he even a boy??? I mean that both in terms of being a human AND their gender. 

I am on edge, y’all. This makes me so uncomfortable because there’s clearly something else under the surface. Did Hoa seek out Essun specifically? Or is this a meeting of chance?

I know y’all are cackling. I KNOW IT.


  • “Worse because you didn’t do nearly as much as you could have done” i have EXPIRED
  • “but also nothing can see you” ouch my HEART
  • hi this is fucking TRAGIC
  • i feel like i am in denial of the fact that the world is ending, but lord, this chapter reminds me that i can’t forget that.
  • who is this
  • oh no
  • “The ash begins to fall in the morning.” OH NO, NOPE.

Mark Links Stuff

You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen!
– Not only that, but my very first pre-order campaign is now live for North American readers! If you submit proof of pre-order, you can get a limited edition print that comes with the book.
– If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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