Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Season’: Chapter 6

In the sixth chapter of The Fifth Season, I learn to COMPLETELY despise a new character. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.

Trigger Warning: For extended discussion of torture, manipulation, slavery


I knew not to trust Schaffa. I knew his act as a benevolent savior was part of something insidious, and yet, I did not expect that to be displayed so openly. It’s open to both Damaya and the reader, though I want to also address how Damaya internalizes what Schaffa says and does to her. 

There’s parts of this that will be lost to me, but there are parts that are not. This relationship is one of power, and Schaffa uses his power as a means of control. And he’s blatant about that, too! That’s not even subtext or something to interpret between the lines because he outright says that this is what he’s supposed to do as a Guardian! 

But before he even gets to his horrific display, I want to talk of stories. Damaya, far from the place that was once her home, and probably a place she’ll never return to, is told a story by Schaffa to pass the time. Except it’s not really to pass the time, is it? That’s not Schaffa’s true intent. Damaya is experincing the world outside of Palela for the first time, and Schaffa knows this. He is depending on her ignorance, on her not knowing what to do with herself in any of these new situations. And they’re all new! She has only her experience in Palela to guide her, so he also knows she is going to look to him for help. 

I say this because everything in this chapter—especially as I’m looking over it for this review—feels so intentional. Every act is part of his manipulation of her, isn’t it?

The “story” he tells Damaya comes after he (correctly) realizes that she is “listening” to the earth is so eerie now that I know where it ends up. Schaffa is casual here at the beginning. He just wants to tell her a story to “help” her with focusing so that she doesn’t use her powers. But what does he tell her? It’s the story of Shemshena, an orogene. Yet when he starts this tale, he speaks of another orogene, Misalem, and right from the start, something is terribly wrong.

“—an orogene named Misalem decided to try to kill the emperor. This was back when the emperor actually did things, mind, and long before the Fulcrum was established. Most orogenes had no proper training in those days; like you, they acted purely on emotion an instinct, on the rare occasions that they managed to survive childhood. Misalem had somehow managed to not only survive, but to train himself.”

There is just… there’s so much going on here. First of all: Why did Misalem try to kill the emperor? It felt immensely suspect that Schaffa never gives a reason why, particularly since an emperor will always have state power over a lone individual. So, right there, I feel like Schaffa is hiding something. Also note that he is very quick to point out that this was a time “when the emperor actually did things,” implying that the emperor was a necessary part of the world. It’s like he’s anticipating someone making the point I just did. He anticipates other things as well, such as the idea that orogenes don’t need training. Every part of this story is to sell his version (aka the dominant version) of the orogenes. What would an orogene say about this point in history? What about Misalem himself? Was he merely hungry for power and that’s it? This is all suspect! 

What stories we are told as part of an ongoing mythology affects how we make decisions. How we view the world. How we view one another. Thus, Schaffa’s story of this orogene who was “perhaps… a bit mad” or was “simply evil” is meant to show her that orogenes without the structure of the Fulcrum or the guardians turn into orogenes like Misalem. It’s a set-up. And I don’t believe. I JUST DON’T! Damaya is learning about orogene history from someone who openly admits that his role is to control them. What is he leaving out? What’s between the lines? How do we know that the reason orogenes don’t make it out of childhood is because of their untrained power? Because to me, it sounds like the people around orogenes are the ones doing the murdering! 

But you can’t necessarily tell any of that from this story. No, the emperor and his bodyguard, Shemshena, are portrayed as the heroes of this tale. They are logical; they do not make their decisions based on emotion; they are willing to sacrifice things for the “greater good.” They are positioned as the positive moral agents in this story, yes, but also note that Shemshena is the boydguard. Her job is to assist and support the person “above” her. But if that wasn’t clear enough, Schaffa spells it out for Damaya:

“As the Fulcrum is an order of orogenes, we are the order that watches the Fulcrum. For we now, as Shemshena did, that despite all your terrible power, you are not invincible. You can be beaten.”

Notice how Schaffa flips this. Damaya says she liked the story, and he manages to twist what he’s saying to make it clear that he includes Damaya in the same group as Misalem. She is just like him, and therefore, she needs to be trained so as not to suffer the same fate:
“We learn how orogenic power works, and we find ways to use this knowledge against you. We watch for those among your kind who might become the next Misalems, and we eliminate them. The rest we take care of.”

But what makes an orogene like Misalem? Disobedience? Power? Talent? He still hasn’t actually defined this, you know? Is it just that he wanted to disrupt the status quo? Was his crime being ambitious? Possessing a power that others didn’t want? THIS IS TOO VAGUE, and that bothers me!!! It bothers me even more in light of what follows this story. Y’all, it’s not like I should necessarily be surprised by Schaffa’s behavior. He literally just said the Guardians murder anyone who “might become the next Misalems,” so obviously violence is part of his toolset. 

Schaffa told this story knowing that more likely than not, Damaya would identify with Misalem in some way. He knew that anyone would not want to be controlled. So, again, I think he said all of this on purpose to set up Damaya for this lesson. He claims that it isn’t in Damaya’s power to control herself, that it’s not in her nature, but then LOOK WHAT HE DOES!!! The thing he has consistently left out is that it’s only under extreme duress that untrained orogenes use their powers. And instead of examining why these people felt threatened or afraid, the problem is their reaction. That’s so telling, isn’t it? It’s deeply dehumanizing, too. It’s like the teacher who punishes the bullied kid for finally standing up for themselves. Let’s make a very relevant comparison: It’s like people getting enraged at protestors for fighting back. It’s like folks getting mad at those who loot or burn down buildings, but refusing to examine why a person might feel compelled to react that way. 

Seriously, Schaffa is utterly unwilling to present this in a way that empathizes with a person trying to “survive mortal threat.” No, the problem is that apparently, orogenic powers don’t “recognize degree.”

“You power acts to protect you in the same way no matter how powerful, or minor, the perceived threat.”

But if that’s true, why didn’t Damaya kill that young boy who bullied her? Why does Schaffa not seem to care about the bully at all? The bully seems to be the victim in this scenario! 

And then:

“Be still, and be brave. I’m going to break your hand now.”

This is his test. He tortures this young girl by breaking her hand to see if she can control herself. A CHILD. Like before, he’s terrifyingly casual about the whole thing because to him, he’s just making a point. He’s giving Damaya a test that he probably thinks she can pass, but why skip on causing her pain? I say that because there’s an almost sick joy in the way he speaks to Demaya. He tells Damaya that she has NO RIGHT TO SAY NO TO HIM, that he will do whatever he wants to her if it keeps the world safe from Damaya and anyone like her. And when she asks why he’s done all this, he replies:

Schaffa keeps stroking her broken hand. “I love you,” he says. 

I feel like it’s worse that on some fucked up level, he might actually believe that what he’s feeling for Damaya is love. His role as a Guardian is holy, right? The world needs men like him. So, in his warped mine, he’s caring for this young girl to keep her safe and to keep the world safe. It’s an over-exaggerated act of paternalism, sure, but he doesn’t seem to question it at all! He doesn’t have to, though, right? He supports the status quo. And as he says to Damaya near the end of the chapter, he’s an intentional man. Nothing of what he has done is impulsive or irrational, at least to him. This is his promise. This is his warning. Both sit alongside one another, and his “love” is going to guide Damaya to her new fate.

It’s fucking horrifying, y’all.


  • oh, so it’s boring like that stretch on the 5 fwy where nothing happens for like four hours
  • i love that this is about damaya experiencing a new world!!!
  • ugh, she finds familiarity in a strange place I LOVE THIS
  • how did schaffa know she was listening to the earth???
  • the third season has a name!!! also, twelve hundred years ago? Okay, so hundreds of years pass between seasons
  • but how much of the lore that schaffa is telling her is true? what power comes from the person telling it and how they tell it?
  • kinetic transference???
  • holy shit Shemshena!!!
  • oh shit, you can break someone’s orogeny.
  • wow this great story was made not so great by schaffa asserting his power
  • i am not at all comforted by schaffa saying it is his job to take out those who might become misalem
  • does the season “counting” reset after a Fifth Season?
  • i’m guessing schaffa knows what she is thinking because he’s a guardian; he is trying to control an orogene, so he knows from experience how they feel/think.
  • how much of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy? if people maintain that orogenes can’t control themselves, does that contribute to them believing that?
  • WHAT
  • WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!
  • “never say no to me” i am FURIOUS what the FUCK
  • “i love you” the sound i just made was so LOUD and so DISGUSTED
  • this is straight up abuser logic
  • i knew i wasn’t ready for this book but also I DIDN’T KNOW
  • what are the OBELISKS
  • “Of course it is a warning.” hi, soul left my body AGAIN
  • this is haunting on a level i was truly not prepared for. I HATE SCHAFFA SO MUCH.

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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