In the second chapter of The Stone Sky, Nassun is freed. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Stone Sky.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of the death of children
What kind of world do we live in where people justify or celebrate the death of children?
Something just clicked while reading this chapter, and while I’ve obviously picked up on the threads of grief and the role that the death of a child played in Essun’s life, I’m now realizing how that very concept is integral to the entire series. I hope, then, that we get more scenes in Syl Anagist, because I want to know: Why did Hoa feel justified in flinging Evil Earth’s child away? What logic supports him separating a parent and their child? I know that the people in this world refer to the entity as “Evil Earth,” but why Evil? Was Earth always evil, or did that come about after their child was lost?
I’m thinking of these sort of things, along with the role of parenting in The Stone Sky, as I analyze what’s happened here in the second chapter. Jija murdered his son for being an orogene, and the opening of this chapter makes it clear what Nassun’s rejection meant to her:
The stabbing is the outcome of an impossible choice he demanded of her: to be either his daughter or an orogene. She refused to commit existential suicide. He refused to suffer an orogene to live. There was no malice in either of them in that final moment, only the grim violence of inevitability.
And this climax was inevitable. At some point, Jija was going to realize that the Guardians of Found Moon were not “fixing” his daughter. (Because there was nothing to be fixed, first of all, but I don’t think Jija would have ever gotten to the point where he believed that.) So much of Nassun’s journey in the second book was over accepting herself: Who she is, what she can do, and now, as this book begins, she knows what she is supposed to do.
Yet before we get to this epiphany, Jemisin takes the reader through a nightmarishly violent and chaotic fight that breaks out between the two contaminated Guardians and Nassun, Schaffa, and Steel. This was also inevitable, wasn’t it? Evil Earth had been trying to find the right moment to take out Nassun, and now, after she’d just killed her father in self-defense, the moment of truth had arrived. Umber and Nida knew how powerful Nassun had become, or at least Evil Earth told them. Could Earth sense that Nassun had the power to use the Obelisk Gate, too? Is that why the silver threads pushed Umber and Nida to try and execute Nassun?
That’s my guess. And whatever the reason, that still doesn’t make the HORROR of all this any better. The speed of everything… that alone fucked me up. This all happened so fast, first of all, by escalating to an IMMEDIATE altercation that I knew would end in the death of someone. But Jemisin ramps things up even further because the contaminated Guardians literally move faster than normal because of what they are. There’s a point after Nida is held in place by Steel where Umber is… oh god. I DON’T EVEN WANT TO TYPE IT, IT’S SO GROSS. Let’s just say, for those who are feint of heart when it comes to gore stuff, that Schaffa does a thing that basically makes it so that Evil Earth fully takes over Umber’s body. Nassun remarks that “Umber’s not home anymore.” AND IT’S SO SO SO CREEPY. Like, Umber isn’t even conscious as a person anymore, but that silver thread stuff still animates him to try and attack Schaffa. These Guardians are full pawns, which wasn’t a surprise. It’s just that this makes it so much more obvious, and it’s CREEPY.
It’s at this point, though, as Nida and Steel confront one another, that I began to piece together more of this ancient mythology, which is how I came to the epiphany about the death of children. Nida says something as Steel holds her that made no sense at first, but I get it now:
“It did what it had to do, last time,” she says.
She’s speaking of Evil Earth, and “last time”? It’s such a vague reference, and I think Nida was deliberately vague. Last time might actually mean every moment previous to this: all the points in which Evil Earth has demanded justice. But Steel refuses. Why?
“It has had its justice a thousand times over,” says Steel. “I owe it no more.”
Coming from a stone eater, that has a powerful meaning. Stone eaters exist because of Evil Earth. Is this all about how Evil Earth has continually punished humans and stone eaters for what others did? Is that legacy of revenge fair, or are we to believe as some stone eaters do that Evil Earth has taken this too far? I ask that second question because Nassun quickly talks of cruelty after this. Maybe that’s what the stone eaters want to end, too: Evil Earth’s cruelty. Perhaps we now know why so many of them don’t like Hoa, because Hoa set all this in motion in the first place. They exist literally as a punishment for what he did. So, maybe the stone eaters have paid their dues, and they did so long ago. Thus, this whole nightmare exists because Evil Earth just wants to be cruel to those that Earth believes are responsible.
I don’t know. I think there’s something there that helps add some emotional weight to what the stone eaters desire, but I also feel like I’m still missing pieces of the puzzle. Not with everything, though! It was great to get absolute confirmation of what the silver threads were and what was meant by a contaminated Guardian. But I’m still interested in that connection: Can all Guardians be tempted by Evil Earth? Where did Guardians come from, and what was their original purpose?
Let’s move back to cruelty, though. I spent time in the previous review talking of practicality and Essun, and it’s interesting to me here that Nassun actually rejects the practical answer to dealing with all the orogene children who just watched Nida and Umber get killed. Nassun assumed Schaffa would just kill all the kids, and she can’t do it. She’s very explicit about this, even noting that the whole “point” of her new purpose is to stop all the “endless suffering.” But there’s also this:
What she means to do will be, if nothing else, quick and merciful.
Which… gives me pause. She later seems excited that Schaffa is going to tell them all to pack up, so what exactly does she mean to do with all the kids? What’s quick and merciful? Because it makes my thoughts go back to Essun: Does Nassun have something planned that’s practical? That is pragmatic?
Maybe. And maybe this is all because she now has a purpose, the thing that Schaffa couldn’t give her. Love wasn’t enough, even if it was unconditional. Now, she has something to do, and some place to go. How the fuck did Nassun learn something to open the Gate while traveling on the “ash roads”? What equation did she solve? What is the place “across the unknown sea”? OH GOD IS IT LIKE THE LITERAL EXACT OPPOSITE PLACE???? That makes me think… maybe Corepoint? That place Alabaster was taken to by Antimony? Maybe?????
- OH THIS IS GOING TO RUIN ME FOR SURE
- “She refused to commit existential suicide.” HOLY SHIT
- Oh wow, Steel gave her PURPOSE
- “…and only people who think they have a future fear death.” also another line that absolutely decimated me
- THE CONFIRMATION THAT THE OTHER GUARDIANS ARE PUPPETS
- wait, is nassun about to do what I think she’s about to do????
- THREADS OF WHAT?????
- OUCH WHAT THE FUCK!!!!
- oh so I’m guessing nassun can sense evil earth now, right? That’s gotta be that new thing she senses in nida
- OH, HELLO STEEL
- oh fuck SCHAFFA AND UMBER
- THIS IS SO CHAOTIC
- Oh shit, Schaffa has to fight Umber AND the silver threads in himself, doesn’t he?
- schaffa did WHAT
- ahdh;fkasdfkas;dlkfjas I JUST MADE A TERRIBLE NOISE BECAUSE OF WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO UMBER
- who is nida talking about????
- NOT ANOTHER MOUTH OPENING WIDE
- oh my god they’re talking about evil earth!!!!
- akdlsfjsdfj;da I ALSO FORGOT ABOUT THE OTHER KIDS
- oh. oh no. OH NO IS SHE GOING TO—
- MAYBE NOT??? what DOES nassun want to do with the other kids???
- oh, packs. I BREATHED A SIGH OF RELIEF, Y’ALL. I thought maybe nassun was going to kill them all????
- what is steel going to do with the implant?
- oh my god I am just realizing how much the loss of a child plays into the mythology of this whole fucking series.
- wait what????
- what place????
- HOW DOES SHE KNOW
- WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO GO
- the notes at the end… oh my god. they were children. and let me guess: they were trying to help relieve the pocket of gas. AND THEY WERE SHOT FOR IT
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