In the twelfth chapter of The Stone Sky, Nassun arrives in Corepoint, where she learns more than she expected. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth. This book really is going hard as hell in the end, isn’t it?
It almost feels trite to try and analyze this in any way because it’s… it’s like…
I’ve been trying to put my finger on it, and it took sitting with this chapter for an hour or so, just laying about and letting it marinate in my brain. And I’m realizing how much this feels like something I shouldn’t be seeing, in the sense that this is such a deeply personal, intimate, and shattering moment for Nassun. I almost feel like a voyeur, witnessing Nassun’s epiphany about herself, about the fate of Schaffa, about the true intent for much of Corepoint.
I think that’s because Jemisin does not let us ever forget that Nassun is a child. She may be experiencing awful things; she might very well be more mature than most of the adults around her. But she’s had these things thrust upon her, and it’s more obvious than ever that this world never allowed her to simply have a childhood. Here she is, on the literal other side of the Earth, learning just how much these people exploited and drained magic from the core. All for what? Some fancy technology? For an existence that caters to every possible comfort? (Well, comfort for those who were allowed access to these very devices and tools.)
And then, on top of it all: the stone eaters.
They’re an eerie presence throughout this, and I love that they remain so. Even when they’re being supportive in their own way, they still act as an unnerving force. But even as I type that, I have to admit that EVERYTHING here is unnerving: the buildings. The stone eaters. The way magic is used for literally everything. Schaffa’s state. THE CASUAL REVEAL THAT ALL THE UNDERGROUND FACILITIES IS WHERE WARRANT IS LOCATED. Oh my god??? And we don’t even get to that yet, though Hoa’s narration promises we’ll come back to it. Instead, Nassun despairs. That’s her state for most of this chapter. Schaffa is clearly dying, and after some time in Corepoint, he begins to show the telltale signs that his corestone is no longer operating. Throughout it all, Nassun does what she can, though I found it heartbreaking that she felt guilt that she couldn’t do more. But it wasn’t a surprising reaction. Her relationship with Schaffa is intense, co-dependent in some ways, and it’s the only thing she’s really clinging to on Earth. She’s given up on her parents, literally and figuratively. She has no friends, especially not after leaving the other orogene children behind. (And even then, as we saw earlier in this book, they never felt all that close to Nassun anyway.) What did she have left?
More on that at the end. Because I did want to talk about how Jemisin does a phenomenal job giving us a slice of the life in Corepoint, and it also links very wonderfully with what Steel says to Nassun later. As Nassun explores Corepoint, she observes the stone eaters, which is all she can do, since none of them speak her language (or choose not to) and none of them stick around whenever she approaches them. But what does she see? Behaviors that only make sense when you accept that stone eaters have a much different experience with time than literally every other living beings on the Stillness. If time has no end for them—as long as they still have the Earth, that is—then what do they do with that time?
Jemisin gives us snippets, these glimpses of what it is that the stone eaters do. There’s the one who holds up a tree branch so it will grow in a particular direction; another catches a fish and then waits for a blind ocean mammal to arrive and eat it. The obvious reason for this is to help us understand the sheer scope of time as the stone eaters see it. Helping a tree grow in a particular direction is not something a human would ever consider doing in this way, but for someone who can’t ever die? Why not stand in one spot, holding up a branch? Their time isn’t “wasted,” since time is immaterial to them. But it also speaks to their view of their place within the world, doesn’t it? They care. Why else would a tree branch matter? Why feed a blind animal? Why do any of this?
It fascinates me because I think it’s easy to dehumanize stone eaters in the sense of denying them emotions or feelings simply because they don’t express them like other characters do. It would be easy to think of Hoa as an exception, but now, I’m thinking that’s not the case at all. The stone eaters are deeply emotional, and they express themselves in ways that aren’t necessarily easy to notice. But caring for that blind creature? Y’all, that is… whew. My HEART. It’s so heavy thinking about what other things the stone eaters do, especially at Corepoint.
That leads me to the Moon, Schaffa, and Nassun’s choice. I’d argue that as harsh as Steel is regarding Schaffa’s mortality, he is this way because it is also a demonstration of how much he cares. Well, cares in his own way, I suppose. It’s interesting to compare the conversation on the creation of a stone eater with what Hoa says in the previous chapter. He spoke about how Alabaster has to choose to come to Essun, and it’s clear choice matters so much here. That makes me think that Alabaster chose to become a stone eater via Antimony. As it stands, Schaffa can’t consent to this himself, can he? He is barely able to interact with Nassun throughout this chapter.
So what does Steel ask of Nassun? To consider the weight of what she is going to do. Why?
The Obelisk Gate doesn’t do small things. Just as Nassun feels, sesses, knows that the Gate makes her temporarily omnipotent, she knows, too, that she cannot use it to transform just one man. If she makes Schaffa into a stone eater… every human being on the planet will change in the same manner. Every comm, every commless band, every starving wanderer: Then thousand still-life cities, instead of just one. All the world will become like Corepoint.
Which inspires this question in Nassun:
But is that really so terrible a thing? If everyone is a stone eater, there will be no more orogenes and stills. No more children to die, no more fathers to murder them. The Seasons could come and go, and they wouldn’t matter. No one would ever starve to death ever again. To make the whole world as peaceful as Corepoint… would that not be a kindness?
Well, first of all: She’s wrong, isn’t she? Didn’t Hoa just admit that younger stone eaters are often weaker and require sustenance in a way the older stone eaters don’t? That’s a logistical issue, though, and there’s a bigger problem: This wouldn’t solve anything, would it? I think Nassun sees things as relatively peaceful. She’s comparing Corepoint to the rest of the world, and she thinks this place is ideal. But is it? Corepoint is constructed around the greatest act of violence against the Earth, and turning all humans to stone eaters doesn’t solve that. I mean… isn’t this the same thing Earth once did??? That’s where the stone eaters came from. And what’s going to happen once all these humans realize they’re stone eaters? Does she think all strife will simply disappear?
Steel makes this personal, though. He has to. Because the thing Nassun cannot understand about this decision is time. She has no way to grasp the concept of immortality. As long as the Earth exists, stone eaters will, too. And this is how Steel makes his grand argument: To doom people to a life of immortality is lonely. He knows it because he has lived it, unable to make connects with any humans he meets because he knows that he will always outlast them. It also seems clear that the stone eaters don’t have any need or desire to pair off or group up with one another. Yet even this argument is one that Steel personalizes. He makes it clear to Nassun that Schaffa, against the impossible odds, kept loneliness away, which is why he is so damn old, which is why he was able to stay human and not decay as quickly as the other Guardians. And what will happen when Nassun opens the Obelisk Gate, catches the Moon, and chooses to save Schaffa?
She will die.
Just like her mother is.
And what life will Schaffa have without her? God, this whole part was SO MUCH:
“So here is my theory: I believe your Schaffa survived by loving his charges. You, and others like you, soothed his loneliness. He truly does love you; never doubt that about him.” Nassun swallows back a dull ache. “But he also needs you. You keep him happy. You keep him human, where otherwise time would have long since transformed him into something else.”
It’s an astonishing thing to read, especially since it sheds a new light on the events of The Fifth Season. I enjoy that nowhere in this is an exoneration for the pain and trauma that Schaffa caused, nor does it justify his participation in an oppressive system. Rather, it adds a layer to the interactions we saw between Schaffa and Damaya in that book. It was love. His version of love, his version of pain, his version of a warped fatherhood, but… love.
What is left to her, then?
The world burns. Right? It’s the plan that Steel pushed Nassun towards, only now, there’s an odd sense of mercy to it all. Don’t destroy the Earth out of spite, but rather, do it for this reason:
“You achieve nothing by keeping any of us alive,” he says, “except cruelty. Put us broken monsters out of our misery, Nassun. The Earth, Schaffa, me, you… all of us.”
I think she’s gonna do it, y’all. I think this might very well be the endgame of this series: to put all these monsters out of their misery.
I just… HI. HELLO. I love that I never expected this. I thought we’d gotten all we were going to get from Alabaster about what happened after Antimony took him to Corepoint. First of all: his entries made me miss him. FIERCELY. He’s so damn funny, and I wonder: Will his stone eater self be anything like that? I don’t know. Maybe? There’s a very real chance that we won’t find out, or maybe Nassun will succeed and it won’t matter.
But holy shit. These entries provided necessary context, not just for the world of Corepoint, but as a means of understand what it was like for Alabaster to be there for so very long. It’s crushing, of course, since he was aware of Essun and what she was doing, yet he couldn’t see her. There’s so much grief in these entries, like how Alabaster worries he won’t remember Innon’s scent the more the wind blows on Corepoint. Or all the times he thinks of Corundun. But there’s also Alabaster’s horror as he discovers more and more about the “crime scene” that is Corepoint. It works as an interesting parallel with Nassun’s discovery, too! Like that moment where Alabaster correctly guesses what’s in the massive hole, which Nassun learned about in the most horrifying way possible. OR ALABASTER’S WARNING ABOUT BEING BURIED, WHICH NASSUN ALSO UNDERSTANDS NOW, TOO.
But there’s the big parallel:
It’s wrong. Everything’s wrong. Some things are so broken that they can’t be fixed. You just have to finish them off, sweep away the rubble, and start over. Antimony agrees. Some of the other SEs do, too. Some don’t.
Except Nassun sees many of the same problem and has come up with a different solution: Finishing the world off, and that’s it. There will be no sweeping away of the rubble, no starting over. She thinks that wiping the slate clean of everything is the most effective answer, whereas Alabaster just broke the world further, hoping that Essun could fix it.
But can you fix a broken Earth? Is there anything left to repair, or will it remain shattered forever?
- oh, that chapter title has to be a reference to what essun just realized!!! maybe?? or is it something worse
- wait what is this whole separate pov?
- oh my god
- NO THIS IS ALABASTER
- A = ANTIMONY
- THIS IS BREAKING ME
- THE A;KDFJ;DSJF;ASJKFAS;KLDFJ
- HELP ME
- AHHHHH A CITY OF STONE EATERS
- these journal entries from alabaster are RUINING me!!! I never thought we’d learn about what happened while he was in corepoint!!!
- anniemony LMAAAOOOO
- OF COURSE they wanted to siphon more magic
- HEY STEEL, COULD YOU HELP
- “miss everyone” “miss voices that come out of rusting mouths” shit, me too, alabaster
- NOPE. NASSUN FOUND ALABASTER’S GARDEN
- THAT IMAGE AS NASSUN FALLS ASLEEP. NO.
- ahhhhhh that fucking drawing, i’m LOSING IT
- OH. RIGHT. OH GOD OF COURSE IT’S FULL OF MAGIC
- that’s the world these people wanted to design!! they didn’t care about cost; they cared about their endgame
- JESUS THIS ENTRY FROM ALABASTER
- ahhhhhhh ALABASTER’S WARNING ABOUT BURIAL. HE FOUND OUT ABOUT THE CORE
- oh my god, the stone eater fed that creature
- oh wow, we’re getting to experience why Alabaster made the decision he did at the beginning of the first book!!!!
- holy shit this is amazing. the parallels between nassun and alabaster!!!
- THE MOON
- what the fuck, there’s a hole in it???
- oh my god the allusion to her hand being broken HELP ME
- oh god, schaffa isn’t immortal anymore. right??? oh god.
- OH MY GOD
- IS SHE
- IS SHE GOING TO DO THAT
- HOLY SHIT
- “Do you know what it feels like to live forever?”
- HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS COMING
- OH MY GOD HE IS PROBABLY 3000-4000 YEARS OLD
- OH NO
- HE’S MUCH OLDER
- OH MY GOD
- THE SHEER IRONY OF HIM STILL CLINGING TO HUMANITY BEING WHAT KEPT HIM ALIVE FOR SO LONG
- oh my god
- BUT I DO
- help me I can’t
- OH MY GOD Y’ALL
- ahhhhhhhh THAT’S WHY THE STONE EATERS ARE IMMORTAL. IT’S THEIR PUNISHMENT
- that is why they want the end
- I fucking cannot believe this
- WHAT IS POSSIBLY GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT
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