The Obelisk Gate, chapters 17 & 18, interlude

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Chapter 17

After observing Steel the stone-eater calm Schaffa earlier, Nassun enjoys using her abilty to manipulate magic/silver to heal plants, animals, and people (though she executes a commless raider she experiments on). We see that Nassun is much more powerful than any other orogene in Found Moon. Nassun offers to remove the object in Schaffa's sessapinae, his corestone. Schaffa refuses, as he wants to keep the vitality it provides. Nassun nearly removes it anyway. Nassun goes to see Jija and they argue about her continuing orogene nature. Jija tells Nassun about how a friend of his was killed by an orogene. They argue more and Nassun scares him with orogeny.

Chapter 18

Hoa is revealed as the narrator of the Essun chapters. He also reveals that Grey Man / Steel wants Essun for his own purposes and aiming to destroy Castrima to get to her. Essun and Alabaster discuss the inevitablity of stills turning on roggas. The orogenes of Castrima prepare to defend themselves from lynching. Ykka has called for a vote on Rennanis's offer in the morning. During the night, Bets maybe attacked Cutter and Cutter killed Bets. Ykka defuses the scene by executing Cutter. Later, Waineen fights Penty, an orogene child. Nassun has a flashback to Jija killing Uche, draws on an obelisk, and turns Waineen to stone. Alabaster intervenes to stop Essun killing many more people, at the cost of completing his conversion to stone. Antimony takes Alabaster's body, after a gnomic message about the onyx obelisk. Essun puts on the rings Alabaster made for her. She uses his spinel obelisk-knife to destroy the ballot box with the words, "No voting on who gets to be people." Essun is now the dictator of Castrima.

Interlude

Hoa attempts to call a truce with his enemy, but receives only a howl of rage as reply.

Questions

  • Is Schaffa's insistence on keeping his corestone because of his love of Nassun or his desire to live?
  • Why did Nassun hold back from removing Schaffa's corestone, when she doesn't hold back from doing worse things that she feels are right?
  • A key part of the argument between Jija and Nassun is Jija lying to himself. How does Jija's self-deception contrast with Nassun's "clear sightedness"?
  • Did you expect that Hoa was the one narrating Essun's life to Essun? Any speculation as to how this would come to be?
  • Were you convinced by the portrayal of the tension in Castrima overnight?
  • What's the symbolism of Essun wearing an orogene's rings?
  • Current events: how does the novel's depiction of race relations and racially-motivated conflict resonate with current events in the US? Do orogene lives matter? Is Essun right to seize control by force?

Personally, Essun's cry of "No voting on who gets to be people" is the key point of the novel. The themes of dehumanisation and recognition have been key throughout. What do other people think of this reading? Does this novel have anything to say about who we do, and should, regard as "people"?

Comments

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    I'm curious about the various transformations into stone (this may well be something we have not yet had explained, and if so I'm happy to wait and see). We have a number of different events through this book which may or may not be related to each other:

    1) Alabaster's slow transformation, body part by body part, which by and large he resists, and which is accelerated by use of magic (to the point of complete transformation here). This has never been described as an attractive change.

    2) The people who Nassun (and now, Essun) change to a stone-like substance in a fit of anger or (increasingly) premeditation. This happens all at once, and the end-result is usually described as attractive in appearance. There's a sentence somewhere in the Essun chapter which suggests it's not really stone ("this stuff that looks like stone"). It seems to be triggered by contact with the obelisks

    3) The stone-eaters themselves, who apparently used to be people (in the regular sense - I'm not prejudging whether they are still or not) but have transformed. We don't have a clue how this happened except that it was a very long time ago.

    Are these three things related? It seems improbable that they are not, yet right now the connections are not easy to make.

    Other things: I thought we had already concluded that Hoa was the narrator of the Essun chapters?

    We seem now to be heading towards reconciliation between mother and daughter, in that Nassun appears now to have some appreciation for what Essun did and why she did it. But given NK Jemisin's propensity to break things up again, this could merely be a distraction and in the end they'll end up confronting each other to decide which side "wins" (bearing in mind that "winning" could conceivably mean destroying the world).

    The tension in Castrima seemed to get out of hand extraordinarily quickly, but I am happy to accept that this is for novelistic reasons.

    Essun wearing the rings - I took this to be a commitment on her part to the strategy arc that Alabaster had planned for her, ie an act of appreciation and respect, rather than anything specifically to do with orogeny or the Fulcrum. After all, she tossed out the rings which she had earned in the ordinary course of Fulcrum events.

    I don't feel qualified to talk about present-day US events and their relationship to the past, but it seems to me that equality in theory existed from the start of the US rebellion, and was enshrined in law after the Civil War - so in both cases was in fact voted on. Now, it might reasonably be said that those voting episodes have not in fact achieved equality in practice, even if it exists in theory. Is what Essun has done similar to ever so many revolutions through history? Is she is simply taking the old model and replacing stills at the top, by orogenes at the top? It was said of the French Revolution
    "They burst their manacles and wear the name
    of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain"
    (Coleridge)
    Who knows if something similar will happen today in the US, but it has certainly happened in the past in other places.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    Questions

    • Is Schaffa's insistence on keeping his corestone because of his love of Nassun or his desire to live?

    Or because it's essential to the plot?

    • Why did Nassun hold back from removing Schaffa's corestone, when she doesn't hold back from doing worse things that she feels are right?

    See above? :D

    • A key part of the argument between Jija and Nassun is Jija lying to himself. How does Jija's self-deception contrast with Nassun's "clear sightedness"?

    It's Jija's, and he has only murdered one person, while Nassun murdered a large indeterminate number of people. Nissun is clearly better.

    • Did you expect that Hoa was the one narrating Essun's life to Essun? Any speculation as to how this would come to be?

    I thought we had seen this earlier?

    • Were you convinced by the portrayal of the tension in Castrima overnight?

    No. But that doesn't stop me.

    • What's the symbolism of Essun wearing an orogene's rings?

    Ummm.... she's an orogene? Symbolism always escapes me.

    • Current events: how does the novel's depiction of race relations and racially-motivated conflict resonate with current events in the US? Do orogene lives matter? Is Essun right to seize control by force?

    Essun never does anything right. She has no capacity to judge. Right == expedient.

    Personally, Essun's cry of "No voting on who gets to be people" is the key point of the novel. The themes of dehumanisation and recognition have been key throughout. What do other people think of this reading? Does this novel have anything to say about who we do, and should, regard as "people"?

    Umm... everyone is people, and that it is OK to kill as many people as you want when expedient, or when you are a bit miffed, or when you have had a bad day, or if they are your children.

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    We had already established Hoa as the narrator. One of the things I'm still curious about in this story is the context under which Hoa is narrating this. I suspect he's narrating to a mostly stone Essun who either isn't able to tell her own story? or has forgotten it?

    Connecting the events in the novel with the latest news... I mean, yes, this world has widespread discrimination and violence based on it, so that's a connection in a way. But it's note quite the same, since this is all out in the open in The Stillness and nobody's pretending there isn't a problem, and also there are no organized protests, and there don't seem to be any stills advocating for orogenes or vice-versa. I'm not sure to what degree we can connect the Guardians to a police force, but again I think there are parallels and differences. Guardians are abusive, but orogenes really can kill with a thought and apparently often do, even whole communities all at once, so guardians need to train them not to. This isn't the role of police in the real world. The context is so different I don't think we can really draw much of a parallel.

    The situation in the real world is ever so much more intricate than in the novel. To try to use this novel to understand institutionalized racism in the real world feels like trying to use a standard screw-driver to understand how a wrist-watch works; it's OK for popping the cover off, but just too big and blunt to get into the gears.

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