Fifth Season Ch 8, Interlude, Ch 9


Chapter 8

Syenite and Alabaster travel to Allia. The subject of "node maintainers" comes up, orogenes that stop earthquakes around their base. The node maintainers are orogenes who failed training. Alabaster comments that stonelore wasn't as fixed in the past as it is now, and suggests society can be different; Syenite doesn't see how. Alabaster quells a massive quake, harnessing Syenite's power to do so (something supposedly impossible). They visit the node maintainer that set off the quake. The surrounding area isn't as devastated as Syenite thinks it should be, but everyone is dead inside the compound. Alabaster describes how node maintainers are surgically maimed to use their orogeny instinctively, then sedated. Alabaster says that children of orogenes without orogeny become Guardians.


We're invited to think about what's missing from the world, and given some examples.

Chapter 9

Syenite and Alabaster arrive in Allia. They're met by Asael, a minor functionary in the comm's leadership. Alabaster takes offence at the slight. Alabaster says his orogeny overwhelms his need to eat. Alabaster's food is poisoned. He uses Syenite again to extract the poison from his system; there's confusing description about falling upwards. Alabaster says something about parallel scaling and quotes from a stonelore table that supposedly doesn't exist.


  • We've seen Alabaster do lots of things that are supposedly unusual for an orogene. But we've not seen what's "usual" (apart from Essun destroying Tirimo), and we've only Syneite's word for how unusual they are. Does this technique work?
  • Stepping outside the narrative, how does the episode with the node maintainer connect to the themes of the book?
  • What are Alabaster's motivations in explaining all this to Syenite? Do you think he would do the same for all the orogenes he mentors, or is Syenite something different?
  • In the interlude, we're invited to spot what's missing. What is it?
  • Technology: there's electric lights, telegraphs, and asphalt, but no power sources we've seen other than muscle. Is the technology consistent?


  • 1
    Not sure about Alabaster and Syenite, yet, though so far these episodes are reinforcing the idea that this is a superheroes book in disguise. I guess the technique is question works to show how exceptional Alabaster is, and perhaps the point is that even superheroes (already exceptional by nature) also need to operate outside the box. I feel this is a common trope. The hero organizations are there to protect the heroes, and to some degree reign them in in order to protect society, but the heroes always feel constrained by them and achieve their greatest work by breaking free. I think that this is in turn reflective of a core American belief.

    The node maintainer episode reinforces a couple of ideas - that Orogenic powers are dangerous, and that everyone in this world sees neArly everyone else in this world as a potential tool to be used. I’m not sensing that there’s much of a concern for universal human rights here. Alabaster altercation with the bureaucrat also reinforces this.

    The interlude was interesting and I thought quite well done. It made me wonder about the thing that was missing (not to name it) and where did it go and how would that affect the world. I’d like a little more of this kind of thing, please. I hope there’s some scientific basis for the events in this book, and that’s it’s not all just made up. Is this interlude pointing these way?

    As for technology, it’s a bit hard to suss out. Perfect asphalt roads but no motorized vehicles? I still say there isn’t enough Detailed world building, but we did start to get some with the descriptions of food.
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    Pace @Apocryphal but I have to admit to seriously disliking the interlude :(

    It seemed to me weird on several levels - firstly it completely threw me out of the story / world, since suddenly the author was addressing me. Secondly, it had the weird quality of a rant for not seeing things that in fact (in many cases) we as readers had no chance of noticing or not. For example, "Notice, for example, that no one in the Stillness talks about islands" - how could we have noticed when only in the next chapter do we actually reach a shoreline? There simply has not been the chance to notice or not notice.

    The whole thing felt like an awkwardly lazy attempt to replace real world building with a kind of rant at the reader for not realising how clever she has been. I As you can tell, I was not won over, and the interlude had the effect of alienating me from Jemisin as author.

    (calming down now...)

    I understand the orogene child at the node to be one of Alabaster's - I'm not 100% certain that this was explicitly stated, but his reaction would fit that interpretation. Or conceivably he was just imagining that it might have been his child, and so was vicariously angry. Equally, he seems to be angry al the time about pretty much everything...

    I think the technology inconsistencies (tarmac roads but no infrastructure to use or build them) would probably be explained away by saying that they have persisted from a previous cycle, like the floating obelisks. But... you'd have thought that tectonic activity would have ripped great gashes in the roads, so either they're not really fit for purpose, of the current cycle inhabitants have worked out how to fix them.

    I did like the idea that a baby orogene (or, equivalently, one entirely untrained) could handle an earthquake or mountain, but it took real discipline to handle small items.

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    @RichardAbbott Ha, no worries. I suppose in retrospect all I really liked about the interlude was that it gave a clue as to why this crazy world was as it is. I agree the islands comment was silly. I didn't feel the interlude was really addressing me, so much as the person for whom the book was written (which isn't me, but the woman who had to flee her village, the one with the second-person narrative).

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    The very word “control” is used so many times in Chapter 8 that I began thinking it was overkill. We had already seen it earlier. With that exception, this chapter was my favorite so far. It was important to show us the node station and the plight of the orogenes placed in them, rather than just being told about it. I did take it that the orogene at this station was Alabaster’s child, but I see it could have been metaphorical, though. But it did seem like the narrator was saying, “Did you notice this story is about control?” “Hey, this is all about control.” “Control!” Yeah, we got it several chapters earlier.

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