(some reading notes)…

  • The Fifth Season (2015)
  • The Obelisk Gate (2016)
  • The Stone Sky (2017)

But perhaps a week into their trip, she finally notices what he’s doing during their daily rides and even at night, while they’re lying tired and sticky in the sleeping bag they share. She can be forgiven for missing it, she thinks, because it’s a constant thing, like a low murmur in a room full of chattering people—but he’s quelling all the shakes in the area. All of them, not just the ones people can feel. All the tiny, infinitesimal flexes and adjustments of the earth, some of which are building momentum to greater movement and some of which are essentially random

The earth does not like to be restrained. Redirection, not cessation, is the orogene’s goal.

For all we know, the admonition against changing the lore is itself a recent addition

Rusting Earthfires

Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the fifth, and master of all. —Arctic proverb

And I don’t care how they feel. They don’t have to rusting like us. What matters is what they do.”

Maybe someday someone will create a language for orogenes to use. Maybe such a language has existed, and been forgotten, in the past. “When I’m in the earth, the earth is all I can sess. I don’t feel—this.”

Silence. Earth damn it

Set a flexible central beam at the heart of all structures. Trust wood, trust stone, but metal rusts. —Tablet Three, “Structures,” verse one

Beware ground on loose rock. Beware hale strangers. Beware sudden silence. —Tablet One, “On Survival,” verse three

She learns to control her agitation, and all the other emotions that can induce the power within her to react to a threat that does not exist

Father Earth thinks in ages, but he never, ever sleeps. Nor does he forget. —Tablet Two, “The Incomplete Truth,” verse two

Judge all by their usefulness: the leaders and the hearty, the fecund and the crafty, the wise and the deadly, and a few strong backs to guard them all. —Tablet One, “On Survival,” verse nine

Naming yourself rogga is like naming yourself pile of shit. It’s a slap in the face. It’s a statement—of what, you can’t tell. “That, ah, isn’t one of the seven common use names,” says Tonkee. Her voice is wry; you think she’s trying to make a joke to cover nerves. “Or even one of the five lesser-accepted ones.”

The body fades. A leader who would last relies on more. —Tablet Three, “Structures,” verse two

“Decaye, shisex unrelabbemet.”

“… Flaking, fucking rust,”

There’re so many ways to die in this place. But they know about all of them—seriously—and as far as I can tell, they don’t care. At least they’ll die free, they say.

The stone eater is folly made flesh. Learn the lesson of its creation, and beware its gifts. —Tablet Two, “The Incomplete Truth,” verse seven

[obscured] those who would take the earth too closely unto themselves. They are not masters of themselves; allow them no mastery of others. —Tablet Two, “The Incomplete Truth,” verse nine

Here’s where you first start to realize this is more than just a bizarre community of people and not-people

Earthfires and rustbuckets

Evil, eating Earth

Necessity is the only law, says stonelore

This is why she hates Alabaster: not because he is more powerful, not even because he is crazy, but because he refuses to allow her any of the polite fictions and unspoken truths that have kept her comfortable, and safe, for years.

There passes a time of happiness in your life, which I will not describe to you. It is unimportant. Perhaps you think it wrong that I dwell so much on the horrors, the pain, but pain is what shapes us, after all. We are creatures born of heat and pressure and grinding, ceaseless movement.

In any war, there are factions: those wanting peace, those wanting more war for a myriad of reasons, and those whose desires transcend either.


It isn’t stonelore, just oral tradition occasionally recorded on ephemerals like paper and hide, and too many Seasons have changed it. Sometimes it’s the Earth’s favorite glassknife that the orogenes destroyed; sometimes it’s his shadow; sometimes it’s his most valued Breeder. Whatever the words mean, the lorists and ’mests agree on what happened after the orogenes committed their great sin: Father Earth’s surface cracked like an eggshell. Nearly every living thing died as his fury became manifest in the first and most terrible of the Fifth Seasons: the Shattering Season. Powerful as they were, those ancient people had no warning, no time to build storecaches, and no stonelore to guide them. It is only through sheer luck that enough of humankind survived to replenish itself afterward—and never again has life attained the heights of power that it once held. Earth’s recurrent fury will never allow that.

This is stonelore: Honor in safety, survival under threat.

Earth take you!

Don’t be fooled. The Guardians are much, much older than Old Sanze, and they do not work for us. —Last recorded words of Emperor Mutshatee, prior to his execution

The Season will always return. —Tablet Two, “The Incomplete Truth,” verse one

It shouldn’t work at all, that willpower and concentration and perception should shift mountains. Nothing else in the world works this way. People cannot stop avalanches by dancing well, or make storms happen by refining their hearing. And on some level, you’ve always known that this was there, making your will manifest. This… whatever it is.

The city sits directly above it, on the ocean. There’s nothing visible around it: no land for farming, no hills to break tsunami. No harbor or moorings for boats. Just… buildings. Trees and some other plants, of varieties I’ve never seen elsewhere, gone wild but not a forest—sculpted into the city, sort of. I don’t know what to call that. Infrastructures that

Something just went wrong. The obelisks… misfired. The Moon was flung away from the planet. Maybe that did it, maybe some other things happened, but whatever the cause, the result was the Shattering

There’s no need to imagine the planet as some malevolent force seeking vengeance. It’s a rock. This is just how life is supposed to be: terrible and brief and ending in—if you’re lucky—oblivion

But just because you can’t see or understand a thing doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you.

“I don’t think it’s what they’re made of that makes stone eaters so different. I think it’s that no one can live that long and not become something entirely alien.”

“The Earth is alive.” His voice grows harsh, hoarse, faintly hysterical. “Some of the old stories are just stories, you’re right, but not that one. I understood then what the stone eaters had been trying to tell me. Why I had to use the obelisks to create the Rift. We’ve been at war with the world for so long that we’ve forgotten, Essun, but the world hasn’t. And we have to end it soon, or…”

original purposes can be perverted easily.

In love, then, we shall seek understanding.

Stone lasts, unchanging. Never alter what is written in stone. —Tablet Three, “Structures,” verse one

You’d almost forgotten this part of him: the dreamer, the rebel, always reconsidering the way things have always been because maybe they should never have been that way in the first place. He’s right, too. Life in the Stillness discourages reconsideration, reorientation. Wisdom is set in stone, after all; that’s why no one trusts the mutability of metal

. “So that’s what Fulcrum training does to you. You learn to think of orogeny as a matter of effort, when it’s really… perspective. And perception.”

This is what you need to understand. “What does the Earth want?”

Tradition’s just going to rust everything up, in a situation like this.

Red is the color of lava pools. It is the color of a lake when everything in it has died except toxic algae: one warning sign of an impending blow. Some things do not change with time or culture

“It follows: Put people in a cage and they will devote themselves to escaping it, not cooperating with those who caged them.

There is a moment of silence. “Are you human?” At this, you cannot help but laugh once. “Officially? No.” “Never mind what others think. What do you feel yourself to be?” “Human.” “Then so am I.”

Ruby Hair, Butter Marble, Ugly Dress, Toothshine, all the regulars

telling you some of the truth because you deserve it, but not enough that you’ll skewer yourself on it.

The dead have no wishes. —Tablet Three, “Structures,” verse six

“No vote,” you say. It’s so quiet that you can hear water trickling out of the pipes in the communal pool, hundreds of feet below. “Leave. Go join Rennanis if they’ll have you. But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any other part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people.”

Maybe she failed your tests because they were the wrong tests.

But what you suddenly understand is this: Magic derives from life—that which is alive, or was alive, or even that which was alive so many ages ago that it has turned into something else. All at once this understanding causes something to shift in your perception, and and and You see it suddenly: the network. A web of silver threads interlacing the land, permeating rock and even the magma just underneath, strung like jewels between forests and fossilized corals and pools of oil.

Carried through the air on the webs of leaping spiderlings. Threads in the clouds, though thin, strung between microscopic living things in water droplets. Threads as high as your perception can reach, brushing against the very stars.

“The Obelisk Gate permits sufficient precision of perception.”

farmers and fishers

“Father Earth fought back,” she says. “As one does, against those who seek to enslave. That’s understandable, isn’t it?”

Hate is tiring. Nihilism is easier

“Tell me how to bring the Moon home.”

To those who’ve survived: Breathe. That’s it. Once more. Good. You’re good. Even if you’re not, you’re alive. That is a victory.

It’s strange, though. My memories are like insects fossilized in amber. They are rarely intact, these frozen, long-lost lives. Usually there’s just a leg, some wing-scales, a bit of lower thorax—a whole that can only be inferred from fragments, and everything blurred together through jagged, dirty cracks.

Not so much change, all things considered, but then now is nothing ago, tectonically speaking. When we say that “the world has ended,” remember—it is usually a lie. The planet is just fine.

The buildings have walls of patterned cellulose that can barely be seen beneath leaves, moss, grasses, and clusters of fruit or tubers. Some rooftops fly banners that are actually immense, unfurled fungus flowers. The streets teem with things you might not recognize as vehicles, except in that they travel and convey. Some crawl on legs like massive arthropods. Some are little more than open platforms that glide on a cushion of resonant potential

No need for guards when you can convince people to collaborate in their own internment.

An apocalypse is a relative thing, isn’t it? When the earth shatters, it is a disaster to the life that depends on it—but nothing much to Father Earth.

But to the people who live through a slave rebellion, both those who take their dominance for granted until it comes for them in the dark, and those who would see the world burn before enduring one moment longer in “their place”—

some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.

In spite of yourself, you sense the solemnity of the moment. And why shouldn’t it be solemn? This is the sacrifice demanded by the obelisks. This is the pound of flesh you must pay for the blood-debt of your daughter. “This isn’t what you think of it,”

“This is not sustenance. We need only life, to live.”

It wasn’t a foul mood, it was the privilege that age had bought her, to dispense with the lie of politeness.

Bring home the Moon, Steel has said. End the world’s pain.

Introduction is a ritual that consists of explaining the sounds of names and the relationships of the … families? Professions?

deep stab, breach of clay sweetburst, soft silicate underlayer, reverberation

cracked geode taste of adularescent salts, fading echo)

hot spot roil and strata uplift, grind of subsidence

radiant heavy metal, searing crystallized magnetic lines of meteoric iron,

genegineering and biomagestry and geomagestry and other disciplines for which the future will have no name.

She’s just stating facts. “See, this is what I keep trying to tell you, Essie: The world isn’t friends and enemies. It’s people who might help you, and people who’ll get in your way. Kill this lot and what do you get?”

“But you speak as though it’s an easy thing to ask people to overcome their fears, little one.”

ALL ENERGY IS THE SAME, through its different states and names. Movement creates heat which is also light that waves like sound which tightens or loosens the atomic bonds of crystal as they hum with strong and weak forces. In mirroring resonance with all of this is magic, the radiant emission of life and death. This is our role: To weave together those disparate energies. To manipulate and mitigate and, through the prism of our awareness, produce a singular force that cannot be denied. To make of cacophony, symphony. The great machine called the Plutonic Engine is the instrument. We are its tuners.

Geoarcanity seeks to establish an energetic cycle of infinite efficiency. If we are successful, the world will never know want or strife again … or so we are told.

We may be tools, but we are fine ones, put to a magnificent purpose.


She is metamorphic, having transformed to bear unbearable pressure

“A tuning … mission,”


They’re afraid because we exist, she says. There’s nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There’s nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing—so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.

The silver mirrors the perturbations of topography and the forest here—the same way it does everywhere. Yet the silver here is brighter, somehow, and it seems to flow more readily from plant to plant and rock to rock. These blend to become larger, dazzling flows that all run together like streams, until the ruin sits within a pool of glimmering, churning light. She can’t make out details, there’s so much of it—just empty space, and an impression of buildings. It’s huge, this ruin. A city, like no city Nassun has ever sessed.

The Shattering

This tiny, bizarre engine, sitting half-forgotten in a dusty museum, is more advanced. And it seems to have been built for no purpose other than beauty. Why does this realization frighten me?

All things change during a Season. —Tablet One, “On Survival,” verse two

I wish I were still flesh, for you. I wish that I were still a tuner, so that I could speak to you through temperatures and pressures and reverberations of the earth. Words are too much, too indelicate, for this conversation.

“Dust. Everything down there, Schaffa. It’s not sand, it’s dust! It’s plants, lots of them, dead so long ago that it’s all just dried up and crumbled away. And …”

“A city built of plants.” Then his gaze sharpens. “But nothing’s growing here now.”

“Something is eating this place.” She blurts the words, then wonders why she’s said them. But now that she’s said it, she feels like it was the right thing to say. “That’s why nothing grows. Something is taking all the magic away. Without that, everything’s dead.”

Why wouldn’t people who made buildings out of plants also make carriages that look like germs?

Wealth has no value when the ash falls. —Tablet Three, “Structures,” verse ten

The Niess did not believe this. Magic could not be owned, they insisted, any more than life could be—and thus they wasted both, by building (among many other things) plutonic engines that did nothing. They were just … pretty. Or thought-provoking, or crafted for the sheer joy of crafting. And yet this “art” ran more efficiently and powerfully than anything the Sylanagistine had ever managed.

Differences alone are never enough to cause problems.

This was what made them not the same kind of human as everyone else. Eventually: not as human as everyone else. Finally: not human at all.

Syl Anagist is built on delusions, and we are the product of lies. They have no idea what we really are. It’s up to us, then, to determine our own fate and future.

There’s a cycle here, a rhythm. Don’t we need to know in advance if the next Season is going to be longer or worse somehow? How can we prepare for the future if we won’t acknowledge the past?

All Seasons are hardship, Death is the fifth, and master of all,

Honor in safety, survival under threat. Necessity is the only law. —Tablet Three, “Structures,” verse four


“It talks. It’s alive?” “I’m not certain the distinction between living creature and lifeless object matters to the people who built this place. Yet—”

Magic, Steel called the silver. The stuff underneath orogeny, which is made by things that live or once lived. This silver deep within Father Earth wends between the mountainous fragments of his substance in exactly the same way that they twine among the cells of a living, breathing thing. And that is because a planet is a living, breathing thing; she knows this now with the certainty of instinct. All the stories about Father Earth being alive are real.

The Earth does not speak in words, after all—and perhaps, Nassun realizes, having seen entirely too much of the world to still have much of a child’s innocence, perhaps these builders of the great obelisk network were not used to respecting lives different from their own. Not so very different, really, from the people who run the Fulcrums, or raiders, or her father. So where they should have seen a living being, they saw only another thing to exploit. Where they should have asked, or left alone, they raped. For some crimes, there is no fitting justice—only reparation. So for every iota of life siphoned from beneath the Earth’s skin, the Earth has dragged a million human remnants into its heart. Bodies rot in soil, after all—and soil sits upon tectonic plates, plates eventually subduct into the fire under the Earth’s crust, which convect endlessly through the mantle … and there within itself, the Earth eats everything they were. This is only fair

“I think,” Hoa says slowly, “that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.” So many layers in the strata of that statement.

No wonder the people who built the obelisks needed so much silver, if they used it in lieu of wearing blankets, or taking baths, or letting themselves heal over time.

She watches one malachite-green woman who stands amid the windblown trees, and belatedly realizes the woman is holding a branch up and to one side, to make it grow in a particular way. All of the trees, which look windblown and yet are a little too dramatic, a little too artful in their splaying and bending, have been shaped thus.

This is what she comes to understand: There is life here, among these people. It isn’t life as she knows it, or a life she would choose, but life nevertheless.

There are stages to the process of being betrayed by your society. One is jolted from a place of complacency by the discovery of difference, by hypocrisy, by inexplicable or incongruous ill treatment. What follows is a time of confusion—unlearning what one thought to be the truth. Immersing oneself in the new truth. And then a decision must be made.

The winking of the white star-flowers lets me know that some genegineer made them, tying them into the city power network so that they can be fed by a bit of magic. How else to get that winking effect? I see the elegant vinework on the surrounding buildings and I know that somewhere, a biomagest is tabulating how many lammotyrs of magic can be harvested from such beauty.

I am also beginning to understand that people believe what they want to believe, not what is actually there to be seen and touched and sessed.

We entwine our presences in a layer of cold coal

A way to create the impossible, if we cannot demand it.

But sometimes, when the world is hard, love must be harder still.

Ignorance is an inaccurate term for what this was. True, no one thought of the Earth as alive in those days—but we should have guessed. Magic is the by-product of life. That there was magic in the Earth to take … We should all have guessed.



First the network.

First the network, then the fragments

The onyx is alive.

Life is sacred in Syl Anagist—as it should be, for the city burns life as the fuel for its glory. The Niess were not the first people chewed up in its maw, just the latest and cruelest extermination of many. But for a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress.

The Earth sees no difference between any of us. Orogene, still, Sylanagistine, Niess, future, past—to it, humanity is humanity.

The Earth changes only gradually, until it doesn’t. And when it fights back, it does so decisively.

the Earth was still there, the ghost in the machine.

Remember, too, that the Earth does not fully understand us. It looks upon human beings and sees short-lived, fragile creatures, puzzlingly detached in substance and awareness from the planet on which their lives depend, who do not understand the harm they tried to do—perhaps because they are so short-lived and fragile and detached

The Moon, bleeding debris from a wound through its heart, vanished over a period of days.

None of these people seems to be hurt or sick. And within each Guardian, there is that shard of corestone—quiescent here, instead of angrily flaring like the one in Schaffa. Strangely, the silver threads in each Guardian are reaching out to the ones around them. Networking together. Bolstering each other, maybe? Charging one another to perform some sort of work, the way a network of obelisks does? She cannot guess.


I won’t ever know what happens to souls after death—or at least, I won’t know for another seven billion years or so, whenever the Earth finally dies.

Don’t be patient. Don’t ever be. This is the way a new world begins.

  • the_broken_earth_series.txt
  • Last modified: 2018-10-25 13:58
  • by nik