This is book 3, the final book, of The Broken Earth trilogy, of which all three have one the Hugo award. This one begins a few weeks after The Stone Sky ended, and continues the tale. It also concludes the tale.
If you want the plot, it is elsewhere on the Intarwebs.
I enjoyed the book, as much as I enjoyed the first two. None of these books had the sophomore slump. All were fantastic reads. Bonus: I've now read five of the last decade's Hugo Award winner books. Go me. Go authors!
The Fulcrum is not the first institution to have learned an eternal truth of humankind: No need for guards when you can convince people to collaborate in their own internment.
You are not alone. You will never be, unless you so choose. I know what matters, here at the world’s end.
When a slave rebels, it is nothing much to the people who read about it later. Just thin words on thinner paper worn finer by the friction of history. (“So you were slaves, so what?” they whisper. Like it’s nothing.)
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”
When a comm builds atop a fault line, do you blame its walls when they inevitably crush the people inside? No; you blame whoever was stupid enough to think they could defy the laws of nature forever. Well, 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.
You feel no hunger or thirst before they give you sustenance; your evacuations bring no particular relief. Life endures. It doesn’t need to do so enthusiastically.
“There isn’t a single evil to point to, a single moment when everything changed,” she went on. “Things were bad and then terrible and then better and then bad again, and then they happened again, and again, because no one stopped it. Things can be … adjusted. Lengthen the better, predict and shorten the terrible. Sometimes prevent the terrible by settling for the merely bad. I’ve given up on trying to stop you people. Just taught my children to remember and learn and survive … until someone finally breaks the cycle for good.”
“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?”
“Lots of ways to be safe.
Unconsciously, Nassun bares her teeth and clenches her fists. “It isn’t right, Schaffa. It isn’t right that people want me to be bad or strange or evil, that they make me be bad …” She shakes her head, fumbling for words. “I just want to be ordinary! But I’m not and — and everybody, a lot of people, all hate me because I’m not ordinary. You’re the only person who doesn’t hate me for … for being what I am. And that’s not right.”
“No, it isn’t.” Schaffa shifts to sit back against his pack, looking weary. “But you speak as though it’s an easy thing to ask people to overcome their fears, little one.”
I continue searching her face. “Why do you laugh at their fear?” It’s a stupid question. Should’ve asked it through the earth, not out loud.
“Why not laugh at it?” she says.
“They would like you better if you didn’t laugh.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be liked.” She shrugs, turning to rinse the cloth again.
“You could be. You’re like them.”
“More than me.” This is obvious. She is their kind of beautiful, their kind of normal. “If you tried— ” She laughs at me, too. It isn’t cruel, I know instinctively. It’s pitying.
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.
It doesn’t matter what we do. The problem is them.
It’s enough to channel the resonance, the stoning, into just one. Have to take it through the glands under the armpit, but you manage to keep it above the muscle layer; that might keep the damage from impairing your movement and breathing. You pick the left breast, to offset your missing right arm. The right breast is the one you always liked better, anyway. Prettier. And then you lie there when it’s done, still alive, hyperaware of the extra weight on your chest, too shocked to mourn. Yet.
"But that’s how I knew, see, you still sess the same, still quiet on the outside and rusting furious on the inside, it really is you.”
So much of your past keeps coming back to haunt you. You can never forget where you came from, because it won’t rusting let you. But maybe Ykka’s got the right of it. You can reject these dregs of your old self and pretend that nothing and no one else matters … or you can embrace them. Reclaim them for what they’re worth, and grow stronger as a whole.
“There have always been those who use despair and desperation as weapons.” This is delivered softly, as if in shame.
Words are too much, too indelicate, for this conversation. You were fond of Jija, after all, to the degree that your secrets allowed. You thought he loved you — and he did, to the degree that your secrets allowed. It’s just that love and hate aren’t mutually exclusive, as I first learned so very long ago. I’m sorry.
“Would’ve been nice if we could’ve all had normal, of course, but not enough people wanted to share. So now we all burn.”
Hoa says to your slumped back, “I can’t die.” You frown, jarred out of melancholy by this apparent non sequitur. Then you understand: He’s saying you won’t ever lose him. He will not crumble away like Alabaster. You can’t ever be surprised by the pain of Hoa’s loss the way you were with Corundum or Innon or Alabaster or Uche, or now Jija. You can’t hurt Hoa in any way that matters.
“It’s safe to love you,” you murmur, in startled realization.
Surprisingly, this eases the knot of silence in your chest. Not much, but … but it helps.
Having to go on, no matter what. No matter how tired you are.
“Move forward,” Hoa says.
Nassun can’t see his face, and must gauge his mood by his broad shoulders. (It bothers her that she does this, watching him constantly for shifts of mood or warnings of tension. It is another thing she learned from Jija. She cannot seem to shed it with Schaffa, or anyone else.)
It is the way of the world, but it isn’t. The things that happen to orogenes don’t just happen. They’ve been made to happen, by the Guardians, after years and years of work on their part.
Even though it feels wrong to yell at any adult. Yet she has also spent the past year and a half learning that adults are people, and sometimes they are wrong, and sometimes somebody should yell at them.
We’ve always known that the conductors failed to make us emotionless, but we … well. I thought us above such intensity of feeling. That’s what I get for being arrogant. Now here we are, lost in sensation and reaction.
The Niess fought, but then responded like any living thing under threat — with diaspora, sending whatever was left of themselves flying forth to take root and perhaps survive where it could.
How did it begin? You must understand that fear is at the root of such things.
But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them — even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.
I want her to get angry, but she merely shrugs. “That’s your choice to make — once you know enough to make an informed choice.”
"You aren’t what they made you to be; does that negate what you are?”
“I know when I see new stories being written, though.”
“I … I don’t know anything about that.”
She shrugs. “The hero of the story never does.”
Hjarka Leadership Castrima, who was taught from an early age to kill the few so the many might live, only touches her shoulder and says, “You’ll do what you have to do.”
In the absence of all else, people run on hope.
You know the end to this. Don’t you? How could you be here listening to this tale if you didn’t? But sometimes it is the how of a thing, not just the endgame, that matters most.
Was this too fast? Perhaps tragedies should not be summarized so bluntly. I meant to be merciful, not cruel. That you had to live it is the cruelty … but distance, detachment, heals. Sometimes.
Everyone breaks, if torture goes on long enough. The mind bears the unbearable by going elsewhere.
This is why, though Gallat works harder and spends more hours at the compound than anyone, and is in charge, the other conductors treat him as if he is less than what he is.
I have decided that I am in love, but love is a painful hotspot roil beneath the surface of me in a place where once there was stability, and I do not like it.
“She acts as if she can’t understand that. As if I’m the problem, not the world. I’m trying to help her!” And then he lets out a heavy breath of frustration.
Later, when we process all this, I will tell the others, She wants to be a person. She wants the impossible, Dushwha will say. Gallat thinks it better to own her himself, rather than allow Syl Anagist to do the same. But for her to be a person, she must stop being … ownable. By anyone.
Yes. They will all be right, too, my fellow tuners … but that does not mean Kelenli’s desire to be free is wrong. Or that something is impossible just because it is very, very hard.
Everyone likes their little luxuries, when fortune provides.
You waver, because you don’t really want to know … but you haven’t been a coward for some years now.
And you have Lerna — quietly demanding, relentless Lerna, who does not give up and does not tolerate your excuses and does not pretend that love precludes pain.
But that’s no different from what mothers have had to do since the dawn of time: sacrifice the present, in hopes of a better future.
“I think,” Hoa says slowly, “that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.”
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.
Until now, some part of her has nursed the irrational hope that Steel, as an adult, had all the answers, including some sort of cure.
It’s too much to bear. She sinks into a crouch, wrapping one arm round her knees and folding the other over her head, so that Steel will not see her cry even if he knows that’s exactly what’s happening.
None of us got here overnight. 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.
Some accept their fate. Swallow their pride, forget the real truth, embrace the falsehood for all they’re worth — because, they decide, they cannot be worth much.
If a whole society has dedicated itself to their subjugation, after all, then surely they deserve it? Even if they don’t, fighting back is too painful, too impossible. At least this way there is peace, of a sort. Fleetingly.
The alternative is to demand the impossible. It isn’t right, they whisper, weep, shout; what has been done to them is not right. They are not inferior. They do not deserve it. And so it is the society that must change. There can be peace this way, too, but not before conflict. No one reaches this place without a false start or two.
She smiles at something he says, but even from fifty feet away I can see that it is a performance. Surely he can see it, too? But 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.
But for a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress. And now, if nothing else is done, Syl Anagist must again find a way to fission its people into subgroupings and create reasons for conflict among them. There’s not enough magic to be had just from plants and genegineered fauna; someone must suffer, if the rest are to enjoy luxury.
We are such small, hard-to-grasp creatures, otherwise. Such insignificant vermin, apart from our unfortunate tendency to sometimes make ourselves dangerously significant.
The difference between what the Earth wanted and what we wanted was merely a matter of scale. But which is the way the world ends? We tuners would be dead; the distinction mattered little to me in that moment. It’s never wise to ask such a question of people who have nothing to lose.
As big as the world is, Nassun is beginning to realize it’s also really small. The same stories, cycling around and around. The same endings, again and again. The same mistakes eternally repeated.
He watches as you stand and stretch, and it’s a thing you’ll never fully understand or be comfortable with — the admiration in his gaze. He makes you feel like a better person than you are.
“Would you be coming, if you weren’t headwoman?” Lerna asks. It’s quiet. He always drops his biggest rocks like that, quietly and out of nowhere.
Sounds like he's related to Kris.
Impossible to delude oneself in a moment like this. Impossible to see only what one wants to see, when the power to change the world ricochets through mind and soul and the spaces between cells; oh, I learned this long before both of you.
I don’t bother to explain that just because something is horrible does not make it any less true.
You say, in an echo of the voice you once had, “What is it that you want?”
“Only to be with you,” I say.
I adjust myself to a posture of humility, with head bowed and one hand over my chest. “Because that is how one survives eternity,” I say, “or even a few years. Friends. Family. Moving with them. Moving forward.”