The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

by

N. K. Jemisin

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The Fifth Season: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two years have now passed since Syenite had her baby, and she starts to feel useless and bored in her life on Meov, so she asks Innon if she can join his crew. The baby, Corundum, is mostly cared for by Alabaster and other mothers in the comm—as everything in Meov is communal—and Syen now feels like she can leave him for a while.
In the almost three years since their arrival on Meov, Syenite and Alabaster’s lives have changed dramatically, as they have flourished in the island’s communal, non-structured society. But although they are free from the Fulcrum for now, it’s significant that Alabaster and Syenite still name their child with a Fulcrum name—its influence on them will always remain.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
On the docks, Syenite argues with Innon, saying that she’s bored. He reminds her that Alabaster is happy to stay quietly in Meov, either with Corundum or alone, but Syenite says that she’s not Alabaster, and she knows that Innon can use her skills in his raiding ventures. They both know that this is true, as a Fulcrum-trained rogga can perform acts that Innon cannot, even subtle things like raising a fog to surround the ship. Innon then reminds her that on the ship, she will have to obey everything he says, and they won’t be lovers or even friends at sea. Syen reluctantly agrees to this rule.
While Syenite and Alabaster have been happy and safe here, Syenite has also grown bored with domestic life and still has her old ambition and restlessness. Alabaster, on the other hand, has been forced to lead a life of violence and trauma when all he really wanted was domestic happiness like this, so he is perfectly content to stay on the island and raise Corundum.
Themes
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Power and Control Theme Icon
Finally, Innon asks if Syenite even loves Corundum, given that she wants so badly to leave him. Syenite knows that she loves her child, though she only reluctantly admits it, but she also doesn’t want to spend her entire life in his presence. Innon finally relents, but he says that Syen will have to tell Alabaster that they will both be leaving him. Pleased, Syen goes to find Alabaster. Eventually she finds him atop the island’s cliffs, along with Corundum, or “Coru.”
Syenite still keeps up a standoffish exterior even with her own child, but as usual, her actions prove the love that she doesn’t even like to admit to herself. She and Innon both know that Alabaster is still fragile, though, and will be upset that they are leaving him together.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Power and Control Theme Icon
Alabaster already seems to know what has happened, and he asks Syenite if she will ever come back to Meov once she leaves. He says that she has her freedom now, since Innon has his rogga child, and Alabaster will always stay to train Corundum better than anyone else could. Syenite is irritated, but she recognizes that what Alabaster is really trying to say is “don’t leave me.
Despite his incredible orogenic power, Alabaster has always been emotionally sensitive and easily hurt. Freedom for him means this kind of domestic bliss, but he knows that Syen wants more and has grown restless.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
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Syenite assures Alabaster that she will come back, and she explains that she’s not being useful on the island at all—she’s noticed that he’s been quieting even the smallest earthquakes ever since they arrived. Alabaster shakes his head, though, and nods at Corundum—it’s the baby who’s been doing this for the last year, he says. Syen finally realizes just how powerful and skilled Corundum is, even at two years old. Finally Alabaster storms off with Coru, telling Syenite to just leave on her ship already.
Corundum is everything the Fulcrum wanted from Alabaster and Syenite’s child—he’s already incredibly powerful and skilled even as a baby, exhibiting not just raw strength but also focus and control. Such ability in a child also implies that the Fulcrum’s brutal methods of training are unnecessary for gaining orogenic skill, and instead is primarily designed to turn oregenes into tools.
Themes
Power and Control Theme Icon
Syenite lingers for a while, wondering how she ended up in this situation, and then she goes back down to her room, which now has a bigger bed to accommodate Innon as well. Alabaster is there with Corundum, and Syen gets into bed and holds Alabaster, who apologizes to her. Again, Syen assures him that she’s coming back, but she says that she’s restless. They both know what she really wants—to make things better back on the Stillness. Alabaster tells her that nothing can change the current world besides destroying it and starting anew. Syen argues that Corundum deserves a better life, but Alabaster seems resigned that he won’t have it and they will find their greatest happiness here on Meov.
At the end of Damaya’s storyline, she felt that the world was “not right,” but she still did what Schaffa asked and accepted her role within the Fulcrum. That sense of injustice has grown over the years, however, and Syenite still maintains some hope of effecting change in the world. This is a dream that Alabaster lost long ago. He has resigned himself to the state of things and assumes that they will never have a better situation than this one on Meov. At the same time, his comment about destroying the world and starting over is another hint that he is the one who broke the continent at the novel’s beginning.
Themes
Hierarchy, Oppression, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
History, Storytelling, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Syenite falls asleep and wakes up to the sounds of Alabaster having sex with Innon. Syenite finds them “beautiful together” and is aroused herself, and Innon then shifts over to have sex with her as Alabaster watches. This is the way their relationship has been for almost two years: Syenite and Alabaster have sex with Innon but not each other, yet they are especially aroused by watching Innon having sex with the other. Syenite wonders how to describe this relationship: something like a “two-and-a-half-some,” and also just love between three people. Falling asleep again, she wishes that such a thing could last.
Outside of traditional social constraints, Syenite and Alabaster have found a relationship that is impossible to define but that works and makes them both happy. This kind of sexual and emotional freedom is something Syenite has never experienced before. Notably, the Fulcrum initially forced Syenite and Alabaster to become sexual partner, but when they are given the freedom to choose, they still remain close and even romantically linked, though through the medium of Innon.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The next day Syenite sets sail with Innon and his crew on the Clalsu. Days pass, and she is fascinated to see whales beside the ship one day and to look at the stars at night, something that she has never especially cared about before, as “astronomestry” is officially considered a pseudoscience on the Stillness. After a week of sailing and scouting out shipping lanes, the crew settle on their target: a large vessel accompanied by a smaller attack ship. The presence of the smaller armed ship implies that the larger one has something worth stealing.
The narrator previously noted that the people of the Stillness rarely concern themselves with the sky or anything other than the movements of the earth. The people of Meov do not have such limited imaginations, however, perhaps as a result of their much less structured and oppressive society. It’s also suggested that Sanze has actively suppressed the study of celestial objects, just as it has made most people believe that the obelisks are things to be ignored.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
History, Storytelling, and Knowledge Theme Icon
As they prepare to attack, Syenite rases one fog around the attack ship and another one between the Clalsu and the cargo ship. The Clalsu then sweeps in and attaches itself to the cargo ship, Innon’s crew leap aboard, and the fighting begins. Syen is ushered belowdecks for this part, but she emerges after a few minutes to find the crew of the cargo ship being held hostage and Innon’s crew carrying goods onto the Clalsu.
Syenite is able to use all the control she learned through her Fulcrum training to help those she loves to survive. However, she is now using her orogeny as a skill because she wants to, not because she has been forced into it.
Themes
Power and Control Theme Icon
Suddenly there is an alarm, and the attack ship appears, barreling out of the fog and toward the other two vessels. Syenite is still full of power that she has drawn from the ocean and she reacts instinctively, drawing up a spike of stone from the seafloor to pierce the attack ship immediately and halt its disastrous approach. The crew of the Clalsu cheers, and even the cargo ship’s people seem relieved. On its present course, the attack ship would have sunk all three vessels.
Syenite’s power and control have only grown in the past years, and her skills are incredibly useful to the people of Meov, as she is finally able to prove here. It is again notable that her power has grown now that she has been freed from Fulcrum control and rigid training, suggesting that the purpose of such training is not in fact to maximize all facets of oregenic skill or power.
Themes
Power and Control Theme Icon
When the cargo ship’s hold is emptied, Innon finds Syenite. She expects him to be angry with her, but instead he seems awed by this demonstration of her power. She says that she shouldn’t have let the stone rise up so high, and Innon nods and understands that her display has made it plain that the pirates have a skilled orogene on board. As they prepare to sail away victorious, Innon stops them and then tells Syenite to sink both the cargo ship and the attack ship.
The freedom of Meov’s society comes at a price—they must protect their secrecy at all costs. This means that Syenite must actively murder people who would otherwise have lived, all because they will now know that the pirates have a powerful (and thus likely Fulcrum-trained) orogene on board.
Themes
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Power and Control Theme Icon
Syenite has promised to obey Innon’s orders, but she is reluctant to kill so many people just because of her own mistake. Innon tells her that it is for Alabaster and Corundum’s sake, and Syenite agrees to do as he asks. Syenite tells Innon to move the Clalsu away, and then she draws the spike of stone down from the attack ship’s hull, leaving it to start sinking immediately. She then sends the same column to pierce the cargo ship and break it into two, and the cries of the drowning follow them as they sail away. That night Innon makes an exception to his rule and lets Syenite share his bed. Later she declares that she wants to see Allia. Innon assures her that she doesn’t, but because he loves her, he follows her request.
Syenite was able to use her power to help Innon and the people of Meov, but the fact that it led to so many deaths makes her feel like a monster or a weapon all over again. This then makes her think of the destruction at Allia, which she also sees as her own fault. The novel presents many acts of violence, some committed by its protagonist, but leaves the reader to pass judgement on whether they are justified or not. Syenite kills people here to protect her family—she feels guilty about it but also believes that it’s necessary.
Themes
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Syenite remembers everything she can about the old myths: Father Earth didn’t always hate life, until people started to destroy the earth and finally destroyed his “only child.” No one remembers what this means, but everyone agrees that after it happened, the earth broke open and almost every living thing died. This was the first and worst Fifth Season: the Shattering Season. Syenite wonders what really caused this first Season. Even every living orogene working together couldn’t break the earth’s crust like that, so orogeny can’t be to blame for the Seasons. But she finds it incredible that humanity survived the Shattering Season—especially if it was anything like Allia is now.
These myths will become more important as the Broken Earth trilogy progresses and Father Earth becomes more of a concrete entity in the story. Syenite’s thoughts about orogenes destroying the earth are seemingly contradicted by the man at the novel’s beginning (presumably Alabaster) who was able to break the planet’s crust and cause a devastating Fifth Season. At the same time, people have used the myth of orogenes causing the first Season as a justification for their oppression.
Themes
Hierarchy, Oppression, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
History, Storytelling, and Knowledge Theme Icon
The Clalsu now passes by what used to be Allia, which is now just a haze of ash and magma. Everyone who lived there is surely dead, and the hot spots keep growing and spawning new vents. Standing beside Syenite, Innon tries to reassure her that many people on the outskirts of Allia managed to escape, but she finds herself consumed only by rage and sorrow. Drawing from all the earth’s power before her, she creates a torus in front of her. She declares that she can’t leave the place like this, as she knows that it will only get worse and kill more people or set off a Fifth Season.
The book vividly describes the destruction in this passage using both figurative and scientific language. It's unclear why the Fulcrum would allow this open vent to continue to exist at Allia, especially because it poses the risk of starting a new Fifth Season. Syenite’s sense of injustice takes physical form here, as she draws on her rage and grief to fuel her orogeny.
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Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Power and Control Theme Icon
Syenite stabs her power into the volcano, letting herself feel all the rage and sadness that comes with the destruction of Allia and what she feels was her own mistake. Drawing strength from the burning earth itself, she slowly calms and seals off the vents of magma until, finally, every crack is sealed. She then wakes up in Innon’s arms, with the Clalsu bucking against enormous waves. Everyone aboard seems terrified at what she just did. Syenite realizes that she has forgotten about how her actions would affect the water, and she tries to explain to Innon what he needs to do to keep the ship from sinking, as she herself is too weak to act now.
This massive display of orogeny feels like an act of atonement for Syenite, as she is at least able to seal up the damage she caused with the obelisk and prevent more people from dying. She is able to channel her anger and sorrow at the injustice of this destruction to perform a truly extraordinary feat.
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Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Power and Control Theme Icon
Unable to make Innon understand in time, Syenite despairs until suddenly an external force arrives and calms the gathering waves. It’s Alabaster, using his orogeny even a hundred miles away. Afterwards, the volcano that was Allia is dark and quiet, and the ash above it already begins to clear. As they sail away, one crew member approaches Innon and makes it plain that Syenite should warn them next time before she decides to seal up a volcano. Innon then tells Syenite that he never imagined she could do such things, and that she is surely as powerful as Alabaster. Syenite laughs and says that she does what is possible, but Alabaster does what is impossible.
Alabaster has been using his orogeny to “watch over” Syenite and Innon all along, it seems, and so now he is able to save the Clalsu from the consequences of Syen’s massive seismic disturbance. As a “feral,” relatively untrained orogene, Innon is awed by what Syenite can do and cannot even imagine what Alabaster is capable of (as Syenite previously couldn’t either).
Themes
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Innon seems somber and says that sometimes he wishes that he had gone to the Fulcrum, so that he could have power like Syenite and Alabaster do. Syen assures him that he doesn’t, and she grows sad imagining how the Fulcrum would destroy everything about Innon that she loves so much. She then glances back at Allia and freezes, because she sees someone on the side of the caldera. She thinks then that the Fulcrum wouldn’t leave such a disaster as Allia’s volcano to keep growing unless they had been ordered to do so—and the figure she saw was wearing the burgundy uniform of a Guardian.
Syenite acknowledges that the Fulcrum taught her to control and hone her power, but those skills came at the expense of great trauma and the degradation of her very humanity. While Innon might envy her power, she finds it tragic to even think of how his wild and free spirit would have been broken by the Fulcrum. Meanwhile, this moment foreshadows an ominous turn in the story: if the Guardian on the shore saw that the orogene calming the volcano was on the ship, then they would have a better sense of where to look for Syen and Alabaster.
Themes
Power and Control Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The chapter ends with an old folk song from before the Sanzed Empire, saying that the Earth is angry because he is alone.
The narrative continues to build the idea that Father Earth is a real entity, and that whatever was stolen from him is what caused him to begin the Fifth Seasons.
Themes
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