A big question that I wrestled with throughout this series was how reliable is our narrator? It was something I struggled with more in The Fifth Season more than any of the other books because, up until the end, we did not know who the narrator was. At first he seemed unreliable because he had information he was deliberately not sharing with us, talking about obelisks in the prologue he says that they’re “blurring now and again as if they are not quite real-though this may only be a trick of the light. (It isn’t)” (Jemisin, The Fifth Season, 8). And he does this again when in the scene where Alabaster creates the rift, “When she turns to the man—slowly; stone eaters are slow aboveground, except for when they aren’t” (Jemisin, The Fifth Season, 6). It is all apart of Jemisin’s style of course, she deliberately withholds information from us for a bigger payoff later when it all seemingly comes together. However, because this is her style I was very vary of Hoa for a long time.
I only decided to trust Hoa the more I got to know him. What really ended my doubts was realizing just how funny Hoa really was. I really have to give some credit to Jonah here because he and I always would always read together and share whatever we found interesting or funny. In his blog post about how Jemisin uses humor he has some really interesting ideas about why Hoa uses humor in his telling of the story, “I believe his humor serves two key functions: to humanize himself in Essun’s eyes and thereby strengthen their bond, and to help the two of them cope with a bleak reality.” To expand on Jonah’s point; Hoa’s humor not only humanize shimself in Essun’s eyes but also in our eyes.
The more I looked back through the novels the more I really started recognizing just how funny Hoa really is. “The Black Star is where the leaders of the empire meet to do their leaderish things” (Jemisin, The Fifth Season, 2). That is just objectively funny, Jonah actually pointed that out to me on our first read through. I love that line because it is in the middle of his initial explanation of the Stillness and the humor really takes you by surprise. Another one of my favorite Hoa moments comes right at the end of The Stone Sky. He’s waiting for Essun to re emerge as a stone eater and he describes that time very innocently, “I wait. I hope…no. I simply wait” (Jemisin, The Stone Sky, 397). His anxiety about the waiting is so endearing, and the payoff is great when on the next page he tries to reassure us that he’s “not anxious” when Essun does re emerge (Jemisin, The Stone Sky, 398).
I really started to trust Hoa as a narrator when I saw that underneath the stone eater was just an innocent soul. Near the end of The Fifth Season, when we learn that he is the narrator, he has this great passage of describing how he found Essun. When I went back to that moment after finishing the trilogy I was struck by just how endearing the end of that passage was, “It’s not the way we usually do these things, of course; it is not the relationship with her kind that we normally seek. But she is—was—special. You were, are, special” (Jemisin, The Fifth Season, 443). Knowing Hoa like I do now I see that he was so protective over Essun because he really loves her, and he goes out of his way to protect the things he loves. Part of what made the end of this series so emotional for me was his line right after he knew that Essun would not leave him, “I have never regretted more my inability to leap into the air and whoop for joy” (Jemisin, The Stone Sky, 398). It just made my heart soar knowing that after all the darkness we’ve seen in this trilogy at least these two people that we care about are happy.
Before I knew Hoa was the narrator I found that I was very protective over Essun, and the reason I was so unsure about the narrator was because I did not know the intentions he had for her. Seeing how human Hoa really ultimately resulted in me caring as much about him as I do Essun.
2 Replies to “Coming To Terms With An Unconventional Narrator”
Hi, I just finished the book and I’m still not sure about how Hoa felt about Essun… was he in love with her or was it more of a platonic love ?
Hello! I’ve been thinking about this and how I felt reading the trilogy. In the end I think it was closer to platonic but much deeper than that. In Essun Hoa found a kindred spirit, they understood each other. Even when Essun was suspicious of Hoa she trusted him.
As I mentioned in my post for a while I suspicious of Hoa as well, but he proved himself overtime to be a protective force that cared about Essun.