Review: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

January 25, 2011 Books, Reading, Reviews 1 ★★★★★

Review: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. JemisinThe Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
five-stars
In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree's guest is at the heart of it...
Series: The Inheritance Trilogy #2
Published by Orbit on 2010-11-03
Genres: Fantasy, Speculative Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
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Buy the Book at: Amazon

 

WARNING: Contains spoilers for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms!

I have already expressed very strong feelings towards this book’s predecessor, so it should be no surprise I have similar feelings about this one, which make me want to gesticulate wildly and make noises of happiness, confusion, joy, excitement, sadness, and myriad other emotions. I also love that after I read this, I had a chance to visit the author’s website and discover that she had written a fantastic character study of Itempas for me to absorb while I wait FOREVER (okay, it’s only a few months, but still – did I mention I read this and its predecessor in two days?) for the release of the conclusion to the series and longer than that before Jemisin gives me something new to gush over.

Ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the palace of Sky is now part of the World Tree, and the city below is Shadow, not the city of Sky any longer. We meet Oree, a blind artist who fled her hometown as a young woman and now lives her life contentedly in Shadow, eeking by selling her crafts and taking comfort in friends and godling lovers. Since they were freed from the Aramari ten years ago, godlings now appear en masse, and they interact fairly frequently with mortals. No longer do people only worship Bright Itempas (though his priests, the Order-Keepers, are still the law in Shadow), but there are also those who worship the Gray Lady (Yeine!Enefa or however you want to describe her). Few worship the Nightlord, but he was never overly popular in the first place – and ten years is not enough time for everyone to forgive the tales told to them at their bedsides of how the Nightlord will get them if they misbehave.

When a godling is found murdered, things begin to happen very quickly. Oree, though blind, has always been able to see magic; and from the glow of the magic, she sees forms, so she has always been fond of the godlings (including her ex, Madding, whom I was rather fond of). After the death, which traumatizes her a little (gods can be killed?), she discovers a man who intermittently glows with magic in a trash heap. She brings him into her home, and her observations of him inevitably bring a smile to one’s face, even though they are rather macabre ones. This unnamed man (who doesn’t speak) earns the nickname “Shiny” after Oree discovers that he glows with the dawn; he does not speak, but assists her around the house, lets her talk at him, and becomes a sort of companion. When the investigation into the death of the godling (one who was helpful to mortals and loved by the other godlings) brings Oree’s ex Madding to her home, he encounters Shiny and everything changes.

The identity of Shiny was easy to guess at the start, but as with everything else, watching the characters come to these conclusions themselves is quite rewarding. Madding is a son of Itempas, and his love and hate for his father war within him – it is clear that none of the godlings ever expected to have to face him ever again; or at least, not so soon. Shieh is even less fond of Itempas, and is seen to be quite cruel to him. In his cursed human form, Itempas cannot die, but neither does he wish to live, so he dies fairly easily and carelessly. For example, while cutting vegetables, he slices off several fingers and passes out, forcing Oree to care for him because he does not care for himself. They form an attachment that is hard to discern at first. Though she is utterly loyal to Madding, even though they are no longer together, the warnings of he and the other godlings against Itempas fall on deaf ears; Shiny has done nothing to her, and is no particular burden and she likes the company. Shiny does not seem to care particularly for her, but as they are thrown together time and again, he takes what allies he can find.

When the New Lights, cult followers of Bright Itempas, capture Oree and several of the godlings, she is presented with the likely murderers: a group underestimated by the Arameri and the Order-Keepers, and it takes both Oree and Shiny’s best efforts to escape. While imprisoned, Oree discovers something about herself which frightens her and makes her a target to more than just the New Lights. Bargaining with her secret, she buys a new life far away from what she once knew.

From the first book, we know the depth of Itempas’s betrayal, and hearing it from his side of the story does little to diminish my view of his guilt. It does, however, give me a great deal of empathy towards him as we begin to better understand his relationships with Naharoth and Enefa and how he felt betrayed by them and struck out the only way he knew how. As the unchanging god of order, any regrets he harbored (and they were many) were put aside because he had already put a new order in motion – giving mortals the power over the gods. His curse is such that he cannot be freed until he learns to truly love, but it is Naharoth’s forgiveness (and indeed his love) he needs to be released, and Naharoth is still very angry with him for the millennia he spent in chains. Ten years, while a long time to a mortal, is nothing to an immortal god who seeks retribution for previous wrongs. Jemisin, in her character study of Itempas, says that when they were created and originally fought, it may have been Naharoth who stopped fighting first, but it would have been Itempas who offered the first peace. In this vein, Naharoth is in no mood to offer forgiveness so early in the punishment, despite the great improvements in Itempas’s understanding of love – both romantic and that which he still holds for his children and his brother.

This was a masterful follow-up, which I inhaled, and though I raved at the end, I also couldn’t’ve expected (or even desired) better. In only ten years, the world has changed, but many things remain the same – we meet some familiar faces (including T’vril, who is no soft cheese as the big cheese), but we also encounter more normal folks in addition to the godlings. While in Sky everyone was a political piece on the Arameri board, in Shadow there are those who are doing nothing but living their lives. While I am incredibly fond of Jemisin’s character development, without her world-building her characters would not have the same impact, so I have to once again tip my hat to her for that skill as well. I have become fiercely attached to the gods and several of the godlings. I was strangely fond of Lil in particular, who though incredibly frightening, amused me in her insistence on being scary (which she is quite successful at) – and her ending taking care of the lost children was simply wonderful. I rather want a story of Lil and her lost children because I feel like my life would be incomplete without the further adventures of the monster and the forgotten. Though he appears sparsely, I am still deeply in love with Naharoth, and I have become quite fond of Itempas as well – something I could never have predicted from the last book. Yeine is seen to be fitting into her role wonderfully, and I want more of her and Naha, for certain. All that is left is one more book in the trilogy, to be released late 2011, and I don’t know what I’ll do with the hole in my life once these characters are written out. I became so quickly and so strongly attached that when there are no more, I might actually approach the loss I felt upon turning the last page of Harry Potter. And that was a pretty big thing for me.

 

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