The Broken Kingdoms

broken kingdomsThis novel takes place about ten years after the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, after Bright Itempas’s exile and the growth of the World Tree. It opens with a new character: Oree Shoth, a blind street artist who despite her disability can see magic, a faculty she inherited from her father. Oree wants nothing much to do with magic — she wants to live as ordinary a life as she can — but the city of Sky is teeming with godlings, and magic apparently wants something to do with her. So she isn’t all that surprised when she finds a mute, broken, homeless man glowing in a dumpster, and she takes him home with her. (He won’t tell her his name, so she dubs him “Shiny,” assuming he’s just another godling.)

Later, things start getting more complicated. Someone is murdering godlings, and the night-god Nahadoth gives the city a deadline to find out who is committing the murders and why. (It turns out that the way they are being murdered is important, too.) The Itempan Order is looking for a scapegoat rather than a culprit, and Oree, with her ability to see magic, is very handy. Shiny turns out to be rather more than an ordinary godling, increasing the danger to Oree. Yet as the story goes on, she begins to find her power in her own identity and history.

The relationships wind back and forth in this novel: who owes what to whom? One of Oree’s first and deepest relationships in the book is to Madding, the god of obligation. He runs an organization of his fellow godlings and some disaffected mortals, with a traffic in godsblood (which is a kind of narcotic.) For Madding, no relationship can be satisfying if it is altruistic; there must be a deal, something owed, something paid. This resonates with the sense of justice in Itempas’s punishment: he can’t just say he’s sorry and have it finished. He owes a sacrifice. But Oree is willing to give herself up and not ask for anything in return — and in the end, more life is the result.

This second book in N.K.  Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy is less complex than the first, because there’s less world-building to be done. Jemisin also does more of the heavy lifting here: for readers of the first book, it’s not at all difficult to figure out who Shiny really is, for instance. These characters are more two-dimensional — Shiny is no Nahadoth — and the mysteries we explore are shallower: more temporal and less eternal. But there is still a sense that there are centuries of geopolitics, religion, history, war, spirituality, race, culture, art, and literature backing up the events of the novel. This is a rich world.

I know some of you didn’t enjoy the third book in this trilogy much at all. Should I even try it?

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8 Responses to The Broken Kingdoms

  1. Lisa says:

    I’d say give it a try, and I’d be interested to see what you think of it.

    I have her books The Fifth Season, and The Killing Moon, on the TBR shelves now.

    • Jenny says:

      My friend Katherine (who recommended this to me in the first place!) LOVES The Fifth Season. I’m definitely going to read that after this trilogy.

  2. REALLY. People liked the third one less? I liked it a lot! I maybe wasn’t quiiiiite as invested in the characters as I was with the first book in the series, but I thought as a novel it was really successful. I remember thinking “NK Jemisin is getting better at making books” as I was reading it. For what that’s worth!

    • Jenny says:

      Check out the comments on my review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. There were at least a few people who said they didn’t even finish the third one, they disliked it so much! I felt a bit discouraged from even reading the second one! Your recommendation of the third one makes me feel much better about it.

  3. I didn’t like the third one, but I did finish it, and in retrospect, it didn’t doom my enjoyment of the earlier two (as sometimes happens when the last in a trilogy is really a dud). Knowing what I do now, I would have been perfectly happy never reading the third one (I don’t think it added anything, and was a frustrating read) but I don’t regret having read it. So I suppose my advice as one of those who didn’t like it is that unless someone gives you a really good reason not to read it, it’s safe to try.

    • Jenny says:

      So far, I’ve liked both of these books quite a bit — it’s inventive fantasy, and I like what she does with the religion and the world-building and the inverted ideas of incarnation and so forth. It’s smart stuff. I don’t think she’s given me any reason not to finish the trilogy, so I probably will!

  4. sora says:

    I have read all of her books so far and I think that in each one is good in it’s own way. If you liked Sieh even a little bit, I think you should give the third book a shot.

  5. Laurie C says:

    I’ve only read the first one, but you’ve got me thinking I should go on to the second sooner rather than later!

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