This 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?