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…
N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was one of the first books I bought due to reading a review blog and in fact it was one of my top ten books for 2010 (even if I only gave my top five on the blog). I adored Yeine and the world Jemisin created, and I even had a slight book crush on Nahadoth. So I was excited to get my hands on The Broken Kingdoms as soon as it was published. And then… I’ve no clue what happened, but for some reason it stayed on the to read-pile instead of me snapping it up and reading it immediately. So when the publication date for the final book in the trilogy, Kingdom of Gods, neared I thought it would be a good idea to read The Broken Kingdoms and get some attention for it and the Inheritance trilogy, especially as the author had said that The Broken Kingdoms only had about a third of the reviews the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms did. So here we are. Did I love The Broken Kingdoms as much as I did its predecessor? Yes, yes I did.
I love Jemisin’s voice, it’s very recognisable, not just in her books, but in her short stories as well. I’ve read or listened to a number of them and they all have that voice, even though their subjects are wildly dissimilar. It’s hard to pinpoint what it is exactly, this voice, but to me it’s a feeling of warmth, of being there in the now with the protagonists, even if the subject of the story is an unhappy one, such as Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters – I heard it as a Podcastle episode – which deals with a man living in New Orleans in the midst of Hurricane Katrina. Whatever it is exactly, it is uniquely Jemisin and it completely works for me.
The Broken Kingdoms has this voice in spades and it’s delivered through the mouth of its protagonist and narrator Oree. She is a superb main character, giving a unique point of view, or maybe point of perception is a more apt term as Oree is blind. She doesn’t let her blindness hamper her in any way though and is fiercely independent. Jemisin succeeds in giving us a rich world, coloured by smell and textures instead of colours. Oree can only ‘see’ colours when she perceives magic, which allows Jemisin to both show Oree (and the reader) some events and objects clearly and accentuate how much the godlings and their magic permeate Shadow, the city beneath the World Tree and the palace of Sky.
Oree is surrounded by a great cast of friends and enemies. The godling cast, Oree’s former lover Madding and some of his siblings, Lil, Paitya, Kitra and Dump, was stellar. I really enjoyed their personalities and the way their given aspect influenced them. Not just influenced, but it compels them, as we see when Oree manages to summon Lil with a completely different appetite than we’ve seen Lil, whose aspect is Hunger, react to up till then. Oree’s main companion throughout the novel, Shiny, is awesome. While his true identity is hinted at, and for those who’ve read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms it’s not as big of a mystery, it does take a while before Oree realises who he really is. This discovery and her processing of this revelation and her consequent acceptance of Shiny’s identity are very well done. I realise the previous is a bit vague, but I don’t want to spoil Shiny’s true identity for those who don’t already know.
The strife between the Three is reflected among mortals by a split between the Order of Bright Itempas, the traditional Arameri religion and the New Lights, an off-shoot Itempan order, and the revelation about demons (half divine/half human) still in existence. These two factors are some of the main catalysts of the narrative. The plot is very exciting, a combination of murder mystery and political/religious conspiracies, and I like that it shows us glimpses of Sky and beyond. The ending is superb, with love and loss all balled up into one. While I was sad at the losses, both physical and emotional, the ending left me quite hopeful for Oree’s future.
The Broken Kingdoms is a worthy successor to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and it’s one of my top reads for this year. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the concluding volume in the Inheritance cycle, Kingdom of Gods, which just came out and to the Dreamblood duology which is to be published in May and June of next year. Until then, make sure to catch up by reading the entirety of the Inheritance trilogy, because Jemisin’s unique voice and style deserves to be widely read and appreciated!