Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Broken Kingdoms

NK Jemisin
Completed 4/5/2020, Reviewed 4/5/2020
4 stars

This is the second book in Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.  In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the action took place in the palace atop the exceedingly tall World Tree.  This book takes place in the shadow of the tree.  It follows a blind commoner who can see magic and interacts with godlings.  I liked this book a little better than the first.  I think it’s better written and delves more deeply into the religion and mythology of this world.  It’s also a murder mystery.  The first book was nominated for a ton of awards.  This one wasn’t, but it should have been.

The blind commoner is Oree.  She’s an artist living in the Shadow of the World Tree.  She meets a mysterious man who is dead in the marsh, but he mysteriously resurrects.  Against her better judgement, she brings him home and cares for him.  He doesn’t speak but does her no harm.  She calls him Shiny because sometimes he shines with magic, which she can see.  One day, while selling her paintings at the city market, she finds a dead godling in an alley.  Her ex-lover Madding, also a godling takes the body away.  However, the next day, the Order, a sort of police force that maintains the law and morality, comes to question Oree.  They sense her innate magical sight and try to take her away.  Shiny comes to rescue, killing three of the Order, but not the captain.  Shiny and Oree escape, but live on the run.  More dead godlings are found.  Soon the two of them are not just trying to hide from the Order, but also trying to find out who is murdering the godlings. 

Two of the main gods, known as The Three, put out a moratorium on finding who is committing the murders.  While Oree is a prime suspect, so is Shiny, Madding and several other godlings.  Their investigations bring them face to face with dangerous cults who don’t worship the Skyfather.  Soon the real question becomes whether or not gods, godlings, demons, and humans should interact at all.

The book is told in first person by Oree.  Despite being blind, she sees a lot because of all her interactions with godlings, demons, and their magic.  Of course her other senses are accentuated as well.  Through her, we learn a lot about the pantheon and life under the world tree.  I think she is better crafted and developed than Yeine, the main character from the first novel.  She seemes much more real.  However, like Yeine, she spends a lot of her time angry, particularly at the injustices of the Order and the madness of the cults, but it wasn’t quite as overwhelming as Yeine’s constant anger.  It was a lot more natural and flowed with the unfolding of events in the book.

The other characters are pretty well crafted as well.  Shiny is great, as he lurks about, gets attacked by the Order, and kicked around by godlings, always resurrecting when someone goes too far.  I really liked Madding too.  He’s Oree’s ex, but she still goes to him for support.  He’s a pretty kind, compassionate godling, even though he makes his fortune in the black market selling godling blood to humans for a taste of their magic and strength.  The “evil” characters are morally ambiguous in the beginning, and only one turns very evil at the end.  It was actually nice to have this ambiguity instead of straight-out badness, adding a bit of realism to the characters.

The writing is really tremendous with equal doses of prose and dialogue.  Even when we get info dumps, it doesn’t feel forced.  It fits right into the plot at that time.  The world-building is simply marvelous, adding a whole new dimension to this place we were introduced to in the first book. 

I give this book a very strong four stars out of five.  This trilogy is imaginative and interesting.  Jemisin is incredibly creative.  This being only her second novel, it just floors me.  I should get to the final book in this series in about a week or two.  It’s a long one, so it might be a few weeks before you see a review of it, but I’m really looking forward to see how she concludes it.  The nice thing about the books so far, is that they are stand-alone stories with the world-building advancing, not unlike Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods series.  The books don’t end in cliffhangers, which I really like. 

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