Tuesday, October 18, 2011

“The slip that brought me to my knees:” The Broken Kingdoms

The Broken Kingdoms is the second book in N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, the follow up to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. While it is a sequel, it is not the sort of sequel that picks up immediately following the close of the first book. The Broken Kingdoms begins ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. While Yeine, Nahadoth, and a few others do make appearances in The Broken Kingdoms, this book is not their story. In fact (although I wouldn’t recommend it, because The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is well worth reading), it is completely possible to read and enjoy the second book without having read the first.

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.

The Broken Kingdoms is the story of Oree Shoth, a blind street artist who lives in the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree. However, Oree’s blindness isn’t complete – she can see magic and the godlings that live in Shadow as well. As Oree points out, everyone else can see the godlings, so the fact that she can doesn’t make her special, but the fact that they cut through her blindness is an interesting one. Even in a city full of minor gods, she is particularly plagued by them. So when someone begins killing the godlings, Oree would have likely been involved even if she hadn’t stumbled over the body.

But Oree does find the body. And she can see magic, even though she is blind. And she has a houseguest who glows at dawn, and possesses the ability to resurrect himself. All of these things make Oree very interesting to the religious factions in the city of Shadow.

The Broken Kingdoms, as much as it deals with the fallout from the Gods’ War that was introduced in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, does so from a different perspective. Oree is not Yeine, does not have Yeine’s experiences, and beliefs, and so her reaction to the Gods’ War is very different. Her natural sympathies lie along a different axis. This is both an interesting narrative technique, as it builds a fuller picture of events that are still only spoken about at a remove, and a thought-provoking one. The shift in perspective on a history – something that is known, and factual, and taught – causes the reader to reexamine her own thoughts about histories.

The other switch between the two books is that while The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms built its story around politics, here Jemisin builds her world around the construct of religion. Considering what religion might look like when the gods who were worshipped live among and interact with their worshippers is an interesting question, and Jemisin handles it well, and makes some points about the distinction between faith and religious hierarchy in the process.

Oree is a compelling character, and Jemisin does a convincing job, at least from my sighted perspective, of placing the reader inside the body and experiences of a woman who is not sighted. And while she is certainly not a passive character, there were too many instances where the plot was advanced by something that happened to her, rather than her direct action. In the end, she read as not only someone who was plagued by gods, but someone who was their pawn. Still, The Broken Kingdoms is a terrific read. I recommend it, and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the conclusion of the trilogy, The Kingdom of Gods.