16 Sep 2015

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Release Date: 3rd November 2010
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback | Borrowed

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Plot Synopsis (from GR): 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 homeless man who glows like a living sun to her strange sight. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city.

Oree's peculiar guest is at the heart of it, his presence putting her in mortal danger -- but is it him the killers want, or Oree? And is the earthly power of the Arameri king their ultimate goal, or have they set their sights on the Lord of Night himself?

My thoughts:  I kept sitting down to write this review, and finding that I couldn't properly put into words how I felt about this book. The Broken Kingdoms just took all my criticisms of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and shattered them. Jemisin took all the best aspects of the prequel and created an engrossing, unique story, and her growth as a writer between these two books is absolutely astounding - her world was so much more fully realised in The Broken Kingdoms, as opposed to the scattered lore and 'oral' story-telling of the first book. 

As I had previously assumed, The Broken Kingdoms focuses on a new set of characters, with the main characters of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - Seih, Naha, Yeine - making cameo appearances in this one. Our heroine, Oree, is a blind painter who is able to 'see' magic and is plagued by gods and godlings. It's been ten years since the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and the world is trying to make sense of the day that Itempas fell, Nahadoth was freed, and Enefa was reborn. While the Arameri have lost their power and the other Kingdoms are starting to regain their freedom, the full effects of these events on the political and religious institutions is still yet to be seen. Oree comes across a dead godling,which is an impossibility as only gods have the ability to do something like this. This is part of a larger plot concerning political factions and religious fanatics, and brings about
questions identity and the power balance between the three major gods in Jemisin's world. 

My favourite character in this book (and this is going to get a little spoilery) was Shiny, the mortal form of Itempas, living out his penance as part of the curse Yeine put on him at the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Watching his character growth over the course of this book was fantastic. It's a Faith Lehane-level redemption arc, but I think it's also Shiny/Itempas trying to forge a new identity for himself. In the first book, we get a version of events from the people that he wronged - mostly Nahadoth and Sieh. In this book, we get Itempas' version of events, and are able to come to the realisation that Itempas did know what he was doing was wrong - and why it was wrong - and also get to a point where we can empathise with him. 

What fascinates me with this series is how Jemisin manages to balance the everyday with the bigger picture. Through telling the stories of Yeine and Oree, Jemisin is able to tell the story of Enefa, Nahadoth and Itempas and explore their relationships with one another and with the universe that they created. I found Oree to be a much more compelling heroine than Yeine, possibly because her narrative was far less grandiose than Yeine's. Oree's narrative feels focused and intimate - I was able to get a better understanding of Oree and empathise with her far more than I ever did with Yeine (I think it helped that Jemisin dropped the 'oral history' style of the first book). 

If I have any criticism of this novel - or trilogy, rather - it is this: the heroines seem to be rather helpless. As in, they are victims of circumstance. If they know something bad is going to happen to them, they accept it rather than try to change it. I found this incredibly frustrating - if you know you were going to die but could stop it from happening, why wouldn't you? Oree's actions were rarely empowering, and her thoughts and plans seemed to require validation from other characters. Oh, and the pacing - it was mostly consistent, but then we got to the climax and everything was a bit flurried and at one point I was just like, "WHAT IS GOING ON?"

The Broken Kingdoms is a much better book than its predecessor, and it's wonderful to see an author who works on her craft and grows better with each book (having read Jemisin's glorious Dreamblood duology before the Inheritance trilogy, I can honestly say that her writing seems to develop by leaps and bounds). I'm interested to see where Jemisin goes from here with this series - there seemed to be hints of a major conflict at the end of this one.


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