the Little Red Reviewer

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Posted on: March 9, 2014

the-broken-kingdoms-by-nk-jemisinThe Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance trilogy, book 2) by N.K. Jemisin

published 2010

where I got it: purchased new

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A quick warning: this review contains unavoidable spoilers for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first book in the series.

 

It’s been about a week since I finished reading The Broken Kingdoms, and it’s taken me this long to put into words what I experienced. Put shortly, I loved every word of it, and I know no review I write will come close to doing this book justice.  As I neared the halfway point of the book, I began avoiding picking it up, because I didn’t want to face that moment where I’d have to turn the final page and have it be over forever.  I knew the end was going to be heavy, and I wasn’t wrong.

 

The Broken Kingdoms picks up about ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  Sky is now colloquially referred to as Shadow, due to the shadows caused by the huge tree that now dominates the city.  When once only three enslaved gods roamed the palace, now the city is full of godlings who have returned from the realm of the gods, some of them living rather normal lives, while others still aren’t used to be being around mortals.

 

At the beginning of this second installment, we meet Oree, who moved to the city ten years ago, after her father died. At first blush, this sounds a little familiar – country girl moves to the city, gets very surprised by what she finds there.  And that’s where the similarity ends. Oree isn’t interested in learning about the royal family, and she could care less about the differences between the gods and the mortals for the most part. Her first priority is selling her artwork and paying her rent.

 

Oree is an artist, and she’s blind. Well, mostly blind. She can’t see me, or you, or her mother, or the house she grew up in.What she can see, is magic, and Shadow is lush with godlings, so she can get around halfway decently most of the time. One night, she finds a dead guy outside her house. It’s a little more complicated than that, and he’s not quite dead. She takes him in, cleans him up, and lets the strange, silent man crash at her place until she figures out what to do with him.  At sunrise he glows with a godling hue, and he seems to be invulnerable to pain and injury. No one knows his name or where he came from, and in an attempt to elicit a reaction from him, she starts calling him Shiny. To his face.

 

If you’ve read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you know who Shiny is, and that he’s probably not all that offended by the nickname. But Oree has absolutely no idea who he is, and in all honestly she just wishes he’d stop being such a pain in the ass.

Godlings are going missing, including Oree’s exboyfriend Madding. And whoever punished Shiny, whoever made him into this silent, sad creature, isn’t done with him.  With a gripping and complexly evocative plot, The Broken Kingdoms will have you turning pages way past your bedtime.  But it’s everything else about this book that has  guaranteed I’ll buy every book Jemisin ever writes.  She took a character from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a character the reader hates by the end of the book and in The Broken Kingdoms makes the reader feel entirely sympathetic towards him.

 

And speaking of characters, Oree is my favorite kind of character – she’s practical, self sufficient, rolls her eyes when people make dumb comments about blind people, tells the reader what happened in any order she damn pleases, and has a personality and voice that leaps off the page.  There are a lot of things about Oree I am not telling you, and so many more things about the wonders contained in this book that I’m not telling you. because spoilers.

 

It should be known have an affinity for blind characters. Worldbuilding is usually starts with the visuals, yeah? the tall towers, the bridges, the water that reflects off the rivers, the cobblestone roads, what the animals look like, how people are dressed etc. Authors will often start with what something *looks* like before getting to what it smells like, or the texture, or some such.  Jemisin can’t do this in The Broken Kingdoms, because Oree usually can’t see what something looks like. If a godling has been around recently, she might be able to see an outline, but she won’t tell you how many stories high a building is, or what color a bird is. Everything to her is sound, smell, texture, vibration.  She knows where she is based on how far her voice carries, what the air tastes like, how cold it is, how many steps it takes for her to get across her house or across town. She recognizes her neighbors by the sounds of their voices and other noises that follow them.  I’m sighted, but damn can I relate, thanks to having been a very stubborn child who refused to wear her much needed glasses.

 

And then there is the whole mythology aspect of this series, which I have become more than  a little in love with. The gods and godlings are walking around, right now. They are interacting with humans, they are accepting prayers.  Need to make a sacrifice to your patron godling? You can walk over to her house, put the flowers in a vase on her table, and discuss what’s troubling you over a cup of coffee, and maybe she’ll even give you some useful advice. Us short lived humans, we get over pain, we get past grudges, we forget that someone slighted us ten years ago, we grow, we mature, we are capable of change, we understand that we will outlive someone, and someone will outlive us.  But the gods are immortal, they never forget,  and to them, every moment is the present.  Sieh’s mother died a thousand years ago, but  the pain has never lessened for him, even after all these years. That event is in his present, not his past. I imagine, that in a way, life is very static for the godlings. they don’t grow old, they don’t seem to learn from their experiences. What happened once upon a time is happening right now for them.

 

At the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the gods were freed from the enslavement of humans. But that does not mean they are free. A god of chaos will always be a god of chaos. The godling of mercy will always be merciful, and a god of order and stability has a real hard time accepting change and chaos. The gods are forever trapped in their own mythologies, their own archetypes, their own descriptions, they will never be completely free to choose who they are.  They trap themselves by the act of their own creation, and I don’t know that I’ve ever run into anything more tragic. In a way, us humans need them to be unchanging, we need our gods to be what they have always been, how we have always seen them, right?

 

So what happens when a god tries to change?

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7 Responses to "The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin"

Must start this series!

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I preferred The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but that might just be because it was my introduction to this amazing series so I have a soft spot for it. Broken Kingdoms is a wonderful book and I got so wound up in the personal relationships, especially between Oree and Madding, and Oree and Shiny. I also love Oree as a blind narrator – you’re right, the way she introduces us to this world is so different.

It was also great to see Sieh again, and interesting to see the darker side of him as the god of childhood.

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I just bought both of these books because of this review…

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I have to start this series as well! I’ve had the first book on my shelf for ages and I’ve never read Jemisin and I really want to. Though I hear she has a new book and start of a series coming out this year and I may pick that up too!

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Such a good book! This is the first time I read a fantasy novel with a blind protagonist, and Jemisin does such a good job in bringing Oree’s world to life.

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This was probably my least favorite of the three, but that doesn’t mean much, because I loved all of them The others just edged it out for other reasons. (The Kingdom of Gods is my absolute favorite). But I love your review and how passionate you are about this book. Jemisin is one of my favorite writers at the moment, in part because of your shining reviews (I had read the start of her duology previously, but then she slipped my mind for awhile and you brought her back to my attention.)

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[…] is a recent discovery for me. I stumbled upon a review of The Broken Kingdoms by the Little Red Reviewer, and in an uncharacteristic act of blind faith, immediately bought the entire Inheritance Trilogy […]

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