The Broken Kingdoms by NK Jemisin
In March, 2010 new author N.K. Jemisin released the first book in her Inheritance Trilogy - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The book was fantastic, as evidenced by her Hugo and Nebula nominations for it, as well as it being listed on both the Amazon and Publisher's Weekly Science Fiction/Fantasy Top 10 of 2010. If the second had not come out the same year (November 2010) I have no doubt it would also have found its way onto those same lists.
The Inheritance Trilogy is a well thought out, coherent, single story being told in three parts. If you haven't read the first one, go find it and read it, because the following won't make much sense (and will spoil a good read): The gods have broken free after centuries of slavery, and the world holds its breath, fearing their vengeance. The saga of mortals and immortals continues in The Broken Kingdoms. 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?
The second book takes everything Nemisin did well in the first book - creating a believable, tangible world, setting up social and political dynamics to play off of, and using one woman's experiences to tell a broader story - expands it, and improves on it. The ending of book one was confusing and had massive implications on the world she created. The world she has created is precariously balanced - politically, culturally, religiously - and all of that was wiped away at the end of the first book. While only 10 years have passed, in book two we see the beginnings of change due to those actions. Nemisin uses female characters to interact with the gods and godlings she has created (with a believable and rich creation myth) to explore such topics as humanity, power, choice, reliance, and change.
Much of the book focuses on the duality of what we want (or intend) to be and what we end up being. The word around us influences, touches, changes, and stretches us. We are not in control of all of the inputs upon us, therefore we can't be fully in control of the outcomes. Sacrifice is necessary and choices are hard. Book two, like book one, ends with necessary sacrifices that feel both heartbreaking and true to the characters.
A limited criticism I have with the book is that it introduces important characters in Oree's life and then, soon into the book, drops them to never return. While the author makes some attempt to justify why this would be, a character like Oree, who relies so much on others and develops tight friendships, would find a means to reconnect. Oree is much more proactive than the main character of book one (Yeine) but at times her taking control feels a bit forced - this is a blind human who, at different times, stands up to and pushes around immortal beings. I prefer Oree's directness and action to Yeine's passivity, but there were a few instances when it felt slightly out of character.
But these criticism's are minor. Jemisin has created a well-paced, thoughtful, intriguing book that has unexpected twists. The characters are fleshed out and memorable. If you like solidly built worlds where gods and people mix and enjoy looking at a culture in transition, you will find this book a great read. Ultimately, the series is about change - both intended and unintended - and the role an individual can play in setting in motion or keeping in motion those ripples of the world around us. Book one was fantastic. Book two is superb. And book three promises to be just as good. Jemisin takes her writing extremely seriously (even if the tone of the books at time is very light...) and respects her audience. Her blog (http://nkjemisin.com/) contains several posts about her use of trilogy in an unorthodox manner (different human protagonists in each book) and a character study of one of the gods. As a new author finding her voice, Jemisin is on extremely solid footing and is someone to watch.
Brian Herstig, 9.7/10
The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
When an author writes a trilogy (or any sort of series) there is the immediate assumption that there will be characters staying around for all of the books; major characters in major roles. That is not the case with N.K. Jemisin’s ‘The Inheritance Trilogy’ and it makes for a fascinating break from the norm.
Book two of the series, ‘The Broken Kingdoms’, takes place a decade after the authors’ debut book, ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’, which many reviewers – myself included – rated 10 out of 10. The unique world in which we were originally introduced has remained, and is now full of godlings and worshipers and magic.
There is something fascinating about a book that reverses the idea of ‘gods’ into beings who wander around in their multitudes, attracting worshipers and enemies with ease. I find it an immensely attractive idea, and one that I love getting my teeth into every time I come across a new pantheon of gods to play with.
N.K. Jemisin continues the success she found with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in this book, leading us a merry chase around a new city with new characters and new powers to understand. The world has changed since we last visited, and we’re not given all the information up front: in fact, we’re given very little information. What we learn is doled out in small increments, just enough to get us by and just enough to leave us craving more.
I needed to go read the outline that Jemisin put up on her website to remember what had happened in the first book, something that was vital in understanding what was going on. There was a return of some characters in small bit parts throughout this book, and having that original book refreshed in my mind helped me appreciate these return visits all the more.
Jemisin also continues the sexual component of her writing with apparent glee, with the sexual desire of mortals and immortals writhing in and out of the pages just as the characters writhe in and out of bed with one another. It is a fascinating aspect to the mortal-immortal relationship that is already so heavily weighted in favour of the gods through their use of magic, and I think does help to encapsulate just how different – and at times, how similar – the two species are. It may however be enough for some parents to keep this away from their children, despite the ease of reading and the large font used in the book.
In the end, I devoured this book in one sitting. Is has all the hallmarks of a series that I would love to reread one day, and of an author who is going to be a favourite for a very long time to come. This book manages to weave together grand themes in the true style of high fantasy literature with a very personal and relatable story, full of unease and fear and sadness, joy and pleasure.
Joshua S Hill, 9/10
The Inheritance Trilogy
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Inheritance Trilogy: Book 1
The Broken Kingdoms
The Inheritance Trilogy: Book 2
More recommended reading in this genre
War with the Mein
David Anthony Durham
King Rolen’s Kin Series
Rowena Cory Daniells
The Walkers of Legend
Brood of Bones
Scourge of the Betrayer
Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone
The Emperor’s Knife
Monarchies of God
Promise of Blood
Jonathan R Webb
The Three Faces of Dissatisfaction
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Xavier from Vienna
The first book in the series, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, was my favourite book the year it came out. This, the second book, once again presents and delights us with a wonderful cast of characters and Jemisin's writing is as superb as it was previously. The Broken Kingdoms is at turns heart-breaking, beautiful and compelling. Highly recommended to those who, like me, fell under the spell of the first book.
9.9/10 from 2 reviews
What did you think about The Broken Kingdoms? Submit your own reader review and award the book the rating you think it deserves.
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read. See past winners.
Words of Radiance
Half a King
The Fell Sword