Fantasy Review: ‘The Broken Kingdoms’ by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #2)I start off with something of a tangent here but something started messing with my head as I was reading this book. The Inheritance Trilogy, or at least the first two books of it, have the strangest titles in relation to the books I can think of. These are books that in each case deal with a single person and their intimate relationships with the various gods and demigods in this land. Yet they have titles (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms) that suggest the most epic of epic fantasy; clash of nation type stuff. It left me wondering if it was a marketing trick to pull in a different segment of fantasy readership or if I am missing some really awesome allegories, allusions, and hidden references within the titles. Honestly, I have tried to think myself in circles and decided to give up.

I waited a while after reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because after the reading the glorious Dreamblood duology first it just didn’t excite me as much.   I was a bit worried I would forget my place starting up The Broken Kingdoms but didn’t much want to do a reread. Two things were learned by me in this process. Book two takes place ten years after book one and needs very little residual memory, and that from the first pages I enjoyed The Broken Kingdoms better than its predecessor.

Oree is a blind artist who makes a modest living selling some of her stuff to tourist visiting the city of Shadow. It is only her lesser works that sell though, her real art she keeps hidden. There is a magic to it that even she can see; a magic that is best not discovered by those in power. At first I was a bit concerned by the convenience of the set up; to make a person blind but then allow her to see if magic was involved? But Jemisin is better than that; Oree does live her life, productive as it is, under the limitations that lack of sight give her. A walking stick is her constant companion, she has gotten lost in her own city, etc. She is a real person in a fantasy world, with no comic book superpower to take away the limitations her birth placed on her.

Oree also has a problem with Gods and Godlings; she seems to collect them around her. She romances a Godling named Madding for a time before he breaks her heart. She invites a silent Godling that seems to have been abandoned and lost into her life and even shares her home with him. This will of course become important later on as she slowly discovers who he really is. But in the immediate future she also has the bad fortune of finding what should be impossible; a dead Godling in an alley that is going to set the cities course for a while. Because only the Gods should have the power to do this and they want answers.

The path that all these events lead Oree on is interesting, even exciting, but certainly not a fun one. This isn’t a book to make one throw a fist in the air and yell ‘take that’ at vanquished foes. The mystery that has to be solved is deceptively simple. It isn’t one that foreshadows itself and leaves a reader feeling dumb for not figuring it out because all the facts are not knows to us. But it does feel wonderfully complete once brought to completion.

The highlight of the book is the interplay between the gods, mortals, and whatever it is that people like Oree are (not really a spoiler, that fact she sees magic automatically tips us off that she is different). Oree is but a flash in the lives of the immortals but oh so important to them in the now.

I stay in love with this little fantasy sub-genre of living gods that Jemisin seems to have led a surge of with this trilogy. What a good book, I think I shall read the next one (which is easy as I have all three collected in a handy omnibus).

4 Stars

Copy for review received from Orbit through NetGalley.

 

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