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N.K. Jemisin

REVIEW: Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin

REVIEW: Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin

Dear Ms. Jemisin,

While I didn’t think the first two novels of your Inheritance trilogy were perfect, I liked that they were different and introduced some much-needed fresh air into the fantasy genre. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the final installment given that it’s about the child god, Sieh, and the thought of him being in a consensual romantic relationship made me uncomfortable. (God or not, he’s still a child.) Having had some time to mull over the book since I finished it, I reached the conclusion that I enjoyed it, but I think that romance readers might not find it as accessible as previous novels.

Kingdom of Gods by N.K. JemisinKingdom of Gods focuses on Sieh, the child god first introduced in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The child of Enefa (now incarnated as the new goddess, Yeine) and Nahadoth, he’s always occupied an awkward place. The oldest of the gods after the original three but also embodying the young, immature aspects of nature, Sieh can be a contradiction at times.

Since the book takes place long after the events of the previous two novels, the once-powerful Arameri family are diminished. Though they desperately cling to their authority over the world, it’s obvious their power is dwindling as the years pass. This becomes important because one day, while roaming the Arameri palace, Sieh meets the latest generation of Arameri scions, a pair of twins named Shahar and Dekarta. Which, if you’ve read the previous two books, are very unfortunate names to give a pair of kids.

Intrigued by the twins, Sieh follows a whim and makes a blood pact with them. Unfortunately, it ends in disaster with the twins being separated and Sieh landing in a strange decade-long coma. Even worse, when he comes out of the coma, another fact is realized: the child god is aging.

While the cover description is accurate, it’s misleading and only provides half of the picture. I especially don’t like the sole focus on Shahar when Deka’s relationship with Sieh is just as important to the story. This is a very different sort of book from the previous installments. More epic and in line with the narrative structures of standard traditional fantasy. It has a lot of originality and flair, but the structure and protagonist’s journey is more familiar. It brings all the pieces laid down in the previous books, especially in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and brings it full circle.

I liked the fact that the narrative voice decided to change it up. Without spoiling, the previous two novels had “tricks” associated with why their stories were told the way they were. Except for the end in which there is a narrator change, here the narrative is straightforward. As Sieh says in the opening pages, the reader has no reason to anticipate an impending twist but can relax and enjoy the story.

As for the story itself, it’s a very different sort of coming of age story. With Yeine’s book, she came of age and gained power because she discovered she was the incarnation of a dead goddess. In this book, Sieh comes of age but the results are something entirely different. After all, what happens when the god of childhood (and all its related traits: mischief, trickster, etc) grows up and becomes mature? How can he retain his power then? So I enjoyed that exploration.

That said, I found the relationship aspects weak. I wish there’d been deeper interactions between Sieh and the twins. He spent a lot of the book running around to investigate a potential war. I know it was for plot-related reasons but because of this, Shahar and most particularly, Deka, ended up reading shallow to me. I did like that there were no easy answers for the relationship between Shahar and Sieh but by comparison, Sieh’s relationship with Deka seemed unexplored.

I’ve heard heard rumblings on the internet and via email regarding a child god having sex but having finished the book, I find myself wondering what those complaints were about exactly? Are there references to distasteful things that Sieh was forced to do in the past? Yes but those were more explicitly stated in the first book, and I don’t actually consider what happened in those cases sex. Rape, yes. Sex, no. Sieh, like his siblings, were enslaved by the Arameri and were abused. This was made abundantly clear and is further explored in Kingdom of Gods because Sieh knows how to carry a grudge. Or are they referring to a specific incident which, to my reading, was never described as anything but negative and traumatic. One of the underlying themes of the Inheritance trilogy is power and how it can be abused, and I feel that was what happened there. So, again, not sex. If the complaints were about the coercive aspects and not wanting to read about those interactions, I would completely understand. But the impression I got was that there was lots of consensual child sex which made me leery because that’s the last thing I want to read. I think it’s best to remember that Sieh is aging, physically and mentally — not by a matter of years but by decades. When he comes out of his coma, he’s a teenager; by the end of the book, he’s an old man.

My favorite part, however, was the ending. I thought it was beautiful and perfectly answered the question of what happens when child gods grow up. I liked the idea of a cyclical existence — that all beginnings have an end and that all ends promise a new beginning. I don’t want to spoil in this review but if anyone who’s read the book would like to discuss, I’d love to do so in the comments.

All in all, I enjoyed Kingdom of Gods. It is a different sort of novel from the previous two installments, following a personal journey across a more epic backdrop. But I think anyone hoping for intense relationships like those seen in Hundred Thousand and Broken Kingdoms should adjust their expectations accordingly. And as a bonus for those readers who were less than enthused about the ending of Broken Kingdoms, there’s a short story for you at the end of the novel. As for myself, I’m looking forward to the new trilogy coming out next year.

My regards,
Jia

P.S. – The glossary in the print edition is great. I have no idea if this was replicated in the ebook version and if not, then this is a rare case where I recommend the print edition if only to see what was done.

Previous novels in this series: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (review), The Broken Kingdoms (review)

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REVIEW: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

REVIEW: The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Dear Ms. Jemisin,

Earlier this year I read your debut fantasy novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and enjoyed it quite a bit. So when it came time for your sophomore effort to be released, I made sure to request a copy. The Broken Kingdoms is the second book of the Inheritance Trilogy, of which The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was the first. It’s not a direct sequel; the protagonist is not Yeine Darr. But it is related, and events of the first book set the stage for this one. I’ll try my best to keep spoilers for the first book to a minimum but as a warning, that’s not always possible.

The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy) N.K. JemisinOree Shoth is a blind artist who lives in the city of Shadow, which rests beneath the city of Sky. Well, I suppose it’s more accurate to say Oree is blind to everything except magic, which she can see. This quirk proves to be useful. In the decade since the events of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, godlings have returned to the world. Some of them even live in Shadow. Oree’s ex-lover, in fact, was a godling himself.

Suffice it to say, Oree’s used to gods and godlings. Which is a good thing because one day, she finds a strange man in a garbage heap and takes him home. As you do. Now what do I mean by strange? I mean that he has an odd habit of dying and coming back to life. And not in the vampire or zombie sort of way. Even stranger, when the sun rises at dawn, Oree can see him because he… glows. I imagine people who’ve read the previous book can probably guess who this person is.

Meanwhile, godlings are being killed all over Shadow. This isn’t good because Nahadoth, the newly reinstated Nightlord, doesn’t take kindly to people murdering his children. Completely understandable. Unfortunately, when you’re the Nightlord and are infamous for destroying an entire continent and most of its people, paternal anger takes on a whole new light.

And so an ultimatum is delivered: find the murderer or the Nightlord will come to Shadow. No one wants the Nightlord to come to Shadow. Unfortunately for Oree, who found one of the dead godlings, this means she’s suddenly become a prime suspect and the focus of intense scrutiny. Scrutiny, might I note, that will eventually lead to revelations regarding her heritage and bloodline.

In many respects, I think Broken Kingdoms is more even than its predecessor. I can’t say for sure if that impression is because I came into this book with no expectations based on the cover copy. It is a quieter book in the sense that it doesn’t take place in a royal court. There is no battle for succession. I did not expect political intrigue and for the most part, that was indeed true. Oree is simply a blind artist who came to the city and makes a living selling novelty items. But I think that quietness is also the book’s strength. It portrays a mundane daily life made magical, by virtue of who Oree is and the people with which she surrounds herself.

Since this is set a decade after the culminating events of the previous book, it was interesting to see how things had changed and how things had stayed the same. In the previous book, the world followed one religion, that of Itempas, the sun god. With the return of the Nightlord and the Grey Lady, as well as many new godlings, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the iron control of the Itempan religion is not as it once was. Many people worship other gods. Some people dislike this. Some people would like a return to the old ways. And some others want to take things a step further and form a radical sect of the original religion. I enjoyed that aspect of it.

Much like Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the narrative style of Broken Kingdoms is similar to that of oral storytelling. I don’t think the prose is quite as striking here, less dramatic if you will. On the other hand, I don’t think it needed to be. Oree’s story isn’t one of rulers and family dynasties and returning lost gods to the world. It’s more comforting in a way. And unlike its predecessor, however, the narrative style isn’t tied as closely to the plot and readers won’t learn the reason for it until the very end.

As for the ending itself, I expect this is the part that will get the most commentary and reaction from readers. Up until the climax of the novel, the plot featured a smooth pace that carried me along effortlessly. After the climax, however, the narrative became very choppy for me and what followed was a series of what could be called successive endings. The best comparison is to the ending of Return of the King. You’d think you were reading one ending… but then another would follow. And another. And another. I don’t know if this was deliberate — and if it was, it was very successful — but the effect was very jarring, to the point that some of these “endings” felt tacked on. I also think a certain aspect of the ending was cliche and borderline indulgent. I don’t know if it’s just me, and perhaps it is, but I expected better and more. I myself was not thrilled with it for those reasons.

But since this is a romance blog, I do think I would be remiss not to offer up the details of that ending because the second I finished this book, I emailed Jane. Jane read Hundred Thousand Kingdoms based on my opinion and was waiting for my thoughts on this book before picking it up as well. So when I finished, I knew I had to email her because the ending would not make her happy. I will make use of our spoiler tag so please, skip the paragraph that is about to follow if you wish to remain spoiler-free. It is for the ending of the novel, so please heed my warning.

[spoiler effect="blind"]Oree eventually gets together with Shiny, who if you’ve read the previous book and picked up on my hints, is Itempas in mortal form, after the punishment laid down upon him by Yeine, who has become the new Grey Lady. But making Itempas a mortal was supposed to be a punishment that would last a long time, not eleven years. It’s not much of a trial if Itempas can find something of a contented life with Oree. So due to pressure from Yeine and Nahadoth, Itempas leaves Oree. Now, I personally don’t find this particular separation to be that surprising. I spent the majority of the book skeptical about whether Oree and Itempas would actually get together and when they did, I knew it couldn’t last. The part I found cliche is that not only does Itempas leave, Oree finds herself pregnant with his child. Romance readers, of course, are very familiar with this trope but it is most often found at the beginning of a novel, not the end. And for that reason, because this book ends with the couple separated and the woman pregnant with a child to remember the father by, I can’t not mention it. Because I know it will disappoint some readers.[/spoiler]

To be clear, this is a fantasy novel and not a romance. I don’t think it’s fair to expect an HEA because this genre does not guarantee it. But reader preferences are reader preferences, and those preferences often carry over from one genre to the next. I simply wanted to offer up the details for those who wanted them because I know what it’s like to be enjoying a book, only to reach the end and have that experience be ruined by what was presented in those final pages. I think Jane has blogged about those moments here on DA in the past.

This is a solid follow-up to what I considered a great debut. Many of the quibbles I had with the first novel have been smoothed over and polished here, although I think the ending is still a little rough, if only in the other direction (choppy and dragged out rather than rushed and cramped). I just wish the ending hadn’t been so cliche and uninspiring, but perhaps this will lead into the final book of the Inheritance trilogy, The Kingdom of Gods. One can only hope. As for a grade, I’m assigning one based on it being a fantasy novel. I imagine romance readers would have a different opinion. B

My regards,

Jia

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