The Broken Kingdoms is the second book in N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (review here). In the first book, we followed Yeine, a warrior princess summoned to the great city of Sky amidst a fierce political struggle. In this sequel, we learn the aftermath of that struggle as we follow Oree, an artist living in Shadow, a city teeming with godlings. Oree herself is a mortal, blind except for her ability to see the glimmering outlines of gods, godlings, and magic.
One day, while discarding her trash, Oree finds a homeless, literally down-in-the-dumps godling and decides that the humane thing to do for one in such sorrow is to take him in. As he is either mute or taciturn, she dubs him Shiny. When she finds another godling – dead, sprawled in an alleyway, missing a heart – she is not the only one confounded. And when Shiny protects Oree from overzealous interrogators, her witness status is immediately elevated to suspect.
The main storyline constitutes a mystery: Who is killing godlings, and why? You will not turn the pages for the sake of learning the ending; you will turn the pages because you are fully immersed in Oree’s world and care for the beings in it. Most mysteries beg to be solved, but some are part of a plan so huge that you have no choice but to watch the events unfold, as if propelled by a force of nature. You may stare like a deer in the headlights, but make no mistake, you will turn the pages and stare some more.
The bigger picture
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms introduced Itempas (the Bright Lord, the Skyfather) who killed Enefa (Mistress of Twilight and Dawn) and enslaved Nahadoth (the Nightlord, the Lord of Shadows). Despite the grandeur of the events, I experienced some difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. In The Broken Kingdoms, however, we begin to learn the motivations behind the gods’ actions, and as a result, the world becomes lucid.
Jemisin also examines the uneasy and multi-faceted nature of love and sacrifice. It’s easy to say you would die for others, but is it more easily said than done? And if you live, how do you live without that which you need the most? All this is done with more grace than I can describe.
Even better than the first
The first two books in Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy were released in 2010. You may have seen The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms deservingly placed on every Top Ten fantasy list last year, including The Ranting Dragon’s list. The Broken Kingdoms manages to surpass Jemisin’s debut, and for all the praise it has garnered, it nevertheless has become one of the most overlooked books of 2010. If The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is Star Wars: A New Hope – a ground-breaking landmark – The Broken Kingdoms is The Empire Strikes Back – a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching chapter that brands the story further into your life. Neither book hangs you over a cliff, though both kindle the desire to experience more of Jemisin’s world. While the desire burns fervent, the satisfying end to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms may have lessened the urgency for fans to continue. Expect, however, that many more will discover this masterpiece of fantasy literature in 2011 and offer the recognition it deserves.
Connection to the other books
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms presented Yeine, a warrior princess. The Broken Kingdoms introduces Oree, a commoner. The Kingdom of Gods (expected date of release in September 2011) will acquaint us with the trickster god, Sieh. These subjects and points of view seem distinct, but the tales are intertwined, with the fate of the characters in the first book affecting the second. Invisible layers run through The Broken Kingdoms that will only reveal themselves if you’ve read the first book. Undoubtedly, consuming even one of the two released books will be fulfilling, but do not deny yourself the rich, complete experience that will be the entire Inheritance Trilogy.
Why should you read this book?
By virtue of reading this review, you care about fantasy. If that is at all because this genre continually allows authors to push the boundaries of imagination, there is no greater benchmark for such a feat than The Broken Kingdoms. At once epic and intimate, The Broken Kingdoms is destined to become a fantasy classic. I predict it will even transcend the “fantasy” label and become a staple of literary fiction, as with The Lord of the Rings.