The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms
N. K. Jemisin

I enjoyed A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms so much that I specifically asked Orbit for a copy of The Broken Kingdoms. You may be able to read this book without reading the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but if you want to read these books in order, skip this review because there may be minor spoilers for the first story.
Go check out my review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms here:

The Premise:
It’s been 10 years since the events of the first book, when the palace of Sky was transformed and the universe was changed forever. Oree Shoth, is a blind woman who moved to Sky (now called Shadow), from the small Maroneh village of Nimaro. She spends her days selling her art in Art Row and enjoying the magic of the city, which is everywhere now that godlings roam the streets (Shadow is the only place they’re allowed). The abundance of magic is particularly beneficial for Oree because she can see it — it’s the only time she is not blind. One day she finds a strange, homeless man and takes him in. This silent man, who she names Shiny, seems human enough (despite his general arrogance), except for an odd ability to come back to life every time he dies. That is, until Oree finds a murdered godling in Shadow. Other bodies begin to turn up, and Shiny is somehow tied in with this string of horrific deaths.

Read an excerpt of The Broken Kingdoms: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3

My Thoughts: You could read this book without reading the first book, but I think some of the background information regarding The Three (the first three gods and creators of the known universe), may be a little hard to follow. The information is there, but because Oree is the narrator, and she is a commoner, she knows little about what really happened 10 years ago; only that the Order of the Light has suddenly allowed the worship of gods beyond Itempas. She finds out more as the story goes along, but if you haven’t read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you need to wait for Oree to catch up, and if you have read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you’ll have more knowledge than she does about the shift in power, why godlings roam the streets, and who ‘Shiny’ really is.

Although the reader has an edge over Oree about the general back story, Oree introduces us to what’s happened to the streets of Sky (now Shadow), since then. The most significant change is of course the godlings. Oree explains:
” I am, you see, a woman plagued by gods.
It was worse once. Sometimes it felt as if they were everywhere: underfoot, overhead, peering around corners and lurking under bushes.  They left glowing footprints on the sidewalks (I could see they had their own favorite paths for sightseeing.) They urinated on the white walls. […] Sometimes they followed me home and made me breakfast. Sometimes they tried to kill me. Occasionally they bought my trinkets and statues, though for what purpose I can’t fathom. And yes, sometimes I loved them.”

Oree seems to be a magnet for gods (or godlings as they are sometimes called), and because she finds Shiny in a muckbin, her life changes. He’s a silent and arrogant jerk, but they work out an amicable living arrangement and life goes on at first. Until Oree discovers a godling in an alley, her heart cut out. There’s a big uproar – immortal creatures aren’t supposed to be murdered like this, and this draws unwanted attention on her by the Order. Shiny is upset, chaos ensues, and Oree shows up on the radar of people she really doesn’t want noticing her – the murderers.

In this series so far, the protagonists have been mortal females thrust into events caused by gods. In the first book, what I remember being the big theme was that of revenge. Revenge on many different levels:  between the gods and humans, and even in Yiene’s heart, revenge was a driving force. In Oree’s story, she feels the echos of what happened ten years ago, but the story feels like it’s more of a murder mystery (who are killing godlings and why?) and about taking the first few steps to move on from the past, than it is about revenge. So, while there are some commonalities between the books, I found them very different. Oree and Yiene share a relatively pragmatic point of view, at least compared to that of the gods, and are both caught in the general maelstrom created by them, but they aren’t the same person and this isn’t the same story. I found Oree a little more innocent than Yiene regarding her knowledge of politics, but more intuitive about people. She also was raised Maroneh, and was a follower of Itempas, with a healthy fear of the Night Lord, which is a different religious background as Yiene. It was interesting to see how their perceptions of the Three were different.

I also found myself believing more in her relationship with the gods than I could believe in Yiene’s relationships with them. I think that there’s three reasons why – the relationships were developed over time, they developed in ways I believed, and I found these gods not beyond the reach of mere humans. Part of the equalizing in the relationships was who Oree was, part of it was who the gods were, part of it seeing how being immortal made the gods almost immature compared those with an expiry date, and part of it was seeing how these gods were not all-seeing and knowing – they had no idea who the killer was or how they were killing. (By the way, I know I am saying relationships, but I want to point out that this is still a fantasy and not a romance and the relationships are not like romance relationships.)

In many ways, I think I found The Broken Kingdoms better than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I think that the gods were more relatable and less powerfully alien than the last book and it made the story work better in terms of my disbelief in their relationships with the narrator, and I liked how thoughtfully the story brought us forward in time ten years from the last book. There were a few cameos of characters from the first book and it was really fascinating to see them through Oree’s perceptions (pretty much all my favorites showed up). It’s also really differently paced – I was really turning the pages with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because treachery and death seemed to be around the corner of every page, and it is that way from the get go, but while murder and conspiracy is compelling too, The Broken Kingdoms took more time to get us there, so it took me longer to really get into the story (maybe fifty pages in), but I didn’t mind this difference – I knew it would get there.

Overall: I’m really enjoying this fantasy series. It’s entertaining and thoughtful, I really like the (female! POC!) narrators, and I love (love, love) the world building with it’s pantheon of flawed gods and the consequences of those flaws. The Broken Kingdoms adds more dimension to a fascinating world, and I’m rather sad that this is supposed to be just a trilogy, but I’m happy these books exist. Cannot WAIT for book 3.

(I am gleeful to hear the author has a new series coming out in 2012)

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – 9/10 (I had a really similar reaction to hers)
Gossamer Obsessions – A+
Babbling about Books, and More – DNF (I think she has a valid point about storytelling style. It’s probably a style more seen in fantasy and worked for me, but may not be for everyone)
Dear Author – B
Fantasy Book Critic – A+

4 thoughts on “The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

  1. I wasn’t as impressed with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as everyone else seemed to be and haven’t bothered finding out anything about the sequel. But your review does pique my interest about the book and makes it sounds more interesting than the first one. Perhaps I’ll give it a try after all.

    • Well I liked the first one quite a bit so I’m a little wary of saying you should read this if you weren’t impressed by it. Maybe we just have different tastes when it comes to this author.. I see that people seem to really love this series or be generally “meh” over it.. I do think this book is less fast paced but feels better thought out, so I think this is the better book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s