The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin

The Kingdom of Gods
N. K. Jemisin

After the first two installments of The Inheritance Trilogy, The Kingdom of the Gods was one of my most anticipated reads this year. I requested (and received!) a copy for review from the publisher.
First two books:
Book 1: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Book 2: The Broken Kingdoms
Unlike the previous book, I don’t think you can read The Kingdom of the Gods without reading the first two books in this trilogy. There’s a lot that happens in the earlier books that has an impact on the characters, so if you haven’t read them, I recommend you skip back to my review of the first book.
The Premise: Sieh is the oldest of the godlings – the first child created by the Three. As such, he has loved his parents as gods love one another, but knows that he could never be part of what they have. More and more, he’s felt a loneliness which he cannot fill but tries to keep hidden, and one day during one of these episodes, Sieh returns to Sky, his prison for many centuries. Here he encounters two Arameri children in the now-empty spaces within the palace. This innocuous meeting turns out to have surprising consequences, particularly within Sieh. This is not well timed nor well-advised. The children, twins Shahar and Dekarta, are the heirs to the Arameri throne and not the best playmates for a god. Meanwhile, an enemy Sieh never knew he had is gaining power when Sieh may be at his weakest and most vulnerable.
Read the first three chapters of The Kingdom of Gods: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3
My Thoughts: Sieh was a character first introduced in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, book one of this trilogy. In that book, Sieh has an innocence that comes from his being seen through the eyes of the narrator, Yiene who has motherly instincts towards the godling. Now, with Sieh as narrator, we get a very different perspective.
Sieh is the embodiment of the abstract concept of Childhood. For a being that is hundreds of thousands of years old, Sieh’s very essence is to be immature, and he does act like it. He considers himself a trickster, but his tricks are the petty pranks of a thoughtless child with a horrifying amount of power.  Sieh can only really focus on what’s happening to himself or what is in front of him. He doesn’t pay attention to anything outside that limited view, and so, has a black-and-white view of what happened between his parents. In Sieh’s mind, Itempas was wrong and Sieh cannot forgive him.
This at least the mindset where Sieh starts the narrative with. As the book continues, it becomes apparent that Sieh is no longer what he once was. He has begun to change.
The change begins with Sieh and his unique relationship with the Arameri heirs, Dekarta and Shahar. I looked at the back blurb for this book, and it suggests that Shahar is the main character alongside Sieh. This is sort of misleading. Sieh has relationships with Shahar and her brother Dekarta. It all begins when Sieh meets the two when they are children, makes a profound impression on them both, and agrees to see them again in a year and to grant one wish. That wish is what begins Sieh’s transformation.
When I look at this trilogy as a whole, they’re rather disjointed by the change in viewpoints in every book, but there is a cohesion because each installment does influence the next one. With three narrators telling different parts of the same story, each one of the books in the trilogy has a different feel. This installment feels to me the most character driven. It’s all about Sieh’s growing pains. The current looming disaster that threatens to end the world is part of the story, and it does concern Sieh, but it feels very secondary to the story compared to Sieh’s own issues. Maybe that is intentional – as Sieh grows and matures, the story focuses more on the fate of the world, but before that, it’s all about Sieh.
What’s clever is that Sieh’s problem brings a lot of introspection and interaction with other Gods and godlings. This means a lot of new details about Gods, godlings, demons, and the War of the Gods. I especially liked the worldbuilding here, and I liked that this was a story about the Gods and their evolution. It felt like what began with the death of Enefa was getting a proper resolution in this installment because Sieh has a unique perspective of his parents. I was also happy to get answers to questions I had about characters in earlier books, like what happened to the man who was once Nahadoth’s vessel, and what became of the daughter of Itempas and Oree Soth.
I liked Sieh a lot as the narrator. He doesn’t give off the same grounded feel that the last two narrators did (he’s more of a brat, really), but I liked that we got an unvarnished view and saw Sieh with all his many imperfections. I could see him rubbing other readers the wrong way, especially since he is old enough to know better, but I thought that his selfishness was in character. He is also a god and thinks and acts like a god, even if he looks like he’s eight or eighteen or eighty. He’s more flexible in his ideas about sex for instance (incest is not a problem for gods). There were times that his actions were alien to me, but I empathized with him when things began to go south. I had a suspicion about who Sieh’s enemy was early on in the book (I was right too), and it made me very anxious on his behalf. I lay awake in bed, thinking of the possibilities. There were so many.
I am not sure how to describe what didn’t quite work for me in this story. I think the problem was how the story was laid out – focusing on Sieh for the majority of the book, and then in the last third, on the possible destruction of the world. There was something that felt unbalanced in this, and I would have liked more time spent on the secondary plot. As part of this, the relationships with Dekarta and Shahar felt like it could have been further developed than it actually was. I felt that the love and complicated feelings that Sieh had for his three parents clearly, but I did not feel like I had enough time with Dekarta, and Shahar to be convinced of their bond. Lastly, I found the climax very abrupt. The real ending seemed to happen in a epilogue-ish bit, and I think this just added to my general feeling of unbalance. Even though this book was long, I would have liked a longer ending, if that makes any sense.
Overall: This is just a great series and I’m really happy I read it. Gods as central characters, influencing and wrecking havoc on a world and its people – it’s fascinating stuff. I loved visiting this world and the cast of unique characters, and I’m a little sad that this is the last book. This installment was a little more divided in its focus than I would have liked, but it does satisfactorily conclude the series and tied up loose ends.
Look out for a short story that answered that last lingering question I had after The Broken Kingdoms, and an excerpt from the beginning of Jemisin’s new series.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – 7/10
Interesting Links:
About the doodled appendices at the end of the book
Sieh character study (warning: spoilery)
Shahar character study (warning: spoilery)

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+

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

I’ve been seeing lots of good reviews for this book but the cover wasn’t particularly pulling me in. It was reading an excerpt that sold me (and why I bought the book), but now that I’ve read it I have changed my mind about the cover – it’s not just a random fantasy castle. The column it sits upon means something, as does the dark figure with hair whipping around it’s face. I think I like the cover more after reading the book!

The Premise: Yeine Darr’s mother has recently died, and soon after the death Yeine was called to the palace in Sky, seat of the powerful Arameri family. Yeine expects to be killed off is surprised when her grandfather, who disowned her mother years ago, formally announces that she is now one of his heirs. The problem is that he already has two heirs – Yeine’s cousins Relad and Scimina. To be Arameri is to be utterly ruthless, and Yeine does not fit into this world although as a Darr she’s a leader in her own right. Yeine is being thrown into the mix without much knowledge of the family and the palace of Sky, including it’s four resident gods, who have been chained in human form by Itempas, the Skyfather.

Read chapter 1, chapter 2, and chapter 3 of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

My Thoughts: This book started off very strong for me. I loved the world building and the beautiful palace of Sky which towers over the city of Sky on top of a giant, impossible column – a palace created by gods. When Yeine meets her relatives they don’t think much of her and her “barbaric” upbringing as a Darr. It doesn’t help that she is really half Darr and half-Amn, since her mother abdicated when she met Yeine’s father. (A minus for Yeine’s family, a big plus for me – I love a heroine of mixed race). It seems like a big clash of cultures where Yeine’s world is equivalent to a matriarchal, Amazonian, tribal society who are used to plain speaking, while the Arameri are a metropolitan, Euro-centric society who value treachery and maneuvering. The power is definitely in the hands of the Arameri, who have magic, religion, and four captive gods to rule the world, and who are ahead of the game of succession against Yeine.

The basic story of the universe begins with one god, Nahadoth, who represents chaos, darkness, and change. He is joined by his brother Itempas, who is his opposite – the god of order and light, and their sister Enefa was the gray in between, and bringer of Life to the universe. They also have children. If you have ever read Greek or Roman mythology you should have and idea regarding the things that gods do which seem dysfunctional and childish to mere mortals. This is the case here – their morality is different from Yeine’s and our own and sometimes their relationships are surprising.

The gods were fascinating characters. Yeine’s first encounter with them starts off with a bang when her cousin Scimina sics the most powerful of the gods, Nahadoth, on her like a horrifying hunting dog. The desperate race through the castle is riveting. Anyway, Yeine meets the gods and throughout the book she learns the real events that led to their slavery, rather than the story she was brought up to believe. The gods want to be free from the chains put upon them by Itempas and they have plans that involve Yeine.

Yeine finds herself manipulated from multiple directions. From the gods, and from her family, who have their own power struggles that she is not completely privy to. In the meantime, Yeine has her own agenda. She didn’t come to Sky because she was summoned. She wants to find out what really happened in her mother’s recent death. Her first suspects are of course her Arameri relatives, and so she asks questions about her mother and learns the family dynamics. Not all the answers are easy. Yeine’s mother, who she remembers as loving and open, was someone else in the palace of Sky. Somehow this is related to the current fight for succession.

I thought the multiple machinations were very clever in sucking me into the story. I wanted to know who was doing what, what had happened in the past and what was going to happen. This story is told from the first person POV, but throughout the book Yeine’s recalling what has happened to her and sometimes her memory is faulty. Once in a while, she backs up and restarts, and she has conversations with herself about what was happening or what will happen next. Not to say that the book was confusing – it was the opposite. The prose is clear and simple – it has a sort of young adult feel because of this. The hints of what would happen next were the most effective in keeping me reading to see if my guess was right.  Usually I was still wrong. There were a couple of plot twists I did not expect.

Like Yeine, I was drawn to the gods and in particular Nahadoth, although Sieh, his son, the god of mischief who usually takes the form of a child, was compelling as well. Sieh seems almost human in his need for comfort, but Nahadoth was temperamental and hard to read, like you’d expect from the god of chaos. The idea that a slip of the tongue from an Arameri in commanding him and he will happily kill them added to his fearful power. Any one of the gods is capable of horror beyond imagining. That’s why when the relationship between Yeine and the gods changes, it began to feel nonsensical.  After the narrative stresses how immense their power is, how time moves differently for them, how alien their minds are compared to a mortals, the idea that Yeine would mean much to them in the short time this book spans was difficult to believe. I allow that the gods shared the feeling of being trapped with Yeine, and she has another quality that draws them to her, but I struggled with anything beyond that. I can’t really go into detail without giving spoilers, but there was one part of the relationship where I thought the scene that I had trouble buying could have been removed completely and the story wouldn’t have really changed, so I don’t understand why it’s there at all.

Overall: This was a keeper. The writing let me slide smoothly into a story of treacherous families (both human and divine) living in a beautiful palace called Sky. Yeine’s impact on these families (and their impact on her), knocked my socks off, but I did have reservations regarding the extent of Yeine’s relationship with the gods, and because I struggled with that, the book was just shy of being on my uber-selective Blew Me Away pile (but it came very close). If I think about the reservation, I feel like saying “Don’t mind me. Read this book”. Basically – I’d recommend The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because I don’t think everyone will have the reservation I did, and frankly, I loved rest of it.

I’m looking forward to the next book, The Broken Kingdoms (expecially after reading the excerpt at the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). The cover (which may still be a work in progress, I don’t know for sure), looks excellent.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:

Review at by Kate Nepveu – loves it “almost without reservation”
My Favourite Books – positive review
My World…in words and pages – positive review
Fantasy Cafe – 9/10
Fantasy Literature – “a very solid debut”
Fantasy Literature – “Almost perfect debut”
The Book Smugglers – 9 (Damn Near Perfection)
Fantasy Book Critic – “almost-perfect debut”
Starmetal Oak – A+
bookblather – positive review