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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"The Broken Kingdoms" by N.K. Jemisin (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official N.K. Jemisin Website
Order "The Broken Kingdoms" HERE
Read FBC Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Read FBC Interview with N.K. Jemisin
Read Guest Author Kelly Link Interview with N.K. Jemisin on FBC

INTRODUCTION: At the end of February 2010, N.K. Jemisin's debut The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms made a well deserved splash and we got lucky to have its sequel in the same year with the third installment promised for 2011. A highly expected novel we all could preview in the extras of the earlier book, "The Broken Kingdoms" delivered with brio and with quite a few surprises.

"In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree's guest is at the heart of it. . . "

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: 'The Broken Kingdoms" stands at about 400 pages divided into 21 named chapters, a prologue, a glossary and a "historical record", as well as an extract from the third series book "The Kingdom of Gods" which is narrated by Sieh - the well known child-god of the first two novels.

'The Broken Kingdoms" is narrated by the blind Maroneh artist Oree who has a touch of magic and came to the city of Shadow beneath the World Tree some 10 years ago just after the events recollected in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms had taken place. In a nice touch that adds depth to the novel, each chapter has a sub-heading describing it as what kind of painting its content would inspire Oree to create.

Connecting to the first novel but with a completely different focus and many new characters, 'The Broken Kingdoms" - secondary world fantasy with magic and gods - can be read on its own and it has a definite ending; having first read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms adds to the enjoyment, while I am quite eager for "The Kingdom of Gods" to see where the tale of the wonderful series created the author goes next.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "The Broken Kingdoms" is an excellent sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because it expands the universe of the series geographically, historically, magically and in the range of characters, while keeping the same superb prose and gripping narrative that made the first one such a memorable debut.

The author makes an interesting narrative choice when she has us - the readers of the first volume at least - know more than Oree for a good part of the novel and we watch Oree's groping towards the true nature of her "guest". In return we know considerably less about the nature of the world - gods and godlings and their interactions with humans as well as magic and its workings - and the novel slowly reveals quite a lot, including some twists that explain more about what has happened in the first volume too. It actually pays off rereading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms after reading its sequel to see both the little touches that we missed and how skilfully the author managed to weave a great story but reveal far less than the "full picture".

From the beginning we understand that Oree has an added dimension since while blind in normal conditions, she can see magic, emanating both from gods or humans. Her back story that interweaves the main narrative adds more depth and complements well the forward going action. The secondary characters are also very well drawn, from her godling lover Madding, to "Shiny", her unwitting lodger and later companion, not to speak of the main villains who are quite chilling as you will discover.

While the blurb quoted above summarizes well the main thrust of the book, "The Broken Kingdoms" has much more, including some great action scenes, delicious irony in the motivation of the villains versus their unwitting results and quite a few musings on the nature of godhood, power and magic.

The major niggle I had with the novel was the same I had with the first volume, namely the limiting nature of the "laws of the universe" of the series, where gods - and godlings - push humans around and ultimately decide their fate. That is something I tend to rebel against by instinct and while I recognize that the characters have no choice but to live in such a universe - the ultimate authoritarian dictatorship backed by infinite power however disguised or occasionally well intentioned - I still do not like it that much and the last part of
"The Broken Kingdoms" illustrate my point clearly.

"The Broken Kingdoms" (A+) is an excellent fantasy with great narrative and emotional power that only its stifling universe - for humans at least, since after all it is the gods and godlings playground - slightly takes away from my appreciation.


Bastard said...

Good to see that you found the sequel to be a good one. For whatever reason I've been holding off on starting the series, but I think I'm ready now. Maybe in a couple of weeks.

Liviu said...

This is a very good series - my only reservation is a personal preference one as discussed the review. I wanted to add my impressions to the review of book 1 but things got in the way so I made sure I did this one.


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