While both novels are obviously set in the same sprawling realm, the scope and narrative tone of the first installment of Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy was decidedly grand-scale. The main storyline in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms involves Yeine, the estranged granddaughter of Dekarta, the head of the Arameri family and “uncrowned king of the world.” Born and raised in a remote northern kingdom, when Yeine is summoned back to the towering city of Sky – also the location of the floating palace of the Arameri family – shortly after her mother dies under mysterious circumstances and is named an heir to her grandfather’s throne, she finds herself in the middle of a viper pit of scheming cousins, enslaved – and tortured – deities, self-absorbed nobles, and a virtual labyrinth of bloody family secrets. When she realizes that she is just an expendable pawn in a much larger game – one where the salvation of humankind may very well be in the balance – she must make the terrible decision about how best to use her death...
But while The Broken Kingdoms features the same grand-scale backdrop of scheming gods and power-hungry mortals and a comparably serpentine storyline, the primary plotline revolves around the relationship between Oree Shoth, a blind artist living in the city of Shadow (essentially the “commoner” city underneath Sky), and the homeless man that she takes in and allows to live in her home. Although Oree is blind, she can see magic – and this seemingly mute stranger, at times, literally shines with it. All is well until Oree stumbles across a dead godling in an alley – and becomes entangled in a nefarious conspiracy that involves a heretic cult bent on overthrowing the gods themselves. On the run from city officials and cult members, Oree finds out that her enigmatic housemate is something much more than a mortal – and so is she…
Yes, the same elements that powered the first book fuel The Broken Kingdoms: exceptional world building and character development; a plethora of philosophical, provocative themes (the ability, or lack thereof, to change; the hypocrisy of organized religion; what it means to be human; etc.); and an engaging and endearing female heroine. But it’s the intense and at times brutal relationship between Oree and her mysterious housemate that make this novel a truly intimate read.
Like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms is replete with deeply contemplative narrative morsels. Here are just a few teasers:
• “Of course I believed. Even now I believe, in principle. But when I was sixteen, I saw the hypocrisy in all the things the priest had taught me. It’s all very well to say the world values reason and compassion and justice, but if nothing in reality reflects those words, they’re meaningless.”
• “Hells, if the gods do decide to wipe us out, is it such a bad thing? Maybe we’ve earned a little annihilation.”
• “You’ve spent time among the gods… Haven’t you noticed? They live forever, but many of them are even more lonely and miserable than we are. Why do you think they bother with us? We teach them life’s value.”
Some people dismiss fantasy as mindless literary escapism – and, yes, some of it certainly is – but it’s sagas like Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy (the third and concluding installment, The Kingdom of Gods, is scheduled for release in 2011) that prove those naysayers wrong. These novels are thoroughly entertaining and equally edifying.
Jemisin, who was a guest in BarnesandNoble.com’s Fantasy/Science fiction forum earlier this year, said that the central issue in the Inheritance trilogy isn’t so much about change as it is “change that’s handled badly.”
“…I would say my trilogy’s philosophy is that change itself is irrelevant, because it’s unavoidable; how we deal with change is what matters," she said. "Which I suppose does fit in with my personal philosophy, in a way – I'm a counseling psychologist in my day job life, and much of what I do involves helping people adjust to change in healthy ways.”
Fantasy fans – particularly those readers who are drawn to storylines featuring strong, heroic female characters – looking for a beautifully written and highly intelligent series should make it a point to seek out and read this trilogy. These will be some of the very best fantasy novels you'll read this year...
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.