The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy)
by N.K. Jemisin
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielson
Review by Cathy Green
Orbit Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316043960
Date: 03 November 2010 List Price $13.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Broken Kingdoms, the middle book in N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy shifts focus away from Sky and instead looks at life in Shadow, the city that has grown up below Sky and the World Tree. Jemisin's new protagonist is Oree Shoth, resident of Shadow and refugee from a country that no longer exists due to it having been destroyed in the battle amongst the gods in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It is ten years after the events in the previous book in the trilogy and the shift in power caused by the events in the first book have caused both instability and opportunity.
Oree is blind but had a kind of magical sight in that she can see traces of gods and magic and in a world full of godling and magic, this allows her to get around just fine. Oree is a painter of sorts and is able to support herself selling her work to tourists and pilgrims who come to Shadow and Sky. When she concentrates and uses what is essentially blood magic, her paintings become imbued with magical properties. One day she found a man unconscious in the garbage and brought him into her home. He wouldn't tell her his name, but she decided to call him Shiny, because with her othersight he appeared to glow. It was her othersight that first led her to assume he was some sort of godling, although his behaviors such as dying and coming back to life were also something of a tip off. Oree has been leading something of a charmed life, given that her ex-lover, Madding, is a godling, and still on friendly terms with her and willing to do her favors. Unlike many of the gods and godlings, Madding and his sister like regular people and feel an obligation to try to protect the people in their neighborhood as well as their fellow godlings.
Not everyone feels favorably disposed to the godlings, who appeared after the events of the last book when Itempas fell and Nahadoth the Night Lord was released to rule with Yeine, now known as the Grey Lady. The Order Keepers want everyone to continue to worship Bright Itempas in one specific way and are happy to kill to enforce their viewpoint, and there are other groups such as the new Lights which also favor Itempas but have their own agenda.
In addition to the Order Keepers going after people they perceive as heretics, someone is killing godlings. The murder of godlings has attracted the attention of the Three Who Rule Sky and the Night Lord has given Madding and the other godlings living in Shadow a month to find the murderers or else. Given that places such as Maro were wiped off the map as an accidental byproduct of the gods' war amongst themselves, the possible fate of Shadow is too terrible to contemplate. Oree gets caught up in all of this due to her friendship with Madding and because those with power seeking more power and those who have lost power and want to regain it have recognized her magical abilities and want to control them for their own purposes.
While Jemisin's books are called The Inheritance Trilogy, it might be more accurate at this point to think of it as a two book series with a third on the way. While the events of The Broken Kingdoms follow after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the book has a different protagonist, a different setting and a plot that it not really dependent on the events of the first book, except that those events created a power shift that influences the actions of those characters new to the second book.
The Broken Kingdoms can be read as a stand alone, given that enough information about the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is given for characters' actions in The Broken Kingdoms to be given their proper context. One benefit of reading the second book without having read the first is that the reader will learn who Shiny is at the same as Oree, whereas readers of the first book will know instantly who he is.
A benefit of reading the books in order is that the politics of the second novel make more sense in the context of the events of the first book in the series. Also, the world building and city building of The Broken Kingdoms, while fine on its own, is much richer in the context of the world building done in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
The Broken Kingdoms was an excellent story, and definitely did not suffer from middle book syndrome. The various plot threads are mostly tied up by the end of the novel, although not necessarily as expected, and the resolutions are satisfying if not happy, which makes sense in the context of a world in which grudges last for centuries and forgiveness is in short supply. I look forward to seeing what Jemisin does with the world she created in the final book of the series, The Kingdom Of The Gods.