2010’s The Broken Kingdoms is the second volume in N. K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy.
Ten years after the world changed, blind artist Oree makes a living in the city of Shadow, once called Sky. Although enforcement of the god Intempas’ laws is far laxer for reasons those in charge decline to explain in detail, it would be very bad for Oree Shoth if she were to come to the attention of the Order-Keepers.
Bad enough she found a murdered godling. Much worse that the Order-Keepers know she found Role’s corpse.
There are three ways to kill a godling. Demons can kill them. Any one of the three gods can kill them. Other godlings can kill them. Rimarn of the Order-Keepers can rule out demons: those were wiped out ages ago. That leaves only the Gods and other godlings. Previt Rimarn suspects he need look no further than Oree; she reeks of magic.
Oree only escapes arrest and worse because her uncommunicative house-guest “Shiny” assaults Rimarn in an apparent attempt to protect Oree. Oree cannot enjoy her escape. Not only is Shiny the prisoner of cruel ideologs but his peculiar gift makes Shiny particularly vulnerable to abuse: he can be harmed, even killed, but he always comes back to life.
Whoever is killing godlings did not stop at Role. Other godlings die. Gods do not like other people to murder their children. Shadow is given a month to bring the killer to justice or face the wrath of an angry god.
With no hint as to who is killing the godlings or how, Oree is of great interest to everyone trying to solve the mystery. While she might have nothing to do with the murders, perhaps she does. In any case, the prudent thing to do is to eliminate her as a suspect. Never mind the cost to Oree: either she’s guilty and deserves everything that happens to her or she is an innocent nobody, in which case who cares what happens to her?
There are two factors her tormentors cannot take into account, because both are closely held secrets. One is her house-guest’s true identity. The other is Oree’s true nature, something of which even she is not aware. She may think of herself as a harmless artist with a knack for seeing magic. What she is, at least in the right hands, is a weapon that can kill gods.
This series would have been so much different if only the three gods had ever thought to create relationship counselors. Much of the divine plot is driven by jealousy and a vindictive inability to forgive slight. Surely therapy would easier on the world than having angry gods nursing grudges and acting out? But then the book would have been a novella, unless it was about the therapist.
This shares with many other fantasies a scale detail only obsessives like myself are bothered by. The Gods are gods of a whole universe but they spend most of their time interfering with one specific world. Do all the other worlds get ignored by their creators? Or do similar events play out in parallel on all the other worlds?
This did not attract accolades the way The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms did but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, with its Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy Award nominations and a spot on the Tiptree Honor List, was a hard act to follow. I have to admit I wish The Broken Kingdoms had swept awards the same way its predecessor did, simply because certain persons might have expired of apoplexy long before they entangled the Hugo Awards in their culture war. Still, Jemisin continues to gather nominations and wins so I have every hope for future developments in this matter.
Since this is Jemisin, don’t go into this expecting a natural order that is fair or just or comforting. Powerful people do what they do to satisfy their urges or to protect their power or to gather more power to them. This does not always end badly for the powerless who get caught up in great affair but when it does not, it is not thanks to any care on the part of those who rule.
This is essentially a mystery novel, something that should be of concern to fans of Jemisin’s fantasy. While comparatively few mystery novels involve existential threats to the world, it is clear from this novel Jemisin could walk away from fantasy and science fiction for mystery, a much more popular and much more lucrative genre, any time she wants to. Authors who make that transition often do not return. Encourage her to stick with F&SF by buying her books.
Although this is a sequel, it can be read as a stand-alone.
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