Serena’s Review: “The Broken Kingdoms”

Book: “The Broken Kingdoms” by N.K. Jemisin

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortal kind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a homeless man who glows like a living sun to her strange sight. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city.

Oree’s peculiar guest is at the heart of it, his presence putting her in mortal danger — but is it him the killers want, or Oree? And is the earthly power of the Arameri king their ultimate goal, or have they set their sights on the Lord of Night himself?

Previously Reviewed: “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”

Review: Having re-familiarized myself with Jemisin’s first novel and after discovering the joy that is the audiobook version, it was a quick hop and skip over to the library website to check out the next book in the series. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as I didn’t read a book description beforehand and it had seemed as if the first book wrapped up fairly neatly. But I’m pleased to report that while telling a wholly unique story focused on a new cast of characters, this sequel is just as wonderful as the first book.

Set several years after the events of the first book, Oree’s world looks very different than the one that existed before. Godlings walk among humans, a gigantic tree grows at the heart of what once was the most powerful city in the land, and dark new forces grow with the rumors that a new god, a new lady, has joined the pantheon. But for Oree, life is made up of small moments as she tries to lead a peaceful life selling her artwork. For, even without eyesight, able only to see magic and its users, Oree creates wonderous works that draw the eyes of many. But this simple life is interrupted when she finds herself drawn into a dark mystery: godlings are being murdered and Oree and her strange house guest, a man who shines bright as the sun, but only at dawn, are suspected as being behind it all.

“The Broken Kingdoms” is both a quieter novel and a more complex one. In many ways, it feels like Jemisin came more into her own in this second outing. While the first one was lovely and I might have preferred it as an overall reading experience, I think this was the stronger book. All of the little glimpses into this fantastical world that were laid down in the first story seemed to blossom and weave themselves into an interlocking tapestry here in the second. The history of the gods and godlings, the politics and cultures that have warred and formed alliances throughout history, and the smaller lives of those just trying to get by while cosmic battles wage around them. Oree’s story is very much that, the story of a young woman who quickly finds herself caught up in something stronger than she is…or so she believes.

As a character, Oree has the quiet strength and inner will of iron that I find so appealing in a leading lady. She has no grand desires and spends much of the book fighting against her own involvement in the mystery surrounding the godlings and her strange houseguest whom she has dubbed “Shiny.” Readers of the first book will be quick to identify this character, and I was pleased to see that Jemisin didn’t draw out the suspense too long for Oree, as well. As fun as it is to be in the know against the main character in a book, it’s a short-lived joy and one that can also end up working against itself very quickly if drawn out too long. The main character can often be left looking unnecessarily foolish or slow to pick up on clues that seem obvious to the better-informed reader. But here, Oree learns the truth in a timely manner, and, what’s more, her reaction to this discovery adds a new layer of interest to the story and the friendship building between these two.

I was also pleased with how Jemisin used this character. From the first book, it was easy to have strong opinions of him from the start. And Jemisin doesn’t undermine those, but she also develops layers beneath this surface version that draw a picture of a complicated, flawed individual who is none the less a worthy companion for our Oree.

I also really enjoyed the expanded world building and exploration of magic and the godlings. The world has certainly changed since the events of the first book, and it is interesting to see the many small and large effects that those events have inspired. The villains, in particular, were very interesting and appropriately threatening. What makes them all the more scary is how understandable some of their motivations are. The world has changed drastically and quickly, and everyone’s reactions to that sort of upheaval would be very different.

My only ding against the book was perhaps the ending. But this is a largely personal evaluation, and I think, narratively, it works quite well. I had my own hopes for how things would go, and the ending took me by surprise, both in a good way and, a bit, in a disappointing one as well. I’m curious to see if any of these events are revisited in the third and final book!

Rating 9: While I had more fun with the first book, this might be the stronger work of the two.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Broken Kingdoms” is on these Goodreads lists: Speculative Fiction by Authors of Color and Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance.

Find “The Broken Kingdoms” at your library using WorldCat!

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