CBRIII Maneuver #11 – The Broken Kingdoms

Target: N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms

Profile: Fantasy, Divine Fiction

Summary: From the back cover, “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…”

After Action Report:

What a difference a book makes.  When I reviewed Jemisin’s freshman work, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I noted that while she had an eye for interesting subject matter, but was exceedingly hampered by a lack of practical experience.  Just one book later, Jemisin has successfully cast off her reliance on an irregular narrative, and crafted a compelling plot that doesn’t rely on an enormous plot twist to wrap its story up.  Broken Kingdoms pulls together the best aspects of its prequel, and discards all the unneeded dross that was holding the series down.

The Broken Kingdoms picks up ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  After a brief lead-in where we see the climactic conclusion of the prequel from another perspective, we follow Oree to the remade city of Shadow, formerly called Sky.  The rebirth of the Grey Lady has not only remade the capitol of the Kingdoms, but also radically changed its culture.  No longer is the lone God of the Bright worshiped above all, and the mysterious godlings have returned from their banishment.  Oree, gifted with the ability to see magic, makes a home for herself in Shadow, but we don’t join her until ten years have passed. 

The story of the book isn’t surprising if you’ve read the first one.  The answers to the riddles that Oree faces are almost painfully obvious to the reader, but her narrative is still appealing and she is a strong sympathetic figure.  The Broken Kingdoms makes a very smart choice and doesn’t rely on its gods as much as protagonists.  Even in their enslaved states, their nearly omnipotent machinations damaged the flow of Yeine’s story.  Oree only has to contend with some surprisingly passive godlings, who are on the defensive because of the murders. 

About the only thing Jemisin does worse this time around is the climax.  Events draw themselves to a pretty nice conclusion and things get wrapped up, but the book goes on for another chapter and, like all terrible movie trilogies, sets up the concluding volume.  It’s a really awkward couple of pages with two significant timeskips and a very rushed relationship between Oree and Shiny.  The promise of a really interesting conflict in a third book is intriguing, but it could have been handled just as well by a separate preview chapter. 

While I still feel that Jemisin’s work isn’t terribly deserving of all the praise it has been receiving, there is a strong kernel of good writing here that has developed over two books and promises to improve with the third.

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Posted on March 25, 2011, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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