Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book Review: The Broken Kingdoms

I finished The Broken Kingdoms today by N.K. Jemisin. It's actually the second book in a trilogy, the first book being The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I read last year when it got a Hugo nomination. The first one was worthy of all the hype - definitely worth reading, and the writing style was fresh and different. I couldn't remember exactly how it ended though so I refreshed my mind with a plot synopsis before I started this one... but much to my surprise (though perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised), The Broken Kingdoms is from an entirely new viewpoint 10 years after the first book takes place. It definitely builds off the first book, but we're getting almost a whole fresh story here. Almost.

The coolest thing about this trilogy so far is the way that the first two books have everything to do with each other, even though they tell totally different stories. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms focused on Yeine, a half-blooded noble who is unexpectedly summoned to court and declared an heir to the throne. This throws her into a politically messy situation, and she has to fight to survive. The Broken Kingdoms focuses on Oree, a blind artist trying to make a meager living in a city full of godlings (children of gods and mortals) and half-forbidden magic. Of course she gets caught up in all sorts of trouble soon after the book begins; someone is killing godlings right and left and the authorities suspect she's involved.

The thing is, both of these plots are only offshoots of a much larger story involving the three gods that rule this world. The theology reminds me a bit of Bujold's books that I just read in that it is heavily intertwined in everything that happens, and yet it never feels overbearing or overdone. It's just there and thoroughly ingrained in every character. The gods are so involved in the world that there's almost no need for basic belief; everyone knows they exist. And yet religion still factors in everywhere despite that.

The only thing that bothered me just a bit is that despite the protagonist being blind, there are often descriptions of things/people/events. The protagonist can (minor spoiler) see magic, and I sometimes felt like that was used as a way around her being physically blind. Maybe I didn't fully understand the rules about what counted as magic or not, but there were a few places where I felt like the descriptions were more than a blind person could feasibly extrapolate from her other senses. It didn't bother me a lot, it was just a little nit-picky thing.

Anyway, aside from that I really liked The Broken Kingdoms. I tore through it in a day and a half, so that ought to count for something... (It would have been one day if it hadn't been a work night, but I couldn't justify staying up til 1:30 reading the last 100 pages.) Go give it a try. N.K. Jemisin is definitely an author to keep an eye on. This is her first trilogy, but you'd never know it from the high quality writing.

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