Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Kingdom of Gods" Transcends Epic Fantasy

The Kingdom of Gods
N. K. Jemisin
Orbit 2011

Review by Clare Deming

In The Kingdom of Gods, the third book in the Inheritance Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin brings her epic tale of gods and humanity to a staggering conclusion. If you haven't read the first two books, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, then this third book may not be the place to start. Each of the first two books could be read as a stand-alone novel, following the narrative of a single character as she explores her world. The reader is swept along in that process of discovery. In this final volume, some familiarity with the mythology established in the first books is assumed. There is a quick summary of the origin of the Three (gods), but it is told very much through the lens of the viewpoint character's opinion.

Unlike the first two books, The Kingom of Gods follows a godling's story rather than that of a mortal woman. Godlings are offspring of the Three, and have more specific realms of power. Sieh is the eldest of the godlings, and ironically is a god of childhood in all of its aspects. Sulking in the bowels of the city of Sky, rejected and alone, Sieh is found by the two Arameri heirs, just children at the novel's opening. The Arameri are humans who have ruled over the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for millenia, and although their power has waned, they still maintain their aristocracy. These two twins, Shahar and Dekarta, strike a mixture of feelings in Sieh, for in the recent past, the Arameri had enslaved most of the gods, including Sieh. On one hand, he would like to kill them for what their ancestors did, but on the other, they are children.

When the twins convince Sieh to take a blood-oath of friendship, something goes terribly wrong. The underpalace is destroyed, and while Shahar and Dekarta are rescued and healed, Sieh vanishes and his corporeal form fades. Years later he returns to consciousness, inadvertently summoned by a sixteen-year-old Shahar. Sieh soon discovers a horrifying transformation has occured. Not only has he become inexplicably mortal, but he is also aging, a process that threatens to unmake the god of childhood.

While Sieh attempts to unravel what has occured, an assassin strikes in Sky, and political uprisings in the outlying kingdoms threaten the Arameri dynasty. There are numerous additional facets to this tale. I found it marvelously complex and beautiful. Characters and themes from the earlier books are revisited, and the consequences escalate to a cosmic scale.

Sieh's character shines as a perfect embodiment of the needy, playful, and sometimes cruel nature of children. As in the first book, one of Sieh's major aspects is that of a trickster. One look at the glossary in the final pages shows his doodles and revisions, and Jemisin captures the godling's resentments and petty grudges perfectly.

I have to say that this is the best book that I've read (so far) this year. By the final chapters, N. K. Jemisin brought me to tears, and I couldn't even bring myself to begin another book for several days. If you enjoyed the first book, definitely read the rest of the trilogy. This is a series that addresses much more than the juxtaposition of good and evil, all with marvelous characterization, unpredictable but perfect plotting, and exquisite word craft.

1 comment:

Howard Sherman said...

The Inheritance Trilogy sounds like just the thing I've been looking for; a fresh fantasy series. More and more I'm liking the day of a series of books you can read as stand alones. It sounds like Kingdom of Gods has some required reading in terms of the first two books, although not necessarily in order if I read your review right. Off to my TBR list it goes!