The Broken Kingdoms: Adventure and tragedy

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Stuart’s new review.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews N.K. Jemisin The Broken Kingdoms audiobookThe Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The world has changed over the last several years and the opportunities that are now possible are too hard for Oree to resist, so she left home to seek a new life in Sky. Oree is an artist with a gift for seeing magic, but magic is the only thing she can see. She has set up shop in a promenade section of the great city and has created a pleasant life for herself there amongst friends and Godlings. Things start to get ugly, though, when Oree stumbles upon a dead Godling. The gods have become angry and the religious factions are looking for someone to blame. Oree’s unique abilities and proximity to the crime make her a prime suspect.

When I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I was taken completely by surprise. It was one of those rare moments where I read a book I was confident I wouldn’t like, only to be left speechless at my misjudgment when I was done. I had tremendous expectations for The Broken Kingdoms right from the start. I would even admit to saying my expectations were unreasonable, since there would be no way to repeat the feeling of surprise I had during the first book. Keep that in mind when I say that The Broken Kingdoms is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read.

The relationship between mortals and gods is expanded upon exponentially in this book. You learn about “Godlings” and some more about the original few gods introduced in book one. After the events of the first book, the Godlings have been confined within the city limits of Sky. Oree can see magic, so having Godlings running around leaving traces of it everywhere provides Oree a way to describe things in a very unique way. This is the primary device N.K. Jemisin uses to skirt around the fact her narrator is blind, and it works quite well.

The writing in The Broken Kingdoms feels uncluttered and natural. N.K. Jemisin is the very definition of a good storyteller. There is not a single moment anywhere in this book where I am taken out of her world by an awkward turn of phrase or a careless word. Considering how many words there are in the novel, that’s just a little more than impressive. In my opinion this is as close to flawless as you can get.

I was a little disappointed again that we still know so little about the actual Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. We get a glimpse at a few more lands and people, but not many when you consider how large the world is implied to be. This is not really a big issue, since I was kept in rapt attention from page one. I just hope Jemisin has plans beyond this trilogy for the world she created.

The tone of The Broken Kingdoms is a bit darker than that of the first book. A beautiful mesh of adventure and tragedy make up the heart of the book. I was definitely emotionally affected by the events that transpired. I was horrified, excited, and heartbroken many times over the course of the story. It’s been awhile since I read a book that took me on such a rollercoaster.

I listened to this story on Audio CD by Brilliance Audio. They retained Casaundra Freeman from the first book, which I was glad to hear. Oree has a subtle fearlessness that Freeman’s voice portrays very well. Freeman gives life to Jemisin’s characters in a way I think very few could. The Broken Kingdoms is a wonderful story, and is on my shortlist for book of the year.

~Justin Blazier


fantasy book reviews N.K. Jemisin The Broken Kingdoms audiobookThe prologue of The Broken Kingdoms, the follow-up to N.K. Jemisin’s well-received debut The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, picks up right where the first novel left off, as Oree Shoth, a blind Nimaro girl, witnesses the conflagration caused by the freeing of the gods and the (re-)birth of the Gray Lady. After this brief prologue, the story jumps about ten years forward. Oree is now an artist who scrapes together a living by selling art and trinkets to pilgrims. Right in the first chapter, she is a direct witness to two unimaginable events, although at first she doesn’t realize the true importance of the second one. First, she discovers the body of a murdered godling in an alley, and shortly after this she finds a glowing, silent man who she decides to give shelter in her own home. It’s the true identity of this man that’s the real stunner — and while anyone who has read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms will realize quickly who he is (maybe helped by the unlikely nickname “Shiny”), it takes Oree quite a while longer to understand his true nature and the impact of the events she is quickly becoming part of.

The Broken Kingdoms is a great way to continue the story begun in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: even though there’s a brand new protagonist and ten years have passed, this second novel feels like a completely natural continuation. The story effectively builds on the events of the first book, and the returning characters, who are sometimes almost unrecognizable because we now see them from Oree’s perspective, play important roles in the new plot without taking away from Oree’s development. Especially the background information about the Gods’ War adds a welcome new dimension to the back story of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

The narrative style of The Broken Kingdoms is very similar to its predecessor, with Oree telling her story in the first person much like Yeine did, frequently stopping to interrupt herself or consider her words, which occasionally leads to several short segments of text in a row. While this staccato-style narration can sometimes be a bit much, it does give the story a pleasant, personal tone, as if the main character is sitting with you and telling you the story one on one. In contrast with the occasional hesitancy of her narrators, there’s a real confidence to N.K. Jemisin’s prose that was quite surprising to find in a debut novel, and it’s nice to see that this carried through in this second effort.

As for the new narrator, Oree is an interesting character in her own right, but she doesn’t have the same pull as Yeine, who made the first novel such a pleasure to read. While The Broken Kingdoms is a fascinating story, it doesn’t have the same hook as Yeine being thrown into a complex court and a disputed succession. The (admittedly highly original) relation between mortals and gods in this world is by now also familiar to the reader, making this new novel feel like an interesting second chapter, rather than the burst of originality and intrigue found in the first book. (To be fair, the book does introduce an interesting new aspect to this relation, but explaining it here would constitute a spoiler as it’s the hinge-point of the entire plot.)

There’s also a large helping of tortured romance to be had, once again of the mortal-in-love-with-a-god variety, which maybe echoes the first book a bit too strongly. Nevertheless, N.K. Jemisin knows how to write of (and with) passion, so if you don’t mind a dose of romance in your fantasy, this might be exactly your thing. Jacqueline Carey fans, you really ought to check out these books.

One thing missing again, unfortunately, is a more in-depth look at the greater fantasy world. For a series of novels that starts out suggesting one hundred thousand kingdoms, and continues with at least plural “kingdoms” in its second title, it’s a bit disappointing that by far the largest chunk of the action so far is still set in just one city, and aside from a few scenes here and there and some vague references, we haven’t really had a good look at the layout of this theoretically huge world. It would be nice if this fantasy world got fleshed out a bit more in future novels (although a map detailing thousands of kingdoms probably wouldn’t be practical.)

In the end, The Broken Kingdoms is a healthy second helping of what made the first book good, but with a different narrator, some new godlings, and a few new twists. It’s hard to imagine that you wouldn’t enjoy this novel if you liked The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The Kingdom of Gods, the final volume in the INHERITANCE trilogy, will be released by Orbit in 2011.

~Stefan Raets


fantasy book reviews N.K. Jemisin The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms audiobookI may actually have liked The Broken Kingdoms better because of this as we got to see more of the world and more godlings, nearly all of whom are quite intriguing, as are their relationships with the mortals. Still, I wanted more of the greater world and once again, the romance/sex was not of particular interest to me. Oree is a little too obtuse in places, but overall I found her at least as engaging as Yeine and perhaps more so. I also liked seeing the gods of book one in a different light and amid different situations. The book felt a little overlong, but not terribly so. And I enjoyed the greater sense of conflict in this one.

~Bill Capossere


fantasy book reviews N.K. Jemisin The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms audiobookBased on The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate (the first two books in her BROKEN EARTH trilogy), N.K. Jemisin immediately became my favorite SFF author of this decade. Her DREAMBLOOD series was also very good, an original fantasy based on Egyptian and Nubian themes. However, as I was working backwards, I got to her earliest series last, the INHERITANCE trilogy. And in comparison, I thought The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was not as amazing as her BROKEN EARTH books. In particular, the YA mortal-girl-falls-for-sexy-but-troubled-immortal-guy aspect really didn’t interest me.

So I was pleasantly surprised by The Broken Kingdoms, her follow-up to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It dialed back on the romance elements somewhat, and I really liked the heroine Oree Shoth, a young blind woman who sells art to religious pilgrims who come to Shadow, the city below the World Tree that grew following the climactic events of the previous book. The reign of Bright Itempas came to an end, the Gray Lady was born (or reborn, perhaps), and Nahadoth the Night Lord was freed, along with a host of ‘godlings’ who made their new homes in Shadow. It is a fascinating milieu, and one I much preferred to the palace intrigues of the first book. In addition, we see the lives of more commoners and street merchants.

What is really great about The Broken Kingdoms is that we see the events and characters of the first book from a completely different perspective, that of Oree. She is special for two reasons — she is blind, but she also has an ability to to see the magical auras projected by goslings and scriveners. So in her world of darkness, these beings glow with bright auras. And when one day she stumbles over the dead body of a murdered godling and then takes in a strange man who glows very brightly (she names him “Shiny” since he doesn’t offer his name or any other information), her life will never be the same.

Oree is a great heroine, one who refuses to let her blindness become a disability or excuse to give up on life. She has a circle of friends who help her, and she makes a precarious living by selling her art. In fact, despite her blindness, she has an uncanny knack for creating incredible paintings that have real power. However, she knows that revealing this ability may attract the unwanted attention of the Order Keepers of Itempas.

Since the godlings have been released unto the world once again, the political and religious climate has been thrown into flux. Several religious orders still revere Itempas, and the Arameri still hold political power in Sky, but beneath the surface many factions seek to leverage the situation to their advantage. As it turns out, one group in particular wants to completely upset the hierarchy of the gods, and is murdering godlings as a means to this end. They decide that Oree’s abilities may be of use to them and come in pursuit.

Oree, Shiny, and their allies find themselves entangled in a series of intrigues that will reveal unexpected strengths and powers. However, their enemies are ruthless and powerful. Finally, the gods themselves will get involved, and we will see new sides to them as things come to a head in the finale. There is even a coda that adds a more bittersweet note to the lives of the two main characters.

In hindsight I thought the characters, plot, pacing, and world-building of The Broken Kingdoms was superior to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Sure, there were still mortal-god romance elements that I could live without, but it didn’t overwhelm the story here. Jemisin also revealed a lot more backstory about the War of the Gods and the religious and political ramifications of events of the first book. More than anything, the descriptions of Oree’s world, in many ways a hyper-reality informed by her unique visualizations, was something fresh and intriguing. Casaundra Freeman remained the narrator for this book, and she does an exemplary job with the characters and story — she tells the story with relish and enthusiasm. So I would be willing to give the third book Kingdom of the Gods a try, but for some inexplicable reason Brilliance Audio has not produced an audio version.

~Stuart Starosta

Published in 2010. The gods have broken free after centuries of slavery, and the world holds its breath, fearing their vengeance. The saga of mortals and immortals continues in THE BROKEN KINGDOMS. 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 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?

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JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff September 2009 – September 2012) Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on Tolkien. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. Justin lives in a small home near the river with his wife, their baby daughter, and Norman, a mildly smelly dog. He doesn't have much time for reviewing anymore, but he still shows up here occasionally to let us know how he feels about stuff.

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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff since March 2015, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he has lived in Tokyo, Japan for the last 10 years with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to fill in all the gaps in his reading of classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners, as well as David Pringle's 100 Best SF and Fantasy Novels, before moving back to reading newer books. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, J.G. Ballard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Walter Jon Williams, N.K. Jemisin, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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2 comments

  1. Fantastic review. I agree with everything you said. This book was hard for me to review because I felt like I should have liked it a lot more than I did. I think, when looking back on it, my main problem was that Oree just wasn’t as compelling as Yeine, like you mentioned and I think the book paid for it.

  2. Great review Stefan. I agree with a lot of what you said. Though I came to the conclusion that this was the better of the two books, but I gave them both the highest marks…so the difference was minimal. It just seemed like everything took a step up a notch in book 2. The characters were more complex, the story more emotionally engaging. There was a serious dose of tragedy woven into this one that wasn’t really there in book one. I’m glad to see you liked it, and I really can’t imagine anyone not liking these books…they are something special in my opinion. Keep in mind that I tend to shy away from epic fantasy, which might be why these stories struck a chord with me.

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