THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY by N.K. Jemisin
Since I read THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY by N.K. Jemisin within a very short span of time as a single story, rather than review each book separately I’m going to give my impressions of the trilogy as a whole. For those who have yet to begin the series, or have just started, I’ll keep major spoilers out.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the eponymous setting of book one, has long been ruled by the Arameri family from its floating capital city (appropriately named Sky). Ages ago, the world was overseen by three gods: the oldest, Itempas (light/day), and his two younger “siblings” — Nahadoth (dark/night) and Enefa. Legends say Enefa and Nahadoth conspired against Itempas, who slew Enefa and punished Nahadoth (partly by embodying him in human form). Now Itempas alone is worshipped as the embodiment of light and order, while Nahadoth and those who sided against Itempas are forced into serving the Arameri. One of these enslaved gods is Sieh, a trickster god with the attitude of a child most times.
When Yeine Darr’s mother dies, Yeine is summoned from the far-off “barbarian” north by the current head of the Arameri family — her grandfather Dekarta — and to everyone’s shock is named as his third heir, along with her two already-named cousins, throwing her into a cutthroat political battle. This begins her attempts to navigate the strict caste system of Sky, the schemes of her cousins, and the enslaved gods’ attempts to escape.
The Broken Kingdoms, book two, is set in a world wholly changed by the events of book one. Sky and the city that has grown up around it are filled with godlings. The murder of one of these godlings thrusts Oree, a blind artist with a gift for magic, into a seeming war involving godlings and mortals. She also becomes mixed up with a near-mute glowing man (she nicknames him “Shiny”).
Finally, The Kingdom of the Gods concludes the series roughly a century later by focusing on Sieh, who seems to be dying despite being a god. And, once again, the end of the world as we know it becomes a major plot point.
The trilogy garnered a lot of praise with each book. While I didn’t have quite the same level of response, I did find the series entirely engaging throughout, mostly due to the voice of the narrators and the creative use of the gods and their stories.
The strength throughout the series is in the characterization and, as mentioned, the narrators’ voices. In the first novel, Yeine’s point-of-view gives us both a likable character to engage with and someone whose cluelessness allows us to learn and grow with her. The secondary characters vary a bit in quality. Some, such as her cousin, Sieh, and one of the scriveners come alive quite nicely. Others, such as her two cousins, are less interesting and fully dimensional. The major plot is interesting enough, though I’m not sure I’d call it compelling or highly original, and it may suffer a bit from Yeine’s early passivity. I did, however, love the backstory of the three gods and thoroughly enjoyed those digressions. The romance/sex parts I could have lived without as both the language and the plot seemed to become less original when it reared its head, and I admit to having a hard time with god-mortal sex rocking the world of a god. And I wished for a larger sense of worldbuilding; beyond the mythology the world felt a bit thin to me.
I 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.
The Kingdom of the Gods, on the other hand, is more bothersomely overlong. It definitely lagged in places for me even though I enjoyed the overall story. I would have been happy to see it lose 100-150 or so pages. Sieh is a good choice of character and his dying adds a good sense of urgency to the storyline, an urgency that gets ramped up by the apocalyptic nature of another threat. The gods become deeper characters in this one, and the book as a whole has more of an emotional and philosophical heft to it than the prior two (another reason I bemoaned its too-long nature as it dilutes that heft a bit).
Overall, while I didn’t have the same blown-away reaction as many did, I was wholly engaged through nearly the entire trilogy with only a few patches of dead narrative space. The main characters are fully drawn, as are many of the secondary characters. I also liked the way the books explored serious themes throughout, especially themes of loneliness and power. I would have liked more worldbuilding and less romance, but those were relatively minor complaints compared to how the books mostly swept me along. Recommended.