Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Review: The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

I've been saying I'm going to read the Inheritance Trilogy for years now, and when I came across this all-inclusive volume for just $20 during my holiday shopping, I just went ahead and got it for myself:

And then I proceeded to spend the rest of December reading it.

42. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Yeine is a Darr princess summoned to her maternal family's home, Sky. This imperial palace belongs to the world's most powerful and ruthless family, the Arameris, and they have claimed Yeine as one of their own, despite her mother's defection. Though her grandfather announces her as a contender for the throne, Yeine realizes that she is unprepared to compete in an arena where gods are enslaved as matchless weapons.

Yeine is an extremely relatable character. I loved that, while she's inexperienced in the world she's been thrust into, she never comes off as stupid or naive. She uses information as she uncovers it, and while she makes some wrong turns and bad assumptions, she never makes the same mistake twice. She's satisfyingly cautious, and becomes savvier as the book goes on.

Early on, Yeine befriends the gods who are enslaved to the Arameris. Particularly, the child god Sieh, but also the Nightlord Nahadoth (oldest of the gods), battle goddess Zhakkarn, and goddess of wisdom Kurue. The gods, particularly Sieh and Nahadoth, feel like the true protagonists of this novel and the other ones. Perhaps protagonist is not the right word--Yeine is firmly the first person narrator here--but the gods are more important to the world overall.

The most intriguing aspect of this novel, and of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is the gods. I don't know that I've ever seen gods so smoothly incorporated into a world before, in a way that doesn't treat them as omnipotent and omniscient exactly, but just different sorts of creatures, some of whom happened to create the universe. The central conflict in the novel, in fact, goes far beyond Yeine's mother's defection, and back to a Gods' War, where Itempas the Sun God killed his sister Enefa the goddess of Life and Death. In response, Nahadoth and others rose against Itempas. Upon their defeat, they were enslaved to Itempas' favorite humans, the Arameris, thus beginning three thousand years of Arameri rule.

The writing style was not my favorite, and I found the story difficult to get into at first. Descriptions are rough, and the point of view was confusing, because Yeine is supposed to be narrating from a point in the future. I will say, I did find that very believable, it was written very much as if the narrator had forgotten details, and had to go back and add parts in the wrong order. I think this was deliberate, and it was effective, I just don't care for that effect. However, once the plot got going, it was immersive the whole way through. Jemisin does political intrigue extremely well, and it carries the plot of the novel, and lets the reader gloss over the rough writing style.

It was maybe not everything I was expecting, but certainly delivered on the political intrigue and fascinating world. Recommended if these elements sound interesting to you.

43. The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms picks up a hundred years after The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms leaves off. I liked this device because this is really more about the world and the gods than the individual characters of each novel. And, since gods live forever, or rather, almost forever, we get to re-meet old friends, and encounter new gods as well.

Oree Shoth, a blind Maroneh woman with surprising magical powers, is the first person narrator of The Broken Kingdoms. Again, the narrative was a bit hard and disorienting to get into, but soon enough, the plot takes its gripping hold. The Maroneh are the remnants of a people loyal to Itempas, who due to an Arameri mistake, were destroyed by Nahadoth. Now, however, the old ways are changing, and Oree has moved to the city of Shadow (formerly Sky) where godlings have come to live among the humans. Previously, this had been forbidden by Itempas, but due to events in the previous book, the rules have changed.

Oree discovers some secrets about her past, and due to kindness to a new and taciturn godling, finds herself hunted, and eventually captured, by a religious cult. The plot constantly pulls the reader along, and while the revelations are not especially surprising, they provide an opportunity to learn more about both the ancient and modern history of the world.

Like the previous book, this one manages to be both a contained story, and part of the ongoing epic of the gods. Recommended to fans of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It can be read as a separate story, but it would be difficult to understand some of the events without reading the previous novel first.

44. The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin

The longest of the three books is the easiest to get into. Here, our narrator is Sieh, god of childhood, a character already familiar from the previous books. There's no dilly-dallying this time, the plot starts off right away and very straightforwardly.

The Kingdom of Gods could be read on its own more easily than The Broken Kingdoms, but the knowledge of gods and earlier historical events from the previous novels is helpful. The plot revolves around Sieh's connection with a pair of young Arameri twins, Shahar and Dekarta. Sieh's history with their family is a painful one, but times have changed, and so have Arameris, as he will learn.

This was probably my favorite book of the three, as I find Sieh very interesting as a character, and he also has access to a lot of context that the other protagonists didn't have. There are layers of plot, and more political intrigue here, and it all comes together neatly (or almost neatly) in the end. Highly recommended.

45. The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin (bonus novella!)

It's billed as a novella, but it's almost as long as the first book. The Awakened Kingdom feels like as much of a continuation of the same epic story as the other books, and it has a voice and flair that the others lack.

In fact, this was my favorite in terms of voice. It's narrated by a newborn godling named Shill, and she has quite a lot to say! It's very convincingly written in a way that one imagines an omnipotent three-year-old might write.

The plot, as befits a novella, is more simplistic than those of the books. It could easily be taken (and is probably intended) as a feminist parable, but the endearing narrator keeps it from being too preachy. Highly recommended, with or without the other books.

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