The Broken Kingdoms

by N.K. Jemisin

Cover image

Series: Inheritance #2
Publisher: Orbit
Copyright: November 2010
Printing: September 2011
ISBN: 0-316-04395-8
Format: Mass market
Pages: 395

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The Broken Kingdoms is a fairly direct sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and depends heavily on the end of that book. It had been a long time since I'd read the previous book (about five years), and I looked up plot summaries to remind myself what happened. It turned out that I probably didn't have to do that; the explanation does come when it's critical. But this book will definitely spoil the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Oree is an artist who sells her work to tourists in Shadow, the city beneath the World Tree. It's a good enough living, particularly for a blind immigrant from Nimaro, the area settled by the survivors of the destruction of Maro. Oree is not strictly entirely blind, since she can see magic, but that's not particularly helpful in daily life. She's content to keep that quiet, along with her private paintings that carry a strange magic not found in her public trinkets.

One of the many godlings who inhabit Shadow is Oree's former lover, so she has some connection to the powerful of the city. But she prefers her quiet life — until, that is, she finds a man at sunrise in a pile of muck and takes him home to clean him up. A man who she ends up taking care of, despite the fact that he never speaks to her, and despite his total lack of desire or apparent capability to take care of himself or avoid any danger. Not that it seems to matter, since he comes back to life every time he dies.

If you've read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you have a pretty good guess at who the man Oree calls Shiny actually is. But that discovery is not the core plot of this book. Someone is killing the godlings. They're not immortal, although they don't age, but killing them should require immense power or the intervention of the Three, the gods who run the metaphysical universe of this series. Neither of those seem to be happening, and still godlings are being murdered. Nahadoth is not amused: the humans and godlings have one month to find the killer before he does something awful to all of them. Then Shiny somehow kills a bunch of priests of Itempas, and the Order is after both him and Oree. Desperate, she turns to her former boyfriend and the godlings for help, and is pulled into the heart of a dark conspiracy.

The Broken Kingdoms adds a few new elements to Jemisin's world-building, although it never quite builds up to the level of metaphysics of the previous book. But it's mostly a book about Oree: her exasperated care of Shiny, her attempts to navigate her rapidly complicating life, and her determination to do the right thing for her friends. It's the sort of book that pits cosmic power and grand schemes against the determined inner morality of a single person who is more powerful than she thinks she is. That part of the story I liked quite a lot.

Shiny, and Oree's complicated relationship with Shiny, I wasn't as fond of. Oree treats him like a broken and possibly healing person, which is true, but he's also passively abusive in his dark moping. Jemisin tries very hard throughout the book to help the reader try to grasp a bit of what must be going through Shiny's head, and she does succeed at times, but I never much cared for what I found there. And neither Nahadoth nor Yeine, when they finally make their appearance, are very likable. (Yeine in particular I found deeply disappointing and not up to her level of ethics in the first book.) Oree is still quite capable of carrying the story single-handed, and I did like her godling friends. But I felt like the ending required liking Shiny a lot more than I did, or being a lot more sympathetic to Nahadoth and Yeine than I was, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I enjoyed reading about Oree, but I felt like this story gave her a remarkably depressing ending.

This book is also structured with a long middle section where everything seems to get more and more horrible and the antagonists are doing awful things. It's a common structural way to build tension that I rarely like. Even knowing that there's doubtless an upward arc and protagonist triumph coming, those sections are often unpleasant and difficult to read through, and I had that reaction here.

The Broken Kingdoms is less of a weird romance than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (although there is some romance), so you may enjoy it more if you thought that angle was overdone. It does have some interesting world-building, particularly at the godling level, and Lil is one of my favorite characters. I think Oree got a raw deal from the story and would have preferred a different ending, but I'm not sorry I read it.

Followed by The Kingdoms of Gods.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2016-11-14

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