Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin

This is the third and final book in the Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. The first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, was very cool, particularly for the concept- this is a world with gods and men, but with a twist: men have chained the gods to do their bidding and have used them as weapons. What a way to turn upside-down a familiar genre trope!

Overall Impression
A great end to the Inheritance Trilogy. We get to see much more of Sieh, the Trickster, and learn a lot about the god's hierarchies and how the world works. Like the other books in the series, I actually care more about the story and politics going on the background than the personal stories that the characters are going through. I think that's just part of how I approach books though, and the story is interesting in either case. I was worried that the Glossary wouldn't show up well in the Kindle version, as I had heard good things on the author's blog, but I'm happy to say it looks fine. There's also a short story at the end that wraps up something from Book 2.

Plot
The plot was a bit unpredictable and the main character appears somewhat removed from it. This also happened on the other books: basically a lot of Big Things are going on and the main character is ill-equipped or ill-placed to handle all of them. He or she, though, is central to the story as is revealed at the end as everything comes together. Thus, it can be a bit hard reading through the book and wondering what's important. That makes it hard to care about things like the rebellion against the Arameri and the impending war, which I thought are key, but the point is that those things aren't central to the story. This is the story of Sieh and his relationship to Shahar and Deka. It's a personal tale told with an impressive story taking place in the background. I sugget you just take it easy and enjoy the ride. The author does a good job of foreshadowing so the ending is satisfying when you get to it. I could have done without the coda at very end, though.

Characters
The story is told through Sieh's point of view. This is the firstborn godling, the offspring of Nahadoth and Enefa, the son of chaos and death, god of childhood and mischief. I was a bit hesitant at first because I worry about the main point-of-view character being a god. I mean if a god knows everything, can do anything, etc, etc, how could you possibly tell a good story? Fortunately, N.K. Jemisin has created gods that adhere to a rational set of rules. In a sense, they are not that different from us mortals (except when they are) so it wasn't too hard to connect to the characters. While Sieh's story is, effectively, alien to us, there are still parts of it we can identify with.

The Arameri siblings Shahar and Dekarta are also important characters and play key roles both in Sieh's personal story and the underlying story arc. We don't get to see too much of the Three gods, but when we do it's satisfying. Those guys/girls are cool.

Setting / World Building
Sky, Shadow, Echo; the world and the relationship between gods and mortals makes the setting unique. As I mentioned before, one of the reasons I read the first book was its unique play on the familiar 'gods in fantasy' genre trope. Gods here can be chained and, as we see in Book 2 (The Broken Kingdoms), killed by mortals. This book reveals the variety of godlings (niwwah, elontid, mnasat) which is quite interesting.

The author also reveals some more about the creation mythology in her work. The Maelstrom, from which the Three main gods (Nahadoth, Enefa, and Itempas) sprung forth, is mentioned throughout the story. The relationship between the Three is very interesting, but sometimes shocking. You have to remember that although we call them 'gods', that doesn't mean they are male (or female). Hence you get offspring from the combination Naha+Enefa, Itempas+Enefa, and Naha+Itempas as well as any of the Three with their respective offspring. Seeing the Nightlord go from male to female is a bit disturbing, as is the male to male or female to female pairings between gods (and between mortals, too). Our society is becoming more open to that sort of thing and N.K. Jemisin is not the first fantasy author I've seen to include such elements in their work.

One thing I've found interesting (which is really more relevant to the first book) is the fact that in Book 1, the Arameri are ruthlessly ruling in the name of Bright Itempas and the Nightlord Nahadoth is chained. If you assume light=good, dark=bad (again, a common genre trope), you realize that you've basically won. Except that things are terrible. It reminds me of an old Final Fantasy game I played once. While in the game you are part of the Warriors of Light meant to banish the terrible darkness, but you learn that in the past there were also Warriors of Darkness to banish the terrible light. Too much of one thing, be it light or dark, is bad. The Inheritance Trilogy pivots on the importance of Balance.

Final Thoughts
This is a fitting conclusion to the Inheritance Trilogy. I'm not 100% sure of why it's called that, though. It makes sense for the first book, but less so for the subsequent ones. The same thing holds true for the little text blurb on the cover: "Gods and Mortals. Power and Love. Death and Revenge. She will Inherit/Unleash/Destroy Them All". It's really cool, but again makes more sense for Book 1.
While the focus was on the characters, the underlying plot is interesting and the setting is quite cool. If you've read book 1 and 2, you should go ahead and finish it. If you haven't read book 1 and 2, I recommend reading book 1 and if you like it keep going (the author provides free sample chapters if you want to have preview). This are the author's first published books and they are well written. I will probably be checking out her Dreamblood Duology when it comes out.

Next up is back to science fiction. A friend keeps recommending Peter F. Hamilton, so here we go with The Dreaming Void.

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