The first book in this trilogy, A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, created quite a stir. It’s a sign that a genre is very much alive and kicking when authors tweak the conventions to offer something original and appealing – and that’s what A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms did for epic Fantasy. So in The Broken Kingdoms, does Jemisin manage to sustain that special ‘X’ factor?
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 strange homeless man on impulse – a decision she begins to doubt when she realises there are hidden depths and powers at work in him. There’s more blurb, but as it moves into Spoiler territory I’m going to pass on it…
Initially, there seemed to be a lot of similarities between the two books – both narrators were young women isolated from any family ties; both of them rapidly find themselves out of their depth, surrounded by a number of beings a whole lot more powerful and deadly than they are; both possess more skills and resources than is immediately apparent. Both have an enjoyable narrative voice. Hm… are these books starting to sound waaay too similar? Actually – no. While all above may be true, there are some important differences.
The backdrop in The Broken Kingdoms is more vivid and varied and while I really enjoyed Yeine Darr as a protagonist, Oree Shoth is even more engaging. Ten years have passed since the events described in A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – which is a smart move, as it means no one has to have read the first book in the trilogy in order to completely understand what is happening in the second instalment. That said, if you have somehow managed to pick up The Broken Kingdoms without reading A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I would recommend that you track down the first book as I think it will enhance your knowledge and enjoyment of what is going on.
Like all really good writers – and Jemisin is certainly that – she assumes that her readers are bright enough to join up the dots without spelling out every last nuance and allusion. So it becomes interesting to see characters we’ve already got to know well from an entirely different viewpoint.
However, what has this book humming is the vibrant story of Oree and her injured refugee. I’d intended to read a couple of chapters – but Jemisin’s magical prose drew me in and before I knew it, I was nearly at the end of the book. In addition to a cracking plot with various twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, there is Oree’s spiky character. She is an endearing protagonist – a great mix of gritted stubbornness and vulnerability. The supporting cast are a wonderful mix of godlings, gods and driven individuals, whose power and capacity to hold a grudge produce a deadly cocktail of vengeful anger. We are given a ringside seat at an immortal family tragedy from a mortal’s viewpoint, with Oree stuck right in middle of the immortal scrap – a very neat trick to pull off. As an additional treat, following the genre convention, Jemisin isn’t afraid to give us flights of descriptive prose that verges on the poetic.
I was completely drawn into the action – and found the ending moving and appropriate. So, not only does The Broken Kingdoms manage to live up to the promise shown in A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, it surpassed my expectations. If this excellent series has somehow slipped past your radar, I highly recommend it.