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

The Kingdom of Gods (624 pages, Orbit, 10/27/11) is the third and final book in the Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. This book follows Sieh, godling child of Nahadoth and Enefa, two of the Three original children of the malestrom, all of whom are full-fledged gods. This becomes important, so I’ll give a quick run down of who’s who (there’s a full, and cutely scribbled on glossary/appendix that covers this, so I’ll only hit the basics)

The Malestrom: The chaos, essentially (think Hesiod), from which the Three are born.

Nahadoth:  First child of the Malestrom, and the most like it. His nature is change itself.

Itempas: Second child of the Malestrom, and the least like it. His nature is to stay the same. He was both enemy of and lover to Nahadoth. From the union of these two, matter, the universe, was born.

Enefa: Last child of the Malestrom; she is the balance between Nahadoth and Itepmas. He nature is creation; she is the giver of both life and death, and she created all sentient life.

Sieh: Child of Nahadoth and Enefa, one of the first godlings born. His nature is essentially that of childhood; he is mischief incarnate.

Sieh has daddy issues. And mommy issues. And second daddy issues. He’s also a jealous little brat (by his own admission). Of gods and godlings sold-out and imprisoned by Itempas after the God’s War, Sieh bears the most hatred towards Itempas, not only for imprisoning him but for also imprisoning his father Nahadoth and killing his mother Enefa. His hatred of his second father and subsequent refusal to forgive him provides much of the angst of the novel, and also a few plot points as well. At the beginning of the novel, Sieh has just spied his reincarnated mother, Yeine (see the first book of the trilogy for this story) in the act of….forgiving Itempas. This sends him off in a fit of both anger and jealousy. Sieh feels left out, and like any petulant child, he runs off to take it out on someone else. Back at Sky palace, hiding in one of his empty spaces, he encounters Arameri twins Shahar and Dekarta (appropriately named). However, instead of tormenting them or killing them outright, he reluctantly befriends them.

Shahar is the Arameri heir; Deka is not and gets treated accordingly. His sister, however, loves him fiercely and later makes a decision that saves his life, even as it appears she is destroying it. After their first encounter, Sieh agrees to return on the same day, every year to play with them. During their eighth year play-date, something goes horribly wrong. Fast forward eight years and things have changed drastically, not only for the twins, but for Sieh as well. Shahar is being groomed for her future as the Arameri heir amidst unprecedented national turmoil, threats from the north and a general dwindling confidence in and fear of the Arameri clan. Deka is far away training to be a scrivner, and Sieh is trying to figure out what the hell is going on with his body (cue adolescent angst). After fleeing from a fateful encounter with Shahar, Sieh ends up in Shadow alone and confused. It’s not long before he encounters the godlings who run Shadow and keep the peace between humans and godlings. As plots thicken and unravel completely, Sieh learns he has to face a truth long buried, a truth which could quite literally destroy him as well as the entirety of existence. Sieh wanted to be important; well, he got his wish.

I won’t go into much more detail, as it will ruin what is generally a well-plotted, enjoyable, and satisfying novel. Jemisin manages to create a nice balance between utter childishness and millennia worth of experience in Sieh’s voice and perspective. We know when he’s being willfully ignorant, and usually he does too. Change is hard, especially when its the kind of change Sieh is going through. Add all of the other problems to this and you have a good, tense narrative that’s as much about external change as it is internal change. This novel is the end of an era in more ways than one, but it is also the beginning of a new era, and the double ending is not as annoying as the end of the film version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jemisin leaves us in a generally happy place that is both a conclusion to the events of this trilogy and a beginning for another, if she so chooses. This is a pretty good place to be as an author, and it can work out quite well if done right (see Jacqueline Carey’s Kusheline Legacy series for an example).

My gripe with the second novel, The Broken Kingdoms, mainly that the reader was well aware of key revelations long before the character was, is not much of an issue here. We do know what is going on with Sieh before he does, but his ignorance, willful or otherwise, is neither a plot nor narrative hindrance, for the most part. As usual, Jemisin creates fully realized, complex characters that the reader comes to genuinely care for. Sieh may not be my most favorite (that would have to be Oree), but I felt for Sieh, and for Deka. Shahar is slightly less likable, but she kind of has to be. The novel could have easily dissolved into a soap-opera like love triangle, but Jemisin keeps our attention on the wider issues at stake with multiple plots. These books are marketed as fantasy, not romance, though the romantic element has always played a vital role in these novels. However, the main problem, the thing Sieh has to deal with that no one else can, actually feels kind of glossed-over. It didn’t have the emotional or narrative impact I thought it would, and it ultimately seemed less important than what appeared to be the lesser issues.

The narrative itself felt much less choppy than the previous book, but the issue seemed to become one of balance, as noted above. We visit the titular Kingdom of Gods in the Gods’ realm once, and are shown something both really cool and seemingly massively important, but we never go back there. I know not every little thing has to be important or returned to, but it felt like there was enough build-up for this place that it warranted a return visit or at least a final, closure-giving mention. This might sound nit-picky, but I really wanted the narrative to explore this place. I mean, it’s the title of the book. Can’t we at least stay awhile?

In general, these books, and Jemisin’s writing, have improved and grown over the course of their publications. I am not saying by this that Jemisin started out a bad writer and became better (my favorite of the three is actually the first); I am saying that there has been development and growth over the course of the trilogy. It’s been very exciting to see this and I will continue to read Jemisin’s work and watch her evolvement as a writer. Her voice is fresh, unique and utterly engaging. I give this book four stars, and eagerly await her next book, The Killing Moon, which is due out next March. For more information on Jemisin and her writing, including character studies of those presented in this trilogy, please visit her website at nkjemisin.com. She also recently guest blogged over at The Book Smugglers, and shared her must read list. You can find that post here.

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