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The Kingdom of Gods marks the end of N. K. Jemisin’s acclaimed Inheritance Trilogy. Since the publication of the first book in 2010, the series has been a favorite of readers and critics alike.
The first two books, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, introduced us to a multicultural world ruled by the ruthless Arameri family. At the beginning of the series, the Arameri’s power derives from the host of gods they keep as slaves. Although the gods are freed by the end of the first book, they continue to live among mortals and influence the world, for better or worse.
We start this review with a warning: the official plot summary on the back of the book is very, very misleading. It says:
Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family’s interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for.
As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom — which even gods fear — is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens?
Judging from that, one would assume that Shahar would be the main character, and her relationship with Sieh would play a key role in the plot. Wrong. It turns out that Sieh is actually the viewpoint character, and while he does sleep with Shahar, their relationship rapidly goes south and they are estranged for most of the book.
Sieh’s romance with her brother Deka is far more prominent. I have to wonder why the book was published with such a misleading plot summary. Writing on her blog, Jemisin said that she started to write The Kingdom of Gods from Shahar’s point of view, but she eventually scrapped that draft because it reduced the gods to the periphery of the story.
The plot summary seems to fit that a novel a lot better than the one that was actually published. Could it be that someone in the marketing department was afraid of touting a same-sex relationship on the back cover?
So it is Sieh, not Shahar, who narrates The Kingdom of Gods, and much of the book is devoted to Sieh’s attempts to come to grips with his sudden mortality. There is still intrigue involving the Aramari, but it is nowhere near as prominent as the official plot summary would suggest.
Although not wishing to spoil the ending, I will say that Jemisin does an exceptional job of bringing the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. The end result is rather bittersweet, but I think it ends up being a lot more powerful than it would have been if she had opted for a more traditional “happily ever after” ending.
Misleading blurbs aside, The Kingdom of Gods is a phenomenally well-written book. Jemisin’s prose is a delight to read, and she avoids the sort of florid writing that sometimes mars epic fantasies. She also deserves kudos for her rich and multilayered plot. There are two basic plot arcs in the Inheritance Trilogy: the gods’ plot arc and the mortals’ plot arc. The mortals’ plot arcs define the individual books, while the gods’ plot arc defines the entire series. This interweaving of micro- and macro-plots makes for incredibly compelling and sophisticated storytelling.
Jemisin’s gods are also incredibly well handled. Writing convincing gods is difficult, especially when they play active roles in day-to-day life like the deities of the Inheritance Trilogy. Yet Jemisin manages to create divinities that are believable and sympathetic, despite their awesome power.
Also notable is the way in which Jemisin plays with issues of gender and sexuality without turning her books into the literary equivalent of a Very Special Episode. For example, there are a number of matriarchies within the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Darr is the only one we see in the series, and it is a land where men are treated as little more than arm candy that have to be protected.
In the hands of a less deft author, this could have seemed like preachy commentary on contemporary gender issues, but Jemisin makes it work. Same-sex relationships are handled in a similarly adroit fashion. The only real quibble I have concerns Sieh’s relationship with Deka. It struck me as odd that Sieh would fall for Deka as quickly as he did, considering the fallout with Shahar.
At times it almost felt like their romance had more to do with the exigencies of the plot than natural character progression. Towards the end of the book, we are told that Sieh in fact still loves Shahar, but you would not necessarily reach that conclusion based on Sieh’s behavior.
Sieh spends a lot of time thinking about how much he loves Deka, and how spectacular their sex life is (though, curiously, the sex scenes between Deka and Sieh are much more subdued than the others Jemisin has written), but he devotes much less attention to Shahar, despite the fact that he supposedly loves her. Granted, there is a lot of bad blood between them, but I had hard time believing that he actually loved her.
That issue aside, this is a great conclusion to a great series. Jemisin has cemented her reputation as one of the modern masters of fantasy, and I think she will be delighting her fans for many years to come.
OVERALL GRADE: A
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