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Here’s more from our exclusive interview with fantasy superstar N. K. Jemisin!
Toonari Post: I know you probably get asked this a lot, but who is your favorite mortal character from The Inheritance Trilogy, and who is your favorite godling?
N. K. Jemisin: I was going to say Sieh, who starts out as a god and becomes mortal. Does that count? [Laughs] Can I use one person to answer both questions?
TP: Sure. For those who haven’t read the trilogy, can you explain how that happens?
NKJ: The third book [The Kingdom of Gods], takes place from the perspective of Sieh, who is the god of childhood. Sieh is not himself a child, although he resembles a child superficially. Although he’s something like 10 billion years old, but he acts like a nine or 10 year old boy. He’s also specifically a trickster god, and he especially likes to play mean, dirty tricks. He’s a little bit of a ‘chessmaster,’ but he’s more of the asshole type of trickster. He starts out by befriending a pair of human children, and when he decides to make an oath of friendship with these two, something goes horribly wrong, and he begins slowly turning human. He’s the god of childhood, yet he starts to grow up—the older he gets, the less power he has, and the more vulnerable he becomes to the things that would harm mortals, but are ordinarily nothing to gods.
TP: What was your inspiration for having that sort of storyline?
NKJ: I don’t know that there was a clear inspiration. I had always intended for Sieh to grow up. In the first book, there is an interaction at one point between him and his father Nahadoth, and Nahadoth says something to the effect that he loves Sieh because Sieh is never going to grow up. As I was writing that scene, it sort of hit me that, well, this doesn’t make any sense. Gods are living beings, and I had established that they can be born and they can die. Therefore, no god could stay a child forever, even one that is supposed to be a child. And I had also established two different rankings of gods. One were sort of the uber-gods, the set of gods that came out of creation, and then there were their children, the godlings. And children always grow up, so I’d always intended for Sieh to grow up. I’d also always intended for the three gods who are part of the overarching plot of the series to reach some point of resolution or catharsis with each other. There was no time for them to resolve all their issues with each other, but they could at least begin the process of healing.
TP: Your discussion of the Three provides a nice segue into my next question. Your books have a bit more sexual content than most epic fantasy novels. Were you ever worried about alienating potential readers?
NKJ: Not really. That’s mostly because I didn’t care what they thought [laughs]. I wrote the kind of story that I wanted to read, and if other people liked it, great. If a publisher wanted to publish it, great. But if not, that’s great too. I would have continued to work on it because I’ve always written primarily for myself. That’s not to say that I didn’t want to get published because obviously I was trying to, but my feeling was that I couldn’t write this with an eye to trying to hit certain ‘plot coupons’ or ‘buttons’ that I saw in other books because I was already not going there. I was already off in territory that I hadn’t seen touched upon very much. The instant that your protagonist is a woman in epic fantasy, you’re doing something that isn’t done very much. And the instant that your protagonist is non-white, again you’re doing something that you don’t see very much in this field. So by that point, I was like “well, I’m already off the reservation, let’s just keep going and see what we can do with that.”
TP: Has there been any negative reaction to the sexual content?
NKJ: Yeah, there’s been some, but it’s been interesting to see the reactions. Some people have said that there’s too much sex, it’s gratuitous, and it’s ‘girly sex’ because it’s from the perspective of the woman. And some people have said that it doesn’t serve a purpose because it doesn’t make a hero go do something in response to that sex. But I’ve also seen people say that there isn’t enough sex, or that it wasn’t hot enough [laughs]. You can’t please everybody; I get that. And again, I wrote it for myself. I thought that, in the situation that I had where the protagonist is essentially the reincarnation of the lover of a god, and so that god is reacting to her like “hey, you’re my lover reborn.” In that case, it didn’t make sense to ignore the potential sexual implications. Plus, since this was inspired by epic myth, and when you look at those ancient epics, they were smutty beyond belief.
I had actually intended for the sex to not be realistic in the first novel because it’s a person having sex with a god, it’s not supposed to be normal, or even titillating. What kills me is that all the negative reactions I have seen have been to one of the sex scenes, which isn’t the one I thought they were going to react to. There’s two sex scenes in the first novel. One of them is essentially tentacle porn for lack of a better description. I’ve seen people argue that that wasn’t actual sex because there was no actual penis or vagina, but it still counts as sex as far as I’m concerned. But it was essentially a tentacle scene; there were more than two hands involved, and I thought that would be the one to squick people out, but apparently people didn’t have an issue with that one. So I guess I’ll just have to include more tentacles in the future!
Stay tuned for more from N. K. Jemisin!
Image Courtesy of Houari B