Monday, 15 December 2014

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

I am continuing to love this series. It's fantasy with its own voice and world, and a focus that's  unlike anything I've read so far. I love that. So much fantasy is so much the same, and I get so bored. This was never boring, not even for a second. I'd like to thank N.K. Jemisin from the bottom of my heart for writing so damn well. Even if I spent a good portion of the first book wondering if it was really science fiction.

In this second book in the series, we are now in the city below the Tree that we spent all our time in in the first book. If the first book was about the aristocracy, their relationship with their gods (a messed-up one, to be sure), and the power they wielded, the second book is about those who live in their shadows, eking out a living close to the line. About the powerless and what power they might wield. About how they might be used by those with access or proximity to power and what that might do.

It's also a damn good fantasy. The world had been torn open at the end of the last book. Where once there was one god, and one god only, god of light and order, now there are three. Plus all their children. Those who had power as the clergy of Itempas, god of order and light, now have to try to accommodate new powers into their mental universes. Some reject that idea utterly, and plot to bring down the new and powerful presences in their world.

Into this comes Oree, a blind artist who has moved to the city from her homeland after her father died in the aftermath of the changes that occurred when the one became three. She sells trinkets in the market, clumsy pieces of art, and hides her real work, beautiful paintings that are more than paintings. She can see magic. But magic is tightly controlled by the scriveners. Unless you're a godling. Then a godling shows up dead in an alleyway.

This concerns Oree particularly both because her former lover is a godling, and because she is the one to find the body, thus attracting unwanted attention from the powers that be. Which include forces both mortal and immortal, as the new gods are pissed that someone is killing their children.

I haven't even mentioned Oree's houseguest, a man who seemingly, cannot die. Or rather, he can, and messily. But he doesn't stay dead. Most of the time, he is relatively opaque to her, but occasionally flares with magic she can see.

This is a complex one, folks. It's hard to sum up. It is perceptive and biting about power and how it is wielded. About obsession and compassion. About how some crimes are so monstrous that justice cannot simply be about rehabilitation. The wounds left behind by loving. How order can itself be a king of madness, making any deviation a betrayal. Few books have the ability to pack this much in, much less do so seamlessly, without ever feeling cramped or preachy. It feels like a smaller story than the first one, and yet within it is contained so much.

If you want complex fantasy that is still compulsively readable, check this series out. It's something very special.

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