Wednesday 18 January 2012

Book Review | The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin

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For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri's ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war.

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 the kingdom of gods?


The end is the beginning is the end in the vast concluding volume of N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy, and how perfectly lovely it is to see this ambitious, if uneven romantic fantasy series come full circle.

But if a single shape could be said to define this story, it wouldn't, I assure you, be a circle. It'd be a triangle, with the requisite three points. One for each of The Three... remember them? Namely Nahadoth, the god of darkness and disorder; Bright Itempas, the god of light and law; and our own baby deity Yeine, which is to say the narrator of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, born again at the end of that celebrated debut as - you will recall - the embodiment of the dead god Enefna.

This otherworldly holy trinity are not quite reunited at the outset of The Kingdom of Gods, which occurs some hundred years after the events chronicled in The Broken Kingdoms - in short the penance of the traitor Itempas, who walks now among men, disabused of his heavenly powers except insofar as he chooses to use them in service of some greater good - but they are closer to becoming one than they have been in millennia. Good news for all involved... except the Arameri: the ruling class of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms who came to power centuries hence by binding Nahadoth - and his children - to their blood.

Of course now that Enefna has been restored, and Itempas cast out of Sky, the white city on the seat of the world tree, noble blood means nothing; or nothing good. "I was so used to thinking of the Arameri as powerful and numerous, but in fact they were dwindling. Dying." (p.145) With this fall from favour in mind, enter Sieh, the first child of the gods. The first child, full stop, so it is fitting that Sieh, the god of mischief, has taken on the form of a child since time immemorial, and also adopted the appropriate attitudes. He was the highlight of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and though his role in The Broken Kingdoms was regrettably reduced, in The Kingdom of Gods Sieh returns - and returns and returns! - as no less than our sole narrator.

It's a brave choice on the author's part, this foregrounding of a character you would think best served in small measures - and were he the same character, you'd be bang on - but then N. K. Jemisin has never seemed lacking in narrative ambition, and the Sieh she has us spend these 600-some pages with is both irrevocably changed in the early-going and altered little by little as time and The Kingdom of Gods toils on. Firstly he is made mortal, by some quirk of fate, and later rendered still more relatable, more like us, by love, the great leveller that has been both the bane of and a boon to this series.

The romantic aspects of this final volume function similarly. Sometimes they seem central to the emotional core of the story, indeed the series entire, but as often as not these preoccupations have felt superfluous; sex for the sake of some sex, and however exciting such scenes can be - though they can be excruciating, too - all the according angst errs on the truly tiresome. Particularly coming from a god, as in this case. But then "adolescence is all about making mistakes," (p.200) isn't it? And Sieh is finally growing up.

Thankfully The Kingdom of Gods has a lot of loose ends left to tie off, particularly after the leisurely interlude - the calm before the storm - that was The Broken Kingdoms. Thus there are many more meaningful threads in terms of character and narrative for Jemisin to address than the love life of a child older than time in the midst of a tryst of his own making. Indeed it's a testament to Jemisin's knack for storysmithing that this novel is as ordered and intelligible as it is, given all it must - and largely does - resolve.

Which is not to say the story's entirely over, as of this volume. In fact, after the last chapter, a coda seems to suggest a new beginning, and hot on the heels of the coda which concludes The Kingdom of Gods, lo and behold a deleted scene of sorts: a short story tellingly titled "Not the End."

And though I struggled with this series at the outset, with The Kingdom of Gods behind me now - a fitting, if familiar end to this award-winning trilogy - I kinda sorta hope it's not. 


The Kingdom of Gods
by N. K. Jemisin

UK & US Publication: October 2011, Orbit

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