Someone asked me recently what was the best speculative fiction book I’d read in the past year. Usually, I’d do alot of hemming and hawing as I try to come up with an answer–divided into varied genres and sub-genres and honorable mentions. But this time, almost immediately, I had an answer– The Kingdom of the Gods, book 3 in The Inheritance Trilogy by author N.K. Jemisin.
I stumbled onto the first book in the trilogy The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms years ago by chance in 2010. Someone, somewhere, had mentioned a new black author in fantasy (there are so few it’s a wonder fanfare doesn’t play at the mention), and a female author at that (cue the tubas!). Brief plot blurb: Yeine Darr, an outcast from the barbarian North, finds herself embroiled in a murderous game of royal succession in the floating city of Sky–heart of the Arameri Empire, where gods with seemingly limitless power are enslaved to mortals. Picked up the book and at first was a bit put off. For one, it’s told in first person–a style of writing I just wasn’t comfortable with. Second, here was a black female fantasy writer, and her main characters were decidedly . . . not. But the main protagonist, Yeine, was a POC (i’d later learn based on some derivation of Native American) so I decided to stick with it. And with the introduction of the Nightlord, I was hooked. I finished the first book before I even knew what was happening. Here was a story unlike most fantasy I was used to–with new systems of magic, a fully fleshed out world, and the mind-bending idea of gods as enslaved weapons. The characters were both relatable and unfathomable; the story and plot were engaging; and the prose was plain enviable.
As is often the case when I really like a story, I purposefully waited long after their official releases to read the successive books (look up the term pleasure delayer). Book 2, The Broken Kingdoms, picks up right where the first left off. Jemisin’s world becomes even more complex, with a new first person perspective in the form of Oree Shoth, whose life is interrupted by a brooding, demoted, one-time-deity quite aptly nicknamed, “Shiny.” Both live in Shadow, the sub-city beneath Sky where godlings of every type imaginable live, love, play and eat (Lil the Hunger!) alongside mortals. When the corpses of murdered godlings start littering the place, things get even more interesting.
So that brings me to my favorite book of the past year. The Kingdom of the Gods for the first time gives us the perspective of an immortal. And not just any immortal, but everyone’s favorite child immortal–Sieh. Petulant, infantile, dangerously playful, a bully, a brat and an inherent trickster, I’d taken a liking to Sieh since the first book. The oldest of the godlings, in this ending to the trilogy he’s forced to confront with something wholly unknown–his own impending mortality. The story follows Sieh as he attempts to deal with his newly diminished existence, all the while trying to discover who’s behind a plot to destroy the old Arameri royal family and, along with it, the known universe. Those stakes high enough for you? As so cleverly and imaginatively done throughout the length of the trilogy, Jemisin creates gods with personalities that are at once fantastically alien, yet at the same time imbued with semblances of humanity that make them complex, multi-dimensional and relatable. Even the terrifying Nahadoth–the chaotic, dangerous, unpredictable, uber-destructive Lord of Night–is allowed to also be a loving father who mourns the loss of his children. And when it comes to pushing the envelope of fantasy, Jemisin isn’t afraid to tackle those sacred cows of masculinity and heterosexual orthodoxy–I don’t even think there’s a word (pan-sexuality?) to define the intimate relationships of the gods. In the end, what you get is a character-driven narrative that manages to do what is often so hard for a trilogy this complex–bringing together the many threads introduced in the first two books and interweaving them into a compelling conclusion that isn’t so neat and tidy it ends up being cliche. A great read that I liked so much, I hope it NEVER becomes a movie.