Monday, 16 July 2012

Book review: the Inheritance Trilogy

I've recently read the Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. I'd heard good things about the trilogy, and so my expectations were quite high. The books met those expectations with flying colours.

You know how some books can be put down and returned to later, and some books you just have to read all in one gulp? All three of the Inheritance Trilogy were 'gulp' books for me. I had some late nights while reading these. Not that I am complaining. I love it when a book picks me up and shakes me like that.

The Inheritance Trilogy is set in a world where the three Gods and their numerous children, the Godlings, are not vague distant beings, but rather live in close and frequent contact with humans. The books are set some time after a terrible war was waged among the Gods and Godlings, after which the losing side was bonded to become servants of the ruling human dynasty. The trilogy follows the after-effects of the war, and details how the wounds that the war left begin to heal. Each of the three books follows a different main character, something that I am not usually fond of, but which works very well for this series.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The first book in the trilogy follows Yeine, a young woman from the north who is also related to the royal family, the Arameri, that rules over the empire. Yeine is summoned to court to be a pawn in a dangerous political game that will lead to the throne for one of her cousins, but certain death for herself. Instead of playing the part of the poor pawn, Yeine becomes enmeshed in the affairs of the captive God and Godlings held in the palace, and their bid to finally win their freedom.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a great introduction to the trilogy, and quickly demonstrates Jemisin's writing strength – getting into the minds of her characters and dealing with the psychological implications of the events in the book in a convincing manner. Her weakness is also quickly apparent; Jemisin is not as good at describing the physicality of the world her characters move in as she is at describing the internal landscapes of their minds. This particular combination of strength and weakness leads to a writing style very different from the bulk of epic fantasy fare. I found the change refreshing.

The Broken Kingdoms

Ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a blind painter called Oree Shoth, who can see magic even though she can't see the world around her, finds a God in her rubbish heap. Oree is plagued by Gods, so doesn't think too much of her find. She simply takes him in and feeds him. But this particular God is nothing but trouble for those who know him, and Oree is soon caught up in a plot that she doesn't understand but which only she can stop.

As I mentioned above, Jemisin is better at describing her characters' inner lives than the external world they live in. This writing style is exceptionally well-suited to telling the story of a blind person. For this reason, The Broken Kingdoms was my favorite of the trilogy. All the elements of the story and the overall feel of the trilogy came together most harmoniously in this book.

The Kingdom of Gods

Many years after The Broken Kingdoms, the trickster child Godling Sieh has a bit of a problem: he's growing up. Sieh must learn how to be mature despite his own nature, and how to accept the responsibilities that have been dealt him. In the process, he uncovers truths that will shake the world of the Gods to its very core.

This book ends the trilogy with a bang, one that will linger with you as you ponder over its philosophical implications for days after you finish the book. It draws the plot threads of the series together, and although it does not tie them all neatly, it leaves the story in a place where we can be sure that the resolution we want will happen at some stage in the future. This book also introduces a fascinating internal conflict for the main character, Sieh, one that is beautiful and thought-provoking in its simplicity and poignancy.

Jemisin has an individual writing style. I liken it to a sketch by a master artist; although the scenery is indicated by the barest of lines, the face of the subject is worked in such exquisite and realistic detail that the viewer finds the breath caught in her throat as she looks at it. The characters' motivations and psychology are so well crafted that any writer will want to study these books to try to figure out how she did it.

Because of the lightness of the scenery descriptions (as mentioned above) and the complexity of the character Oree Shoth, The Broken Kingdoms is by far the best book of the series. It does not matter that the world is hazy; Oree is blind and cannot see it anyway. I think this was an elegant matching of character and writer, and it is something that has made me think: what kind of character would suit my writing style? I'm not sure.

Learn more about N.K. Jemisin:
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