The Kingdom of Gods is the third book in the Inheritance trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. The first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, was nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy awards. In my opinion, the next book The Broken Kingdoms was even a little stronger. The Kingdom of Gods was one of my most anticipated books of 2011 given that I loved the first two novels in the series and N. K. Jemisin is one of my new must-read authors because of that.
While each of the books in this series does have a different main character and stands alone to an extent, the events of each book do influence the next one. There will be spoilers for the previous two books in this series in this review.
The Kingdom of Gods takes place approximately 100 years after the end of the previous novel and is told from the perspective of Sieh, the god of childhood and the oldest of the godlings. Sieh is still unable to forgive Itempas and feels betrayed when he spies on Yeine with Itempas and realizes she has forgiven him. Once he cannot stand watching them anymore, Sieh flees to Sky where he meets two six-year-old Arameri twins, Shahar and Dekarta. The young boy and girl are oblivious to what Sieh is, but when he returns a year later to meet with them, they have figured out that he is the trickster god. However, this does not stop Shahar from treating Sieh with disrespect and angering him – nearly costing the life of either herself or her brother.
Instead of killing one of the children, Sieh impulsively changes his mind and the twins remind him that he promised them one wish. Since they are not sure what they want to wish for, Sieh agrees to meet them again in one year. One year later they wish for his friendship, which also angers him until he realizes they have no selfish motives for wanting the friendship of a god. Children cannot lie to Sieh, and they really just are two lonely kids who desire his friendship. The three swear an oath bound by blood, but something goes horribly wrong. Eight years later, Sieh awakens to find he’s grown into an adolescent and is mortal. Even worse, neither Yeine nor Nahadoth know what happened or how to reverse the changes in Sieh, and both Sieh and Nahadoth are too stubborn to seek the help of Itempas, the one god who may be able to help.
While I did enjoy reading The Kingdom of Gods, it didn’t impress me as much as the first two books. There are some things it does very well, and in some ways I appreciate it more than the first two because I do think it’s the most ambitious book of the three. After all, it’s told from the point of view of a godling, it ties together and builds on the previous books, it’s the longest and most sprawling in the series, and it involves many of the gods. With this, it also provides a better understanding of the various gods, their natures, and their history. It has a larger scope than the first two books, and in having so much more in the book, I thought it didn’t quite succeed in living up to the main strengths of the first two books – a focused storyline told from an intensely personal and riveting perspective.
At the beginning, I was very drawn in by Sieh’s voice as he reminisces about Yeine. His deep loneliness was heartbreaking, as was his knowledge that he was not one of the three and never could be. The opening paragraphs in the first chapter, which showed Sieh’s awareness of his audience as he poked some fun at the first two books and the reader’s perception of time was delightful:
There will be no tricks in this tale. I tell you this so that you can relax. You’ll listen more closely if you aren’t flinching every other instant, waiting for the pratfall. You will not reach the end and suddenly learn I have been talking to my other soul or making a lullaby of my life for someone’s unborn brat. I find such things disingenuous, so I will simply tell my tale as I lived it.
But wait, that’s not a real beginning. Time is an irritation, but it provides structure. Should I tell this in the mortal fashion? All right, then, linear. Slooooow. You require context. [pp. 5]
As in the first two books in the series, N. K. Jemisin employs a casual, conversational tone where it seems like the narrator really is talking to you personally. I love this style, and I love how it sets up Sieh’s personality instantly in this book. Right away, he doesn’t quite seem trustworthy and he seems to look down on us mere mortals, too. He’s not quite omniscient, though, as some of the plot deals with Sieh’s inability to remember a past event and there’s a lot of mystery between that and Sieh’s inexplicable loss of immortality.
Although I was drawn in very early, it didn’t maintain that level of interest soon afterward. Mostly, that’s because it took a while to get to the heart of the main conflict, and I just wasn’t invested in the characters enough to be compelled by the more personal story. Once the plot started to reveal it was more than just Sieh’s problem of mortality and his relationship with the Arameri twins, it got a lot better. However, I did find my interest waning at times before it got to the bigger picture, which isn’t something that happened with the first two books. Later parts were stronger, though, and it did have a very memorable, emotional ending that partially made up for some of the wandering earlier, especially since it did all come around full circle into a satisfying, fitting conclusion that worked well with the beginning. (That said, the end was abrupt and over rather quickly – but it had that personal, emotional punch I wanted and expected from a book in this series.)
The main reason my interest waned for a bit was Sieh himself and the time spent with Shahar and the other Arameri. I’m a bit conflicted about Sieh as a character. He’s an interesting character to read about, but I also felt like he encompassed too much to the point where he seemed inconsistent. Perhaps it’s just because he’s the only one of the godlings who gets a perspective or because he’s the most ancient, but he didn’t seem as definable as the original three or any of the other godlings we meet. Nahadoth is chaos, Yeine is balance, and Itempas is stability. Sieh is called the trickster, the prankster, the child god. He embodies the qualities of childhood – a flair for mischief and impulsiveness. He’s also shown to occasionally be a trickster who schemes behind the scenes, but I had trouble seeing him that way once I was inside his head. Sieh is not prone to subtlety and most of the tricks we see him do are more childish pranks, like changing the runes for warmth on a toilet seat to cold. I have some trouble reconciling this personality with a trickster, someone I think of as being more subtle with bigger schemes, particularly considering this book’s emphasis on the nature of the gods and how they must be true to these natures.
In particular, Sieh’s scenes with Shahar also didn’t entirely work for me. There were some events that took place later in that story that proved important, but I just never really understood why Sieh cared at all for Shahar. He’s a god, albeit a lonely one who can sympathize with her own loneliness, but it seemed odd to me that he’d become so attached to her. She pissed him off and she’s an Arameri, a group of people he hates on principle as they enslaved him. Furthermore, she just didn’t seem particularly extraordinary in spite of her status as heir. On the other hand, I could completely see why he’d care about Deka, who was endearing. Deka actually did seem special – a dreamer who was very obviously intelligent and had some unique qualities and had a lot of chemistry with Sieh. In fact, Deka was my favorite character in the book aside from some of the gods.
Speaking of which, the various gods were the best part of the book. Through Sieh’s eyes, we learn a lot more about their history and how their natures work. Once more of the gods got involved, it added a lot to the story. Yeine and Itempas, much to my surprise, were my favorites. Yes, the same Itempas who was despicable in the beginning, but who changed in the second book – the same god who is the opposite of change, but who does so very slowly – is one of my favorite characters in the series now. At the end of the book is a very powerful scene, and the brief memory of Itempas’s reaction is the part that was most affecting.
In spite of being my least favorite book in this trilogy, The Kingdom of Gods had enough strengths that I’m certainly glad I read it. It faltered at times with some slower parts and I did have some problems with Sieh’s character. Yet the writing, world, the theme of change, and the other characters were all very well done. It also had a memorable conclusion that worked very nicely with the book’s opening, and the note it ended on tied in wonderfully with the beginning.
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.
N. K. Jemisin also wrote an interesting character study of Sieh, but there are some spoilers for The Kingdom of Gods in it:
Reviews of other books in this series: