Broken Kingdoms—N.K. Jemisin
I was almost certain he was a godling. The "almost" lay in the fact that he had the strangest magic I'd ever heard of. Rising from the dead? Glowing at sunrise? What did that make him, the god of cheerful mornings and macabre surprises? (20)I read the first in this series, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, with the online book club Vaginal Fantasy several months ago and really enjoyed it. In trying to be more cognizant and purposeful about reading diverse books by diverse authors (the author of this book is an African-American woman, which in the fantasy genre is not easy to find) I decided to pick up the other two in this trilogy. Luckily, my local library system has an awesome eBook lending system, and it even sends them straight to my Kindle. (Shout out to the King County Library System!)
In this trilogy, none are direct sequels of the others; rather, they include some of the same gods and godlings but follow a different mortal. Broken Kingdoms is set ten years after the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The protagonist of the story, Oree, is a blind woman who works in a market in what is now called Shadow, the space beneath the Life Tree that Yeine made grow at the end of the first book. She encounters "Shiny," who we come to find out is actually the mortal version of Itempas, one of the original Three gods. Itempas was sentenced to mortality as punishment for his role in the enslavement of the other gods in the first book. Shiny, it seems, although mortal, cannot permanently die—that would defeat the purpose of his punishment. And he can regain his godly powers at certain times, but only in defense of mortals. Oree stumbled upon him in what was essentially a trash heap and brought him home with her, where they've been living platonically together. Suddenly, godlings are being murdered all over the place, which is strange not least because nobody knew that godlings could be killed by anyone other than the Big Three (Itempas, Nahadoth, or Yeine). Turns out, demon blood kills godlings and Oree is a demon; demons are born from a godling and a mortal coupling, and the nature of the blood is the reason that the Big Three went about hunting down and killing demons in the first place. Seems as though they missed a few. Once Oree's demon blood is discovered, she is kidnapped by a secret faction that wants to use her blood to kill all of the godlings. After having her blood used to kill her godling lover Madding in front of her, Oree is feeling hopeless, but then she and Shiny develop a plan of escape: if she can manage to put herself in mortal danger, he can temporarily regain his god powers and save them both. After successfully escaping, they leave Shadow, trying to stay safe from all those who would take advantage of Oree's origins. Shiny goes with her and their relationship develops into a sexual one; unfortunately, the relationship cannot last, as Shiny's banishment was meant to be a punishment. After he leaves, we become privy to one final piece of information from our narrator Oree: Shiny may have left her, but she is pregnant. Dun dun dun.
I really appreciate the diversity in this series, not only with regard to race, but also with regard to sexuality. The three big gods, as with many mythologies, mated with each other to give birth to another generation of godlings. While there are two "male" gods and one "female" god, their genders are actually fluid. In fact, the first two of the gods were male-identified Nahadoth and Itempas, who became lovers. They were alone for many years before Enefa, their sister, was introduced to their life from the Maelstrom. This diversity of sexuality is also true of mortals; near the beginning, our protagonist Oree is working in the market and mentions some other sellers working near her. She tells us, "They and Ru, another of the Row's sellers, were a triple and Vuroy was possessive." Polyamorous relationships are considered something rather commonplace in her world.
It was lovely to get to see more of Itempas in this book, as the experience of him from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is primarily as the villain. Now that he's been made mortal, we get to see more of his humanity, especially in relation to his pain at the loss of his children the godlings. But we also get to see how his nature as a god is not something that he can change. Both Itempas and his god siblings were created by the Maelstrom (essentially the universe) to serve a particular purpose, balancing each other out fairly well. But those natures don't allow for a great deal of flexibility. As we learn more about him, it's easier to understand how the events in the first book came to take place, and easier to empathize with his actions.
Also, the world building in these books is phenomenal. I would definitely consider it a high fantasy series, worthy of its own world map as the best fantasy series are. I'm looking forward to reading more from N.K. Jemisin, and feel lucky that she has quite a few already published books for me to enjoy. No waiting!