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Review: The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

Gods and mortals. Power and love. Death and revenge.

In the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, gods dwell among mortals and one powerful, corrupt family rules the earth. Three extraordinary people may be the key to humanity’s salvation…

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky, seat of the ruling Arameri family. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history. —from the author’s website

I burned out on epic/quest fantasy in my early college years for several reasons, many of them relating to the trappings of the genre that everyone seemed to be treating as gospel: Young White Man Discovers He’s Special and Goes on an Epic Quest for Random Plot Trinkets, Saves the World, and Finds a True But Bland Love Along the Way. My disillusionment with the genre only increased in my post-college life when I became more aware of and passionate about the treatment of female characters and people of color in the media I consumed. I was tired of fantasy novels filled with endless seas of white men being manly at each other, so it took me a lot of coaxing—and the persistent recommendations of my roommate—to return to the genre.

Bless my roommate. The Inheritance Trilogy—The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods—was everything I’d wanted in a fantasy series but hadn’t realized I wanted until I started reading.

By far the most compelling element in this series was the world building. If you’re tired of the fake-medieval-Eurocentric-bias of most of the fantasy genre, The Inheritance Trilogy will delight you as surely as it delighted me. N.K. Jemisin took great pains to populate her vast world with people of different nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, and creeds. (Perhaps one of my favorite examples of this is a minor character who is essentially an atheist—while the gods walk among men, he sees no compelling reason to worship them. The gods are neither all-knowing nor all-powerful, and he prefers to put humankind first.) There are matriarchal, patriarchal, and egalitarian societies; magic both mundane and wondrous; and clever, powerful, and fascinating people.

Some of the most fascinating people are the gods (and godlings) that inhabit this universe. The big three are the God of Chaos/Darkness, God of Order/Light, and Goddess of Balance/Twilight. Their children have much more narrow affinities, which range from childhood to obligation to secrets to dreams to commerce to hunger and more. Jemisin does an excellent job, particularly in the third book, of showing how different—even alien—the gods’ morality is from humanity. Several gods care deeply about humans, many are indifferent, and some would like nothing more than to kill them all.

All of this complex and unique world-building means that the learning curve is steeper than I initially expected, though it definitely helps that Yeine is an outsider to Sky and is thus learning along with the reader. By the time you get to books two and three, the world is far more comfortable, and I spent far less time feeling as if I were being educated and more time enjoying the story.

Each book in the trilogy has a different narrator. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is narrated by Yeine, The Broken Kingdoms by Oree (set ten years later), and The Kingdom of Gods by Sieh (a hundred years after that). Oree and Sieh were my favorite narrators, though in retrospect I’m not entirely sure why. Regardless, it’s fascinating to see the world through Yeine, Oree, and Sieh’s points of view. The different narrators and the gap in time between each book allow the reader to truly experience the repercussions of book one’s climax. Too often series fail to address the fallout of their world-changing events, but Jemisin lets us see what happens when the order of the universe is shaken up.

One thing that I loved—but some may hate—is that each of the narrators is telling the story to a third party. In the first and second book, part of the mystery is trying to figure out who Yeine and Oree are talking to and why it’s important that they tell their stories to the unknown listeners. It gives an extra layer of mystery to everything that is going on in narrative proper.

Recommendation: Get it soon, provided you remember that this is an adult fantasy series. Most of the Arameri family, particularly in book one, are not pleasant. There’s plenty of murder, torture, and other abuses throughout the books (most of which is off-camera, thankfully). When I can confidently say that people getting their tongues ripped out is one of the pleasanter punishments in the series, you should take that under advisement.

If you can stomach the dark tone of the series, The Inheritance Trilogy is definitely worth your time. Jemisin has made a unique and compelling world that stands out in the fantasy genre, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading her Dreamblood series.

Buy The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on Amazon or find it at an independent bookstore near you.