This time I’m reviewing The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I reviewed previously. To put things bluntly, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was not what I was expecting it to be. I walked into The Broken Kingdom with a greater expectation as to what I was getting. Like the previous novel, The Broken Kingdom is a romantic fantasy. The novel revolves around Oree Shoth, a blind artist who can see magic, but must conceal her ability since it considered heretical by the Order of Itempas. She takes in a homeless man who shines brightly to her magic sight, an apparently mute man whom she dubs “Shiny” who is in reality the villain of the previous novel, Bright Itempas, a god who was sentenced to live life as a human as punishment. The two are dragged into a conflict with the Order of Itempas and their rival group, the Order of the New Light, after one of the local godlings turns up murdered.
The plot itself is nothing to shake a stick at, expanding on the lore of gods and godlings established in the previous book. Here, godlings live in secret amongst the humans in the city Shadow. In bog standard fashion Oree Shoth turns out to have heritage as a demon, a term used to refer to the offspring between gods/godlings and mortals. This blood is what Dateh, who leads the Order of the New Light along with his wife Serymn Arameri, uses to kill the godlings and apparently he seems to possess some himself. The demon aspect of the plot was an interesting twist, though the reveal that they are simply offspring of humans and gods felt a bit underwhelming considering they are referred to as demons. They felt little more like empowered humans and there wasn’t enough inherent evil for them to warrant such an extreme title in my opinion.
As for the narrative I was looking forward to seeing how Jemisin would handle Oree Shoth’s blindness. In fact this was the reason I picked up the trilogy in the first place and as a result I had high hopes that this part at least be handled well. Yet like most other aspects of this trilogy so far, I found myself disappointed. Oree Shoth’s magic sight is used as a plot device to hide the fact that the author cannot be bothered to write a truly blind character. The author uses the magic sight to give Oree vision, albeit a very limited kind, when it suits the plot best and is basically a lazy method of not having to write description from a blind character’s POV for the entire book. The writing in that regard was disappointingly shoddy and at times the narrative seemed to forget she was even blind, using visual description which Oree herself would not be able to describe even with the magic sight. Put simply, this was a weak aspect of the writing, though given my experiences with the previous novel I was suspected this would be the case long before I started reading.
Like in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the romance itself was a bit uneven. Oree Shoth managed to one up the previous protagonist Yeine by being even more useless as a heroine, relying on the male characters such as her godling ex Madding and her love interest Shiny, or Itempas, as crutches for pretty much the entire novel. There is a cliché love triangle of sorts between Madding and Shiny, which is resolved when Madding is abruptly killed. Itempas is redeemed, despite being a heartless villain in the previous book, and is given a sympathetic motive that is somehow supposed to make us forgive him and feel sorry for him at the same time. The way the entire arc played out just felt so cliché, possibly more so than the relationship of the previous book.
Overall I got the impression that this book was more of the same to be honest, a clumsily written romance that tries to be clever using seemingly clever concepts but not quite delivering. Oree being blind is very similar to the frame narrative of the previous novel, and like the frame narrative it is poorly executed. The novel had some potential behind but the clichés and clumsy writing made it fall a long way from its true potential. Its only saving grace is that despite this I still enjoyed it more than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but this was only by a small margin. As a whole this is still a mediocre book in what is shaping up to be a mediocre series
IN A WORD: CLICHÉ