In the first chapter of The Broken Kingdoms, we learn how the events at the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms had shaped life in Sky. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Kingdoms.
Chapter One: “Discarded Treasure” (encaustic on canvas)
I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS BOOK. HOLY SHIT, WHAT A SPECTACULAR OPENING CHAPTER.
Y’all, there are so many things to deal with, so just bear with me. MANY THINGS MUST BE DISCUSSED.
Sky Has Changed
There are a lot of things here that floored me. (Actually, we’ll get to that one sentence that made me want to literally lay on the floor for a while.) This is a beautifully surprising way to open the second book in this trilogy, especially because we get to see the growth of Yeine’s tree from the perspective of a commoner miles and miles away. Not only that, but then the narrative jumps forward ten years, and EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED. It’s just absolutely fascinating to discover through Oree’s narration just what’s different these days, and, even better, it’s all personalized through Oree, whose gift of seeing magic is suddenly revitalized by what Yeine has done. AND THIS IS PRECISELY WHAT I WANTED! I wanted to see how the “birth” of Yeine as a god would affect the people of Sky, and I’m already getting so much more of this.
The Enefadeh are everywhere. In fact, the way they’re described here is almost as if they’re a nuisance, like a flock of particularly bizarre pigeons who have taken up residence in Sky. The roots of the Lady’s Tree (I LOVE THE NAME I LOVE IT) are now part of the fabric of Sky. There are names for which side you’re on: Wesha (West Shadow) and Easha (East Shadow). Hell, I’ve been getting this wrong, anyway. IT’S NOT SKY ANYMORE. The people who live in this city call it Shadow. DO YOU REALIZE WHAT A HUGE DEAL THIS IS? It’s such an intentional way of changing the very meaning of this place, especially since it’s not about looking up to the Arameri, but down to the shadow that the Lady’s Tree causes.
“We don’t get a lot of sky here,” I said. “You see?”
NO, I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS. THIS IS SO HUGE! OH MY GOD. The very fact that Oree is in even in this place seems like a big deal, too, because wasn’t this once the city of nobility? How are there so many immigrants and merchants and lower caste folks here? Is this something I just never saw in the last book, or am I to believe that the very culture and make-up of this city has drastically changed? Either way, it doesn’t change my perception of this chapter. Whether this is just N.K. Jemisin simply worldbuilding in a way that she didn’t in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (which had to focus on the nobility), or this is a sign of what Shadow is now like, I’m still totally into this.
IT’S ALL SO DIFFERENT.
Big City Living
I mentioned in the video review that for the last twelve years, I’ve lived pretty much exclusively in big cities. Long Beach, Los Angeles, and now Oakland/San Francisco. This is a deliberate act on my part, and there’s a bit early on in this chapter that perfectly describes the sudden departure from my home town to Long Beach. In my case, it was college. It was being outed after graduation and leaving town as soon as I could. (I actually showed up to the dorms at Cal State Long Beach ten days prior to school starting just to run away from the horrible homophobes in Riverside.) Like Oree, I wanted to start a new life in a city that overwhelmed me, that allowed me to be myself and explore a life that was my own. Since then, I’ve had to develop similar behaviors to Oree, Ohn, and Vuroy, some that I’m sure many of y’all are familiar with as well. Living in Hollywood for a couple years was probably when I had to use these techniques the most. Like the “friendly local” smile. When you live in a tourist trap, you’re inevitably going to be approached about something in your city, and then once you’ve been asked where Hollywood and Highland is the first time, it’ll happen forty times a week for the rest of your life. Or where the Golden Gate Bridge is. (I point to it and say, “It’s over there.” “But how do you get there?” “You walk there, I DON’T KNOW I am not Google Maps.”) And you’re torn between appreciating that people are willing to visit the city you love (and secretly hate sometimes, but mostly you love it) and hating the fact that so many people only come to see the most artificial and superficial elements, missing out on what really makes the place so great. (Y’all, Times Square isn’t that great. You have no idea.)
It’s a struggle being cramped in apartments that aren’t big enough, that are located next to an alley that are simultaneously the noisiest and the smelliest in the history of the universe, that are full of old pipes that creak and moan like ancient oaks. Oh god, THIS PART:
My house had many windows – a fact I often lamented since they did me no good and made the house drafty. (I couldn’t afford to rent better.) The den was the only room that faced east, however. That did me no good, either, and not just because I was blind; like most of the city’s denizens, I lived in a neighborhood tucked between two of the World Tree’s stories-high main roots. We got sunlight for a few minutes at midmorning, while the sun was high enough to overtop the roots but not yet hidden by the Tree’s canopy, and a few more moments at midafternoon. Only the nobles could afford more constant light.
If you’ve been watching my videos recently, you know I’ve been excited by the FIRST CHANCE FOR ME TO EVER MAKE VIDEOS IN MY APARTMENT IN NATURAL SUNLIGHT. I just moved to downtown Oakland, and my sole window faces south, with a bit of an eastward slant, and it’s so bright during the day. The last place I lived, I was at the top of a hill, surrounded by trees and other huge apartment complexes, and my window faced strictly north. I got not an ounce of light in that room, except for what reflected off the building next to me. And this is the sort of thing I rationalized at the time by hoping it would keep my room cool. It did, but then that was cancelled out by the fact that I got zero wind or air moving through that place, and thus I was left with an apartment that always felt stiff and dead. But when you can’t afford to live where you want, you make concessions and compromises, taking what you can get that is awesome, and learning to live with the limitations that you can afford.
And ultimately, that’s what this comes down to: I wouldn’t choose to live in a small town again. I can’t. I love not having to own a car. I love public transportation, I love being able to ride my bike to most places in this city, and I love that at three in the morning, there’s a Chinese restaurant four blocks from me that will deliver to my house. I love that on a single block in Oakland, I can get some of the best Ethiopian, Thai, Mexican, and Eritrean food in this whole goddamn state. I love that people from all over the world settle here, bringing part of their lives with them, and try to forge a new existence here, and I love living in places that don’t crush that out of people.
I can already tell that I’m going to adore this book.
Life with the Gods
Perhaps the most surreal aspect of life in Shadow is the fact that, as I said, the gods are everywhere. And they all seem inextricably drawn to Oree for some reason. Perhaps they know who her houseguest is?? Through this, we learn about the gods’ strange behavior, which makes me wonder: Are they just popping into existence? Are they born? Were they merely hiding during the events of the last chapter? I got the impression that they were experimenting with their forms (which included their imitation of humans) for the first time, often in Oree’s presence. (Though I suppose she could have just observed all of this and the gods didn’t know she was there. It’s not clear yet.)
All of this is vital information to help us understand not only how Oree can see the gods, but why she and Madding are so upset when, in that magicked alley, they find Role, a dead god. Which… how??? How can an immortal being die in such a mortal way? Shit is already real and it’s the first chapter.
I really don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Oree’s roommate/guest, the one found in the trash bin outside of her apartment, is the “mortal” form of Itempas. Which: !!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s fascinating to me how Jemisin introduces us to a new character through the events that happen. We learn of her kindness for strangers, such as the woman with the lost family in the beginning or for the strange demigod that she finds in the garbage. She doesn’t have to be nice – she doesn’t owe these people anything, and, truthfully, when you live in a big city, I find that it’s sometimes wise to keep that niceness behind a defensive wall – and yet, she still does what she can to help these people.
Her life with her guest is strange for a number of reasons, which obviously includes the fact that this godling cares so little for his life that he never operates with any sense of self-preservation. As Oree tells it:
My houseguest was not suicidal, not precisely. He never went out of his way to kill himself. He simply never bothered to avoid danger – including the danger of his own impulses. An ordinary person took care while walking along the roof to do repairs; my houseguest did not. He didn’t look both ways before crossing the street, either.
Now, given what we learn later when Oree narrates her guest’s bizarre morning ritual, I’m curious why Itempas acts this way. Is his apathy rooted in a disgust for human bodies? Is he unable to adjust to the very concept of mortality? It’s possible that since he is immortal, he can’t appreciate the idea that bodies are not immortal. Or perhaps it’s a refusal on his part to accept the fate he earned from Nahadoth. It’s a complicated situation, but I understood that at the very least, he missed what he once was. Oree says:
Because it was clearer to me with every day that passed that there was something broken, shattered, about him. I did not know what, or why, but I could tell: he had not always been like this.
So what we get here is a portrait of a god stripped of his power and his glory, forced to live in a mortal body amidst the very beings he once despised, and he’s broken. I don’t know that I necessarily feel all that bad for him, given his actions since the Gods’ War. His silence here is most likely self-imposed, and I’m guessing that his refusal to speak is a way to refuse to acknowledge humanity. (In this sense, he rejects Oree and her kindness both as a sign of denial and as an insult.) However, this is 100% based on nothing other than my own perception of Itempas’s former self. I don’t see him accepting humanity – and coming to love them – for many, many years.
Oh god, how is Oree going to react when she finds out who he is??? And why did a god die??? SO MANY GOOD MYSTERIES ALREADY, Y’ALL. I’m so excited.
I just wanted to quote this incredible sentence because of reasons:
There are some things one can understand only by experience, and there are some experiences no one wants to share.
Please note the the original text and the videos below contain uses of the words “crazy,” “dumb,” and “mad.”
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