In the eleventh chapter of The Broken Kingdoms, Oree discovers who she is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Kingdoms.
Chapter Eleven: “Possession” (watercolor)
So, let’s start with this incredible passage that’s on the first page of this chapter:
You know the truth now about Itempas. He is a god of warmth and light, which we think of as pleasant, gentle things. I once thought of Him that way, too. But warmth uncooled burns; light undimmed can hurt even my blind eyes. I should have realized. We should have all realized. He was never what we wanted him to be.
My mind flashed back to those days during the summer of 2002 when I felt disaffected towards the Catholic Church, so much so that I worried that I’d just wasted two years of my life – my junior and senior years of high school! – obeying an authority that despised me while ignoring me. That contradiction was always obvious to me, too, and I struggle with how to cope with my own inability to make sense of my own experience. (And just so that it’s clear, I’m avoiding any general statements or overarching claims about the Catholic Church or Christianity as it applies to other people. I’m well aware that my experience was unique, and I know that these religions and faiths work well for other folks, so please don’t assume I am speaking over your own experience. We’re all different!)
I know I’ll never truly get closure because so many of the people who ruined my experience are folks I’ll never see again. I’ll never find out who in that parish revealed that I was gay and then proceeded to tell everyone. I’ll never get a chance to confront my godfather’s dad for what he said to me when he kicked me out of his house. And I know that the people who called me or berated me or ran me out of that church will most likely go the rest of their lives either not remembering what they did or thinking they did something moral. For me, I find comfort in realizing what I did. I don’t blame myself for being outed, but I find fault in my expectations. God was not what I wanted him to be, and I set myself up for failure and disappointment. I’m okay admitting that! I know that I naively believed a whole lot of things about God that weren’t possible, that couldn’t have helped me, and were monstrously selfish. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge that at sixteen, I was in a lot of pain. It was a violent, visceral anguish that I was experiencing and sought to alleviate through the Church, and I put too much into God, believing my problems would be solved.
God was not what I wanted him to be.
It’s interesting, then, that this chapter pulls back the curtain on Oree’s life, and she’s forced to analyze just how many times she’s been disappointed, how many lies she has lived, and how her future is intricately tied to those lies. Of course, before we get to that, N.K. Jemisin gives a ton of hope, and then she crushes it right before our eyes. Oree gets so close (sort of) to escape by painting with scraps of food she stole from her meals. Y’all, she painted an impressionist glimpse of Art Row WITH FOOD, SALIVA, AND BLOOD. And much like the creation sequence in chapter seven, this was a haunting and exciting thing to read. It’s SO UNREAL. But what’s so important about this is that it’s rooted in belief. If she wills this to be real, it is so.
Of course, there’s disappointment rooted in this as well. After Dateh reveals that he’s been watching Oree the whole time, he adds insult to injury:
“I should note, however, that if you meant to escape through that portal, your efforts would’ve ultimately been futile. The House of the Risen Sun is surrounded by a barrier that prevents magic from entering or leaving. A variation on my Empty, actually.” He tapped the wooden floor with his foot. “If you had tried passing through it via that portal… Well, I’m not certain what would’ve happened. But you, or your remains, would not have gotten far.”
Even when it comes to Oree’s own faith in her ability, these assholes have found a way to destroy hope. It’s vital, then, that this chapter is named “Possession.” In every way imaginable, these people possess Oree. It’s not just that she’s their prisoner. They control her hope, they control her ability to use her magic to an extent, and then Dateh reveals that he’s the arbiter of Oree’s past. He is the one who tells her who she really is and why she has the power that she does.
My hands clenched into fists on my knees. “What are you?”
“I am a demon,” he said. “And so are you.”
Now, I kind of figured this was the case and was mildly prepared for this, but it’s how Jemisin chose to reveal this that’s surprising and shocking. Again, I can’t forget how this chapter is formatted. Oree is in captivity, she just learned her one incredible power is pointless because of Dateh’s magic, and now she finds out the she is a demon, as is her entire father’s side of the family. Her life has been part of a secret this whole time, and it’s one that is, technically speaking, heretical. Yet again, these people are trying to use Oree’s very nature to turn her against the gods. Gods “fear” the demons, so they’re working off a dichotomous “Us Vs. Them” mentality. AND IT’S SO MANIPULATIVE.
But oh my god.
He dropped his hand onto mine again, and it was not awkward this time. It was possessive.
“You’re never going to let me go, are you?” I said softly.
He paused for a moment.
“No, Lady Oree,” he said, and I heard him smile. “We aren’t.”
GODDAMN IT, THIS IS ALL SO MESSED UP.
Please note that the original text and the videos contain uses of the words “mad” and “madness.”
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