In the thirteenth chapter of The Broken Kingdoms, Oree finds the strength to combat her own apathy after the traumatic events of the previous chapter. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Kingdoms.
Chapter Thirteen: “Exploitation” (wax sculpture)
Trigger Warning: It’s impossible to discuss this chapter without talking about death or depression.
You know, this isn’t the first time that I’ve read a narrative that address the trauma that comes with losing a loved one before. Hell, it’s actually been kind of common ’round here because y’all get me to read things that destroy me. But the way that Jemisin has written these opening sections is so haunting to me. I mean, this starts with a reminder that the demons were once destroyed wholesale and now we know why. Demonsblood is poisonous to the gods and godlings. And Oree’s blood killed her lover. This isn’t just a loss of a loved one. Oree’s biology is responsible for it. Of course she’s going to blame herself for it, despite that it’s irrational and unfair.
Until Oree has her epiphany about the value of her own life, Jemisin writes every scene with a vicious sense of detachment. The diction here is choppy, staccato in rhythm, and it truly conveys just how little Oree cares about the world around her. It’s brilliant and frightening at the same time. Brilliant because it works. It works so well! Frightening because… well, it’s one of those things you read and realize that someone else in the world went through the same thing you did. I’ve written extensively over the last three years about the death of my father and how that changed my life. I don’t feel the need to discuss the details again, but I did want to touch on detachment and apathy. Oree’s narration is so affecting because Jemisin is able to capture her experience with authenticity. Time passes in wide swaths; everything feels so lifeless that the narration itself is lifeless by design. I even noticed that while narrating conversation, Jemisin reverts to an almost list-like form:
Hado, for example: “Shouldn’t we at least allow her to recover from the shock first?”
Serymn: “Bonebenders and herbalists have been consulted. This won’t do her any last harm.”
Hado: “How convenient. Now the Nypri need no longer weaken himself to achieve our goals.”
There’s no, “Hado said,” or “Sermyn said.” Just voices and names in the darkness that hold little meaning to Oree at all. She doesn’t even care about her own life, and routinely expresses only one desire: that her life will simply end, ideally by another hand so she doesn’t have to raise her own. So when Shiny is returned to her room – having been tormented by Dateh and the others in an attempt to discover more about his regeneration powers – Oree finally finds that her wish might be granted. Shiny’s confrontation of Oree is unsettling because he’s so calm. He plainly states that she killed Madding, but then offers up his own sympathy:
“I know this emptiness,” he said. “When I understood what I had done…”
It’s so shocking because THIS IS SHINY. EXPRESSING EMPATHY AND SYMPATHY AND MERCY. Even when he tells Oree he’s going to kill her, it’s not an angry moment at all:
“No demon can be permitted to live. But beyond that…” His thumb stroked my cheek once. It was oddly soothing. “To kill what you love… I know this pain. You have been clever. Brave. Worthy, for a mortal.”
So it’s not lost on me that this moment, when Shiny finally expresses something towards Oree that’s close to gratification, that Oree snaps out of her apathy. She realizes the depth of her pain – that Madding is dead, her blood killed him, and she is still alive – and fights back against Shiny’s attempt to kill her.
By the way, she kills Shiny by DRAWING A HOLE IN HIS CHEST OH MY GOD SHE IS SO INCREDIBLE. But that moment where she remembers Madding is dead is striking to me because I remember how crushing it was to snap out of my own denial about my father’s death. Having to accept that death is permanent is so difficult because until you experience it in a close sense, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea. I don’t know that it gets easier, though, with anything but time. That acceptance takes a long while.
For Oree, though, it serves a much more immediate purpose: She needs to get the fuck out of the House of the Risen Sun. It’s due to this immediacy that she attempts to strike a deal with Shiny. If he gets her out of this place and helps stop this group from eliminating Nahadoth, she’ll turn her life over to him. And this sort of deal could only have happened after Madding’s death. It’s not that Oree feels her life has no value; no, instead, this feels more like a noble sacrifice combined with sadness. Her life has been torn apart so radically over the past two weeks, and, understandably, she’s lost her motivation. I think she’ll get it back once she’s further from the memory of Madding’s death, but for now, this decision gives her a purpose. It gives her a goal. It gives her something to focus on so that she can distract herself from the pain.
Meanwhile, the New Lights takes more of her own blood and continues to torture Shiny by killing him over and over again in increasingly violent ways. I love that Jemisin factors in Shiny’s own emotional turmoil into the decision-making process, too. Oree’s figures out that the constant reminder of Shiny’s power – and the addicting desire to wield it – infuriates the once-God. Whatever plan Oree comes up with in this chapter to help them escape, Shiny recognizes that it’ll once again leave him vulnerable and powerless, which he despises. But what other option is there?
I admit that like Oree, I have questions that need to be answered. I don’t understand that whole bit where she can literally see her own hand, and I didn’t understand if that was temporary or not. And what about the fact that the whole painting sequence where Oree killed Shiny to protect herself took place with an absence of paint?
UGH I’M SO UNPREPARED AGAIN.
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