In the twenty-first and final chapter of The Broken Kingdoms, this is about the least okay thing I could ever imagine. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish The Broken Kingdoms.
Chapter Twenty-One: “Still Life” (oil on canvas)
In hindsight, this was inevitable.
There was too much happiness in the last chapter, and this is a book of consequences. It’s the result of everything that happened in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and with this final chapter, we’re reminded that the mixing of mortal life with that of the gods has consequences beyond the creation of demons. N.K. Jemisin’s willingness to paint these characters with a complex brush of emotions, motivations, and desires. They’re instantly likable and then instantly repulsive from one scene to another, but at the heart of it all? We understand why they act the way they do.
It’s virtually impossible to categorize what happens here because it’s so laced in the history that spans eons. Jemisin doesn’t focus on that, though she doesn’t hesitate to remind us that in the end, Shiny was responsible for thousands of years of violent abuse of Nahadoth. Still, when the Nightlord materializes inside Oree’s apartment, he’s not the same god we saw at the end of the last novel. I touched on this in the video below, but it’s nice that Jemisin acknowledges that Oree doesn’t have the same understanding of Nahadoth that we do. To her, he is a being of rage, and she is meant to fear him. Again, that doesn’t mean she misunderstands or invalidates his ire, but he’s frightening to her.
Yeine, then, provides the filter for Oree so that can understand what is about to happen. I should have known that unleashing Shiny’s true power in destroying Dateh would have gotten the attention of these two, but alas, I didn’t think it through. Yeine is sympathetic, though, but she gets that ultimately, this isn’t about her:
“I think you do know – better than any other, perhaps. Look what happens when even one mortal gets too closely involved with our kind. Destruction, murder… Shall I let the whole world suffer the same?”
Except… ISN’T SHE KIND OF TALKING ABOUT HERSELF? oh my god it hurts. Because her involvement with the gods in the last book resulted in destruction and murder, so I wonder if this is her way of preventing the same sort of disaster in Oree. Well, at least in part. It’s clearly not the only reason why Yeine and Nahadoth are there:
“He was sent here to suffer, Oree. To grow, to heal, to hopefully rejoin us someday. But make no mistake – this was also a punishment.” She sighed, and for an instant I heard the sound of distant rain. “It’s unfortunate that he met you so soon. In a thousand years, perhaps, I could have persuaded Nahadoth to let this go. Not now.”
And when it’s put into this context, as difficult as it is to admit it, I can’t argue with Yeine. Nahadoth was tortured and enslaved for thousands of years. Now, he’s supposed to forgive Itempas and allow him to live happily after just ten years? The imbalance is clear. Forgiveness works slowly. It takes time. And is this even close to enough time?
However, I admire Oree for standing up to the gods because it is also fucked up that she is to act as further punishment for Shiny. Yet again, despite their best efforts, the gods have made a pawn out of Oree. It’s particularly disappointing when you think about how Yeine hated feeling this way, though I have a bit more to say on that later. But what is Yeine supposed to do? She inherited yet another epic disaster, didn’t she? First, she inherited the Arameri nonsense from the first book, and now she’s forced to deal with the violent, all-encompassing rage Nahadoth feels towards Itempas. She has to manage it or Nahadoth might destroy more than just his brother.
Oree, though. OREE. I think Yeine admires the fact that Oree takes absolutely NO SHIT WHATSOEVER from the gods. Oree refuses to be the one to stab Shiny in the back, and then she lets loose a quick burst of anger, telling Nahadoth that Itempas loves him more than anything. GOOD LORD, SHE IS SO BRAVE.
Still, the choice she makes, trying to put Shiny’s best interests in mind, is absolutely heartbreaking. With a bit of guidance from Yeine, she realizes she can’t be the one who extinguishes all of Shiny’s hope for humanity, and if she dies, martyring herself in the process, she knows Shiny will break. Irrevocably. It’s fascinating to me that Oree, once again, puts others first, even if it hurts her. And Christ, this hurts, y’all. The way that Shiny leaves… wow. His silence is the worst, you know? And I think that’s intentional. Jemisin has spent so much time slowly developing his character over The Broken Kingdoms to the point that while he’s not a chatterbox at the end, he can have a conversation with Oree. So it’s haunting to me that upon realizing what’s happened to Oree, Shiny stops talking. He leaves silently.
But y’all, that’s not enough. THAT IS NOT ENOUGH TO DO TO ME. I only vaguely picked up on all the narrative asides this time around, and they didn’t feel like part of something greater. I don’t know, I just didn’t analyze them at all. I just assumed that Oree was telling a story, and I never considered who she was telling this story to.
Her child. Shiny’s child.
And it works. This whole book works as an origin story for that child, as if Oree sat there, clutching her stomach, and making sense of what happened by telling her unborn child where they came from. It’s bittersweet; Oree will have a child, she will become a mother, and she won’t be lonely. Did Yeine really give her this gift? Did she respect what Oree was willing to do for Shiny? Was this her way to prevent Oree from being yet another god’s pawn?
The world has changed forever because of what’s happened here. The gods are free from Shadow, the sun rises again, and the New Lights are wiped out of existence. Oree has a child coming, and there’s hope for her, even if that hope might never come to fruition:
And I think that if I wait long enough and listen carefully, one day I’ll hear footsteps on the road outside. Maybe a knock at the door. He’ll have learned basic courtesy by then from someone. We can hope for that, can’t we? Either way, he’ll come inside. He’ll wipe his feet, at least. He’ll hang his coat.
And then you and I, together, will welcome him home.
Well, I’m destroyed. Thanks, N.K. Jemisin. I’m glad to know that the titular broken kingdom is actually my own goddamn heart.
Please note that the original text and the videos contain uses of the words “mad” and “crazy.”
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