In the first chapter of The Kingdom of the Gods, I AM SO HAPPY THAT I WAS COMPLETELY UNPREPARED FOR THIS BOOK. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start The Kingdom of the Gods.
Let us bask in the beauty of my wrongness.
- I just unabashedly love how this book starts: with a reflection of Sieh’s loneliness and then Sieh viciously informing us that there is no narrative sleight of hand waiting to trick us. (Though, he is a trickster god, so CAN WE EVEN TRUST HIM?)
- Before this chapter gets as personal and intimate as it does, though, Sieh informs us of the scope of this all. Like we learned in the previous books, history matters. It matters because it is always informing the present, even if we don’t want it to.
- (I’m also not going to complain because I adore the fact that I get another chance to learn more about how this world came to be. It’s fascinating!)
- I think you could also see much more obvious parallels between the narration styles that belonged to Yeine and Oree, and I say that because this is so wholly different from them. Sieh’s smugness, his righteousness, and his anger is in every paragraph here. It’s exciting! I love that these books are clearly connected, and yet, each one feels unlike the others. Plus, I admit that I really like Sieh as a character. He’s complicated and unsettling, and I think it’s a bold choice to make him the narrator.
- The wound provided by the end of The Broken Kingdoms actually felt very new to me; I finished that book and began this one in the span of four hours, so the first post-Maelstrom scene was brutally raw to me. I imagine that this might have been very different for a lot of you, especially if you had to wait a year or so between books. Just… oh god, Yeine admitting it was wrong of her and Nahadoth to take Oree from Itempas is WAY TOO MUCH TO DEAL WITH ON PAGE 8 OF THIS GODDAMN BOOK.
- It’s also interesting how quickly Jemisin re-contextualizes the end of the last book for us by giving us Sieh’s perspective on Itempas’s punishment. Like Nahadoth, Sieh has very little interest in forgiving his father, but matters are complicated by the loneliness he feels. Just ten pages into this book and I feel like Jemisin has been able to brilliantly capture Sieh’s childlike nature. He longs for affection. He desires attention. He despises that his parents are not paying attention to him and in the same breath, he feels comforted by them comforting one another. He is, in every respect, a child inside, his emotions extreme and polarizing and contradictory, and it’s incredible to read.
- And then, Jemisin wrenches her story with a sharp turn for the surreal and the metaphorical and the terrifying IN THE FIRST GODDAMN CHAPTER.
- Initially, I didn’t think the two lost twins who stumble upon Sieh would amount to much of anything, except to serve as a reminder of what life was like for Sieh over a decade before. The young girl is every bit as bossy and entitled as Sieh was used to from Arameri children.
- However, it’s not long before Jemisin peels away the layers of these kids, and both the reader and Sieh come to realize how strange this is.
- That initially manifests in Dekarta. (THEIR NAMES, OH MY GOD, I COULDN’T STOP LAUGHING.) I spoke at length about this in the second video, but I became aware of how different I looked in Boise, Idaho, when I was surrounded almost entirely by white children. Even if the kids were only super mean occasionally, that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel left out and ostracized. Like Dekarta and Shahar here, young children can often point out the obvious in an innocuous way that still cuts to the core.
- I will say, once my brother and I realized that the questions about our origins (and our parents, who were clearly not our birth parents) wouldn’t go away, we came up with the best defense to turn our peers’ prejudices against them: We told them all that Japan and Ireland had a baby, and that baby was the country of Mexico, and that earthquakes were countries making babies. I swear to y’all, every time we told this blatant lie, kids’ eyes would widen and light up and they’d go tell ten more kids, and my brother and I would just sit there, goofy smiles plastered on our faces. I hope those kids spent years believing that.
- OH MY GOD, THE KIDS GRILLING SIEH ABOUT HIS MOTHER AND FATHERS. It’s too much, it’s too much. Like I said, kids can be so innocuous about the most damning things in the world, and here’s a fantastic example of that. I mean, they get Sieh to realize that he needs more than love to feel happy. He needs more of his parents.
- (A speculation: Who is Dekarta and Shahar’s mother? Do they wish they had more from her, too?)
- “Well, isn’t that what fathers do?” He had no idea what fathers did. “Love you, even if you don’t love them? Miss you when you go away?” Will you please take the knife out of my heart, N.K. Jemisin WILL YOU PLEASE.
- A year. A YEAR PASSES IN THIS CHAPTER IN A MATTER OF SENTENCES. This book is already delivering surprises to me in the first chapter.
- It’s totally fascinating how Jemisin uses this year to grow Dekarta and Shahar. (Gods, it’s so weird to type those names I CAN’T) In that year, they both come across knowledge they did not have, and it changes their behavior towards Sieh. They’re more cautious and suspicious. At the same time, their sense for wonder and curiosity hasn’t been extinguished yet.
- WHICH IS NOT FOR LACK OF TRYING ON SIEH’S PART. What happens during the kids’ second meeting with Sieh is unnerving, unsettling, and completely horrifying, but not just because Sieh decides to play that awful game with Dekarta and Shahar. Jemisin doesn’t shy away from the creepy, murderous things that Sieh has done. Rather, they’re spelled out on the page, and Sieh reacts quite defensively, first because the kids don’t know what Itempas did to him, and then… lord.
- Let me just quote this part because IT IS VERY IMPORTANT.
- “All your family’s power, all your riches, do you think they come from nowhere? Do you think you deserve them, because you’re smarter or holier or whatever they teach this family’s spawn these days? Yes, I killed babies. Because their mothers and fathers had no problem killing the babies of other mortals, who were heretics or who dared to protest stupid laws or who just didn’t breathe the way you Arameri liked!”
- Sieh’s scathing indictment of the privilege that the Arameri family has comes out in this monologue, and I love that Jemisin literally uses children born into this privilege to contrast with Sieh, who was enslaved by that family for thousands of years. And really, that’s how privilege works. You’re born into it or you inherit it, and there’s no escaping it just through willpower.
- However, that doesn’t mean you’re awful just for having privilege. When Shahar takes Sieh’s rant personally, he reminds her that the culture she was born into is bad, and that he worries she’ll be turned into that same sort of person, too.
- But she doesn’t have to be. When Sieh forces her and Dekarta into THE MOST FUCKED-UP GAME IMAGINABLE, it highlights how wrong it is for him to hold her personally responsible for the wrongs of her family. She is seven. How can he ask her to map the course of her entire life at that age? How can she truly understand the moral choice she’s about to make? Plus, as Sieh soon realizes, he’s taking her innocence away. This sort of moral conundrum was one that would have played out over her entire life. And look, it’s entirely possible that Shahar will grow up to be a consummate jackass. Her culture deems it an imperative that she do so because Arameri supremacy is built into their society! They believe their blood makes them better than others. All the money and power that comes with that? That would be hard for anyone to resist, you know?
- And yet, putting this all on a seven-year-old girl is about the worst idea possible here, so I’m glad that after Shahar risks her life to save her brother, Sieh relents. He admits he was wrong after Shahar points out that she’s damned either way. The cards are stacked against her because she’s choosing between being herself or being bad, between committing murder or sacrificing herself.
- At seven.
- Then, Sieh keeps the promise he made before this affair. Whoever survives gets a wish granted, as long as Sieh can actually make it so. And they have a year to come up with that wish.
- THIS IS LIKE A HYPER-FUCKED-UP FAIRY TALE, I SWEAR.
- I’M SO INTO IT.
Please note that the original text and the videos contain uses of the words “mad,” “crazy,” “insane,” and “stupid.”
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