In the seventh chapter of The Kingdom of Gods, Sieh is visited by a strange godling in his dreams. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Kingdom of Gods.
WOW. I justâ€¦ this whole series is like nothing I have ever read. After I finished chapter seven, I just sat there, thinking about my own sexual desires and how the manifested when I was a teenager, and I realized that a high fantasy novel had never made me think about this before. That’s not even addressing all the stuff about nature, will, and agency that Jemisin brings up in Sieh’s dream. THIS CHAPTER IS SO DENSE. I’ve got a lot to address, so let’s get to it.
The complicated relationship between the many gods and godlings is best conveyed through Sieh’s attempt to find someone to help him. His parents are angry with him or he’s pissed them off. Many of his siblings hate him and would relish the opportunity to kill him. Others he’s never met. Others are indifferent. The kingdom of the gods is vast, varied, and impossible to categorize. On top of that, it has existed for such a long time that we can’t even fathom their existence. And yet, I didn’t feel confused by all of this. I understood the complexity of all of this!
Sieh eventually realizes that he has one chance to earn an ally to uncover the conspiracy he may have stumbled upon, and he seeks out his sibling Nemmer, the godling of secrets. Oh god, I love how Jemisin takes a character we’ve already met and makes them feel so different in another book. That’s the case with nearly everyone in this series: Yeine, Itempas, Nemmer, Nahadothâ€¦ it’s fascinating. Madding was a lot closer to Nemmer than Sieh; Sieh resents Nemmer for sitting out the Gods War, but he has to admit to her that while he hates her, he needs her. So yeah, she’s cold and distant with Sieh, but it’s understandable. Why would she be friendly with someone who despises her so much? Still, she agrees to a meeting â€“ a week later â€“ and disappears. It’s a huge risk, one Sieh acknowledges because Nemmer could just invite all of Sieh’s enemy so they can kill him. But shit, what else could he do???
WOW HELLO EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER WANTED EVER. Sieh is forced to acknowledge his mortal body in ways that are honest and uncomfortable, and I think this chapter is one huge exploration of that. In this case, he has physical elements to it that he now has to care for, such as HYGIENE. He has to take a bath and style his hair and get a manicure. (I haven’t had anyone to talk to about this, but just two weeks ago, I treated myself to my first manicure/pedicure EVER, and it was one of the most soothing experiences I’ve ever gone through. I HAD NO IDEA.) All of this is accommodated by Morad, the palace steward, who dutifully helps Sieh out without a single complaint. (Maybe a little irritation, though!) And THERE IS SO MUCH HERE TO LOVE.
It was clear that she was not fully Amn; her hair had the kind of tight, small coils that wealthy Amn spent hours and fortunes to achieve, and it was as black as my father’s soul.
This sentence is dedicated to the white dude with hideous dreads who sat behind me on BART last week and complained to his friend that he was considering cutting his dreads off because it had become too expensive to maintain. THAT IS WHAT YOU GET.
She smiled wryly, as if she got such rude questions all the time.
MORAD, I KNOW THAT FEELING ALL TOO WELL. Oh my god, why is it that people (read: ALMOST ENTIRELY WHITE PEOPLE) think it’s okay to do this to other folks? A lot of people can’t figure out my racial background, which is a problem in and of itself because you probably don’t need to know it anyway. I have lost count over my life how many times clueless white people have thought that it’s okay to quiz me about my background and say things like, “Well, your nose looks Arab,” (!!!!!!!!!) or “Oh, I thought you were one of those Middle Eastern people,” or “Wow, you’ve got a lot of hair for a Mexican.” (WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN, YOU DIRTY RACIST????) Let this whole exchange, during which Sieh is deliberately condescending and rude to Morad because that’s his nature, act as an example of how this feels. It’s invasive, it’s rude, and there generally isn’t a reason you ever need to do it.
ALSO, MORAD IS PAID. PAID???? Holy shit, Lord T’vril changed Arameri society by PAYING people who work for them. Justâ€¦ that’s a huge deal! T’vril wasn’t the perfect head of the family, and the last book clearly demonstrated his flaws. (Which is all an interesting parallel for Shahar, isn’t it? Especially since Sieh worries about her being corrupted by power).
But y’all. Y’ALL. THE PERSON IN SKY SHE IS IN LOVE WITH IS THE MYSTERIOUS LOVER THAT SIEH COULD NOT IDENTIFY IN REMATH’S ROOM. !!!!!!!! CANONICAL QUEER LADIES AND I CANNOT. OH MY GOD THIS IS SO EXCITING HELP ME.
There’s a point before Sieh is attended to by Morad where he ponders how his life would be different if he’d actually worked at reconciling his relationships with his siblings. He then says:
“If I had done that, I would not be who I am.”
I think that’s a good way to address the themes of identity and agency that appear in Sieh’s dream, where he’s visited by a vengeance god who apparently wants to kill Sieh for something he did? However, that’s a reductive summary of what happens here. I do suspect that this godling is responsible for what’s happening to Sieh’s body, but there’s clearly more at work here. The use of the mirror images, the dual palacesâ€¦ Sieh calls it a cliche of mortals, but I think there is a meaning in why these things manifest in his dreams of the realm of the gods. However, it’s the discussion of nature that piqued my interest the most:
“What you have done is unforgivable,” he said, “and yet I must forgive it, becuase you did not know.”
I frowned, confused. “What does my knowledge have to do with anything? Harm committed unknowingly is still harm.”
“True. But if you had known, Sieh, I’m not certain you would have done it.”
What is going on here??? Obviously, there’s a mystery at hand, but I’m so into this theme. How does our nature influence the choices we make? Sieh is livid at this godling’s suggestion that falling in line with one’s nature is slavery, given that he was an actual slave for thousands of years, and what he says in response is INCREDIBLE:
“You have a choiceâ€¦. You can accept yourself, take control of your nature, make it what you want it to be. Just because you’re the god of vengeance doesn’t mean you have to be some brooding clichÃ©, forever cackling to yourself and totting up what you owe to whom. Choose how your nature shapes you. Embrace it. Find the strength in it. Or fight yourself and remain forever incomplete.”
Which is all so fascinating in light of the fact that Sieh’s own identity is being deconstructed before his very eyes. Who is Sieh if he now has a mortal body and can no longer represent childhood? Who is he if he starts growing and maturity? Does his sense of self change, or does his identity remain the same during the process?
This same idea is then challenged in the final scene of this chapter as Sieh, who previously never seemed like a sexual character, must contend with his growing lust and affection for Shahar, who is struggling with the same emotions. I admit that this is one of the strangest sex scenes I’ve ever read because I couldn’t quite tell what I was dealing with. Were they both teenagers? What’s the power dynamic at hand? Sieh was only part god, so this wasn’t like when Oree and Itempas finally had sex in The Broken Kingdoms. I didn’t get the same sense of risk here, and Sieh was more openly cautious than I expected him to be. But aren’t Shahar and Sieh on similar journeys in this case? Both characters are in conflict with their nature: Sieh as the god of childhood, Shahar as an Arameri child. So is this about them finding comfort in one another, in sharing in their difficulties?
I haven’t quite worked out my feelings on this, and I don’t think Jemisin made it easy to do so. It’s inherently complex because there’s so much stirring around in these characters’ lives, you know? Shahar is caught between desire and duty, between the quest for power and the hope that she can wield it responsibly, and she’s dumping all of this on a god who isn’t so much of a god anymore, who is losing power with every waking moment, and who is being slowly murdered by a vengeance god. (I’m still sticking to that theory.) And when Shahar desires him, he realizes thatÂ “it was so nice not to be used.” Used. Shahar’s need is genuine, and so he gives her what she wants. Well, and what he wants, too.
But sex inevitably changes things, no matter what most people think. The final line of this chapter is haunting and, unfortunately, rather true:
I felt no regret, but I was sad. She was farther from me now, and I was the one who had sent her away.
I didn’t have sex until about six weeks before my nineteenth birthday, and prior to that, I had not done anything with another human being besides a few short kisses when I tried to pretend to be straight in junior high and high school. Like what Shahar and Sieh experience here, my lust for the person I had sex with for the first time overpowered any rational thought. I don’t think that’s an uncommon thing for most people, but I had been sexually repressed for my entire life, and no one up until this guy had ever expressed sexual desire for me. In hindsight, I wasn’t even terribly attracted to the guy; I had simply never been wanted in that way. And when the act was over? My instant reaction was regret but ofÂ distance. In fact, for years, I thought something was wrong with me, and it wasn’t until I opened up about this experience to other friends that they’d confirmed similar feelings they had.
There’s a thread of confusion and desire wrapped up in what these two characters go through, and I imagine it’s not difficult for people to see something familiar in their own sexual experiences when they were younger. Lust is a strange feeling, and I’m thankful that these passages got me to reflect on them and what that meant for me when I was still a teenager. I’m interested to see the ramifications of this, too!
The original text/videos contain uses of the words “madness,” “insane,” “crazy,” and “stupid.”
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