Review: The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

I picked up NK Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy as an omnibus at Chapters a few months ago; I’d heard her name in passing, and finally wanted to delve into her work. Minor spoilers for the books below!

All three books of the Inheritance Trilogy take place in the same world, more or less; the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and more specifically in its ruling city of Sky. a palace suspended by a single pillar over the city below and inhabited by the Arameri. The first book – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – concerns Yeine, leader of a nation in the High North, as she comes down to Sky for a meeting. Once she reaches Sky, she is unexpectedly put into the running as heir to Dekarta Arameri due to her half-Arameri heritage – and thrown into the political intrigue of Sky, with its vicious nobles, captive gods and underlying secrets.

I enjoyed The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms a lot, although in retrospect it’s the weakest of the three in the trilogy. Yeine could do with some more characterization on the page, but the captive gods of the Arameri are a lot of fun to explore. Some of them don’t get the focus they could, but Nahadoth and Sieh are alien enough to be interesting and relatable enough to sympathize with. I have a particular affection for the ‘uncanny valley’ of characterization, and Nahadoth and Sieh definitely fall into that – the strange and unknowable, just a little too big to fit between the pages.

The Broken Kingdoms is set ten years after the end of the first book, focusing on a new main character and the changes in the city of Sky. I enjoyed this one although I found it needlessly tragic at parts. There’s a thin line between realistically dark and darkness-induced audience apathy; The Broken Kingdoms never quite falls into it, but skirts the line a few times. However, the main character Oree is blind and can only see magic. I love how her very real disability is worked into the narrative both as something concrete and as a metaphor. I also deeply appreciate the fact that she’s a painter “despite” being blind; a reminder that sensory disability is not as simple as people make it out to be.

Finally, my favourite, The Kingdom of Gods. Sieh is the main character of this one, and I’m ecstatically happy about it. While Oree and Yeine spend a lot of time intimidated and on a very different level from the gods they eventually fall in love, this third book dives into Sieh’s mindset and wrestles with the complications of a god who – by nature – cannot grow up. Shahar and Deka are a fun pair of twins, too, although I found that Shahar got more overall characterization/screentime and Deka more romantic development.

Finally, the omnibus came with a bonus novella, The Awakened Kingdom. (Downside of all the titles including the word Kingdom; it gets easy to mix them up. I tend to call them the Yeine book, the Oree book and the Sieh book.) The novella is interesting, but not quite as meaty as the true novels of the collection, which is to be expected. All the same, it takes on a plot that would have been better suited for a whole novel, especially since it upends the world dynamics once more. The narrator’s voice is fun and engaging, but the main human character is a bit of a stereotype, especially to fit into the Darre matriarchal politics and the message the novella is trying to send.

Overall, The Inheritance Trilogy is one of my new favourites. It’s beautiful, sweeping fantasy, choosing to focus on a single city in depth rather than to give short shrift to wide vistas, and a bittersweet study of the nature of gods, forgiveness and love. However, its human characters tend to be weak as a result, and some of the concepts in it made me roll my eyes. (Darre as the toxic matriarchy for one; I understand why flipping power dynamics is interesting and thought-provoking but I’ve seen it too many times.)

Content warnings for the books include violence, torture, separation anxiety, character death, incest and child abuse. The Inheritance Trilogy omnibus is available in bookstores, or on Amazon here.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

  1. Does the Awaken Kingdom take place after the other three books? I felt like the final one, the Kingdom of Gods was good, but was getting really existential by the end. I’m not sure how she could tell another story in that world

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    1. It does! It doesn’t follow Sieh, Deka and Shahar though; it’s firmly back in Sky. The main character is a newborn godling, although talking about her in-depth gets into spoilers for the end of Kingdom of Gods.

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