Last Friday I finished The Broken Kingdoms: Inheritance Trilogy, Book 2 by N.K. Jemisin.
Orrey Shoth, the main character, is a blind woman who can see magic. She’s left her native village to live in Sky beneath the spreading branches of the gigantic World Tree, in part because the residual magic of the godlings there allows her to see somewhat. [You’ll have to forgive me if I misspell some names. They weren’t spelled out in the audiobook, and I’m not going looking…]
One morning, Orrey rescues a man who’s been dumped in her muck bin and lets him stay with her. The man isn’t a godling, but seems to have some internal magic of his own. Because he won’t speak to her, and for lack of a better name, she calls him “Shiny”.
Soon after, a godling is murdered in an alley off the street where Orrey sells her handicrafts. Before long, first Orrey and then Shiny have drawn unwelcome attention from the guardsmen investigating the godling’s death.
Orrey turns to a former lover, the godling Madding, for protection. Almost immediately, Orrey, Shiny, Madding and several of his retainers are captured by a cult with ambitious plans to attack the gods themselves. Orrey learns the true nature of herself and her own magic, and must fight to save those she loves and the very world.
I’m not a big fan of stories in which the main character has to try to puzzle out a complex situation with very little to go on, growing increasingly battered and exhausted, fighting against incredible odds that seem to grow worse at every turn. I have a hard time enjoying the story, because I just want the pummelling to end.
That said, I don’t see how this story could have been told any differently, and Jemisin did it well.
I liked Orrey and Shiny and the various godlings, particularly Lil and Dump. I liked the world, what I saw of it, and would love to know more.
The ending was satisfying, yet dissonant. Well, it is the second book of a trilogy, and I suspect that dissonant note will be woven into harmony in the end. It fit.
I do wish I’d read this sooner after The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first in the series. I think certain characters and situations would have clicked into place sooner, and I would have had a deeper understanding of some of the events. But it worked without that background, too, and could be read as a stand-alone.
As a blind reader, I paid close attention to Orrey Shoth. I think Jemisin did a great job of capturing the ways in which we perceive and experience the world. Orrey navigated with a walking stick or occasionally by taking someone’s arm when her stick wasn’t available. She used her senses of hearing, touch, and sometimes smell to pick up an incredible amount of information about her world, and that allowed her to function independently and live alone.
Orrey, of course, could see magic, and use that limited vision to see more of her surroundings. Was this a cheat?
I don’t think so.
As I’ve mentioned here before, the majority of blind people do have some residual vision. I have some light perception and detect motion with my right eye, and I’ve been amazed (and a little envious!) at the number of blind people I’ve met who see better than I do.
Orrey’s limited vision allows her to gain a bit of extra information about her world, just as my scant remaining vision lets me find a dark doorway against a light wall or perceive a person walking past me, even if I can’t identify who it is. Like me, she still relies mostly on her other senses, even when some vision is available to her.
In that respect, Orrey’s magical vision makes her more realistic to me as a blind character. I’d say Jemisin did an excellent job, and I commend her for it.
I really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to Book 3!