My rating: 5 of 5 stars (aka 10/10)
Wow, this was amazing!
I was one of those people that loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and I wasn’t sure how this one was going to compare. I had loved Yeine and Naha and Sieh and the others, and I couldn’t imagine how Jemisin was going to pull off a book with Itempas as the protagonist after he’d essentially been the villain of the first book.
Well, she certainly does pull it off, and how!
In a way, Itempas is not a protagonist at all; or rather he is, but in a secondary way. This is, first and foremost, Oree’s book. And Oree is amazing.
For starters, she’s blind. I didn’t know how Jemisin was going to pull that off either, but again, she does it absolutely brilliantly. I don’t know how she did it, but Oree’s blindness (and occasionally her sight, since she can “see” magic) is integral to the telling of the story and seemed to affect me as I read. I have never considered myself to be a particularly visual reader, but I must be more of one than I thought, because when Oree is unable to see, it was like there was a constriction on my own vision as well. There was a wall to one part of me, leaving me feeling like I’d lost access to one of my own senses. I still knew exactly what was going on, but I knew it as Oree did, not in my usual, sighted, way.
As I said, I have no idea how Jemisin did this, but I am ever so impressed. I’ve been buying her books automatically as they are released after just reading her first (it was the fact The Killing Moon had arrived on my Kindle, meaning I now had three Jemisin books I hadn’t read, that gave me the impetus to read this one), but if I hadn’t been, I would be now.
But Oree is more than someone who is blind; she’s strong and capable and willful and occasionally stupid. She’s also wise and loving, compassionate and stubborn. She totally rocks (and I can’t quite believe I just wrote that). I only mentioned her blindness first because I was so caught up in the way Jemisin conveyed that to the reader, not because it is the be all and end all of Oree’s character. It isn’t at all, it’s only one part of who she is.
I don’t really want to say more about the plot as it unfolds beautifully without the reader needing to know lots in advance. There are references to the events and history of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, so I recommend reading that first (figuring out who some of the characters are is pretty cool, especially Hado). If you turn out to be one of that people that isn’t as blown away by that book, don’t give up on Jemisin. Give her another chance in this one. It’s different and amazing and doesn’t have the same kind of (subverted) romance tropes in it that I think put some people off the first one. There is love in this book, lots of it and it all very powerful, but not at all in a “romance” kind of way.
The ending is amazing. I don’t want to give it away, but it is bittersweet and beautiful and totally the right way for the story to go. Anything else would have been a cheat and robbed some of the power from characters’ actions, reactions and pain in both the first book and this one.
I am blown away by this book and Ms Jemisin has a very firm fan in me. I was one already, but I’m even more of one now than I was before. I’m really looking forward to reading The Kingdom of Gods, although I’m going to read something else in between while my head and my heart finish digesting this one.