The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Broken Kingdom
The Kingdom of Gods
By N.K. Jemison
All Posts Contain Spoilers
Did you read ‘The Broken Earth‘ novels? Did you love them? Do you want to read more books exactly like that, only 25% less good and waaaaay sexier?
Then have I got the books for you! Let me introduce you to ‘The Inheritance Trilogy‘, which are just like the ‘Broken Earth’ novels if N.K. Jemison spent slightly less time world-building and a lot more time describing what it might be like to have sex with a god (spoiler alert: it’s great, if you survive).
‘The Inheritance Trilogy‘ is a trio of novels (and an appended novella, which I am basically going to ignore) set in a world where the gods walk among mortals. Originally, there were two gods: Itempas, god of light, and Nahadoth, god of darkness. Then, out of the Maelstrom, was born Enefu, goddess of life, and the Three built the world, populating it with humanity and various godlings. However, one day Itempas grew jealous of the love between Nahadoth and Enefu – he struck Enefu down, and imprisoned Nahadoth and all of his offspring who defended him. He gave control of the chains binding these gods to a mortal family who supported him, the Arameri, who now govern the Thousand Kingdoms.
The three novels of this trilogy follow the events of this world: the freeing of the bound gods and the humbling of Itempas, the discovery of demons (human offspring of gods and mortals), and the downfall of the Arameri. Each novel takes a different protagonist, but the cast of immortals remains largely the same.
And before I go any further, let me say this: I know that my introduction was a little unfair. N.K. Jemison is a monster of imagination, and she hasn’t actually skimped on the world-building in ‘The Inheritance Trilogy‘. There is more originality on any single page of these books than most authors will produce in a lifetime of effort, and I flew through them the way you only do when you’re in the hands of a master of plot.
But they truly aren’t as good as ‘The Broken Earth Trilogy‘. Which, whatever: the ‘Broken Earth’ books are maybe the best fantasy books I’ve read in…a decade? They were magnificent, so “less good than” ‘Broken Earth’ isn’t really a condemnation – most books are less good than ‘Broken Earth’, in my opinion. But, as of right now, these two trilogies are the only two things I’ve read by Jemison, and, yeah, the ‘Inheritance’ books are less good.
And they are sexier. A lot sexier. Which doesn’t make them bad, certainly, and Lord knows I love sexy reading as much as the next reader (actually, if we’re being honest, I probably love sexy reading a lot more than most readers of the Literature section, but a lot less than most readers of Sci Fi/Fantasy). But every reader has a line where sexy becomes silly, and, for me, the sex in ‘The Inheritance Trilogy‘ just stomped past that line.
“Hands seized me.
I do not say his hands because there were too many of them, gripping my arms and grasping my hips and tangling in my hair…
Then we fed each other’s hunger. Wherever I wanted to be touched, he touched; I don’t know how he knew. Whenever I touched him, there was a delay. I would cup emptiness before it became a smooth muscled arm. I would wrap my legs around nothing and only then find hips settled there, taut with ready energy. In this way I shaped him, making him suit my fantasies; in this way he chose to be shaped. When heavy, thick warmth pushed into me, I had no idea whether this was a penis or some entirely different phallus that only gods possessed. I suspect the latter, since no mere penis can fill a woman’s body the way he filled mine. Size had nothing to do with it. This time he let me scream.” (p. 301)
I’m sorry, I know we’re all supposed to be very mature about sex and everything, but this is ludicrous. “No mere penis…”, come on now. And the quote I have selected above is the restrained part – I have spared you all the the section where the narrator is driven skyward in sexual bliss and touches the fabric of the universe.
And, OK, I don’t want to get too hung up on the sex, because really these are super fun books set in a super interesting world where super absorbing problems are playing out, and that’s what really matters, but the sex stuff is a problem for me! Because it’s bad, it’s over-written, it’s too breathy and intense.
And it violates my Ayn Rand Rule.
The Ayn Rand Rule is named, obviously, for the nutball author of ‘Atlas Shrugged’. If you have heard of ‘Atlas Shrugged’, you will probably have heard that it is a long, libertarian screed. What you may not have heard is that the short, feisty, Ayn Rand-esque main character spends a lot of the book getting absolutely railed by tall, dark, handsome captains of industry. And what you don’t know unless you’ve actually subjected yourself to that endless nightmare of a book is that those fantastical sexual interludes are obviously and mortifyingly about Ayn Rand. She’s clearly writing her own fantasies, and it’s repellently prurient: too personal, like peering through a window into her brain while she masturbates.
So, the Ayn Rand Rule: never give your reader a reason to suspect that the sex scenes you write are about you (looking at you, Jonathan Franzen). It’s too much information, it takes them out of the story and draws their attention to you. And sentences like, “No mere penis can fill a woman’s body the way he filled mine” violate the Ayn Rand Rule. When I read that sentence, I’m not thinking about N.K. Jemison’s novel – I’m thinking about how N.K. Jemison’s partner felt when they read that sentence (inadequate, surely).
I know that it’s stupid to object to an engrossing trilogy of fantasy novels because the sex is silly. It certainly feels like an injustice to N.K. Jemison, who I admire and whose work I genuinely love. And, though deeply, deeply ridiculous (no innuendo intended), the sex wouldn’t keep me from recommending these books to anyone who loves a good fantasy novel – they are a great read.
But this is my space to talk about books, and the truth is that the thing I will remember best about ‘The Inheritance Trilogy‘ isn’t the plot, and it isn’t the characters, and it isn’t the beautiful, well-drawn world.
It’s the phrase, “No mere penis”.