Summary: As the first new godling born in thousands of years — and the heir presumptive to Sieh the Trickster — Shill’s got big shoes to fill. She’s well on her way when she defies her parents and sneaks off to the mortal realm, which is no place for an impressionable young god. In short order she steals a demon’s grandchild, gets herself embroiled in a secret underground magical dance competition, and offends her oldest and most powerful sibling.
But for Eino, the young Darren man whom Shill has befriended, the god-child’s silly games are serious business. Trapped in an arranged marriage and prohibited from pursuing his dreams, he has had enough. He will choose his own fate, even if he must betray a friend in the process — and Shill might just have to grow up faster than she thinks.
Thoughts: I can’t even begin to say how much I love Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy. I’ve read it through twice, and it’s inspired probably dozens of conversations by this point, because the world and the characters are so amazing and I sink into the stories like a hot bath. Not a warm bath. Hot. The kind of hot that’s just a little bit painful on the skin, but when you get used to it, you never want to leave.
So you can only imagine my excitement when I first heard that she was writing a sequel novella. The chance to read a new story set in a world I love so much? There is no downside here!
The story focuses on Shill, a newborn godling trying to find her place in the world, and deciding that the best way to go about it is to interact with mortals and learn about herself through learning about them. In the attempt to find her nature and to learn about mortals, she changes the world in ways unforeseen, and utterly spectacular.
There’s a powerful message in here about walking in the footsteps of others, and trying to live up to what you believe other people want of you. Shill believes she is supposed to be the next Sieh, the trickster and the child, and when she can’t make herself be what Sieh was, she gets frustrated and upset. It takes her a while to learn that she can’t be anybody but herself, that trying to be someone else is fairly useless, and that everyone has a niche to fill, a role to play, even if it’s not the one they expected. This was something that resonated fairly strongly with me, because for all it sounds like the message behind an after-school TV special, it’s a lesson that took me years to learn. I used to think the only way of being worthwhile was to imitate those whom I thought were worthwhile. I ended up being a poor copy of them at best, and it never felt true or right. So this is the sort of thing that even adults need to hear sometimes, not just young children.
The Awakened Kingdom being a novella, it’s a very quick read, but honestly, even had it been the length of a full novel I would call it a quick read simply because I’d be reading it obsessively and in every spare moment. Good books often seem like quick reads because you read them so much that you finish them in a relatively short amount of time. And Shill is a fun character because she’s so new to existence, so we get to see her learn and grow and make the kind of commentary that only comes about with childlike naive logic. Only when that naivite is in the hands of a godling, well, results are extra special. Such as Shill’s little warning not to go into black holes even though they “look like cute little Nahas.” Excellent advice. I shall follow it to the letter!
Of course, the reason for Shill’s advice and even for telling the story the way she does becomes evident at the end, and hearkens back to the way Yeine’s story was told in The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms. It may be a bit disjointed and it is the embodiment of the unreliable narrator, but there’s a point to it, a reason, and it becomes clear over time that it’s more than just a storytelling gimmick.
Like many authors have done in the past, Jemisin creates societies that flip our current stereotype of gender roles around, making women the aggressive leaders and men the ones who stay home and take care of the babies. This is fertile ground for strong female characters to arise, and arise they do! Jemisin also uses this to highlight the inequality in all such systems; a person’s worth is not and should not be determined by what’s between their legs.
But Jemisin’s writing stands head and shoulders above so many others who do this for one simple reason: when I read what Jemisin writes, I can truly believe that women can be strong because they’re women, not in spite of it. I’ve read plenty of books with strong women, but even in novels where gender equality is supposed to be the norm, strong female characters often come across as though they’re trying to prove that women can be equal after all. Jemisin’s women often give the impression of, “Yes, I’m strong. Obviously. What of it?” And I love that!
For fans of the trilogy, this is a must-have, because it’s a wonderful return to a wonderful world. For those who have yet to read the trilogy and are intrigued by this review, take heart, because it’s included in the omnibus edition that’s soon to be released! Even had I not been lucky enough to get a copy of this for review, I was planning on rebuying the books just so I could get to read The Awakened Kingdom, which I think is a sign of a strong and influential series that’s worth reading. Those who enjoyed the Inheritance trilogy will likely get the same kick out of Shill that I did, love the story as much, and, if they’re anything like me, reading it will make them want to read the original novels all over again.
(Received for review from the publisher.)