Some basics of polytheism in The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

You can find an absolutely amazing academic resource in Open Yale Courses, where you can download video or audio recordings of all the lectures for some of Yale University’s introductory courses, as well as the transcripts and reading lists of those lectures.

My favourite is RLST145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), by Professor Christine Hayes. I’m not religious, but I am interested in the bible as a literary, cultural and social text, and that’s exactly how this course approaches it (as opposed to treating it as scripture). I haven’t listened to all the lectures, but I’ve listened to the first few a couple of times, and they offer a fascinating perspective on the bible, with a ton of surprises. A lot of what I’ve learned from priests, Sunday-school teachers, and the well of Christian common-knowledge turned out to be wildly inaccurate if not completely false, like the idea that Adam was created before Eve and is therefore superior.

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsAnyway, as some of you will remember, I recently did several fantastic read-alongs for The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin:
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (#1)
The Broken Kingdoms (#2)
and The Kingdom of Gods (#3)

In this trilogy, the gods, their histories, and ongoing lives play a major role. The other day I started listening to the Hebrew-Bible lectures again, and the second lecture kept reminding me of the novels. This lecture – The Hebrew Bible in Its Ancient Near Eastern Setting: Biblical Religion in Context – compares polytheism to monotheism, using the writings of Yehezkel Kaufmann. Kaufman’s theory was that the move from polytheism to monotheism was revolutionary rather than evolutionary because the two belief systems involve fundamentally different ideas about god(s) and the universe, rather than simply having a different number of gods.

This relates very strongly to fantasy, mythology, and the nature of god(s), which is why I kept linking it to Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. It no doubt has relevance for other epic fantasy or other fiction where gods or their mythologies play a role; it’s just that this trilogy was foremost in my mind. In Jemisin’s world, the gods are real. Not only do they exist, some of them live among humans. For the reader, they’re major characters. Kaufmann’s theory isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t fit Jemisin’s world exactly, but it still provides an interesting framework for understanding her worldbuilding and characters.

It’s worth watching/listening to/reading the lecture in full, but I’ve picked out the main points about how polytheism differs from monotheism, and explained how they relate to The Inheritance Trilogy. I’ve kept it SPOILER-FREE, but please forgive any inaccuracies or lack of information as I didn’t re-read the books for this article, since I’d only just read them a few months ago. If you spot anything that needs to be corrected, let me know in the comments.

1. The metadivine realm

In polytheistic religions, there is a metadivine realm, which exists before the gods, and is more powerful than them. This realm can be water, chaos, darkness, fate, etc. and the gods are born from it. The logical consequence of this is that the gods are limited in power and wisdom – the primordial realm will always be above and beyond them. It’s mysterious and unpredictable, the gods can’t control it, and it can thwart their will. Since each god has specific powers and limitations, they can also be thwarted by other gods or even mortals.

In monotheism on the other hand, there is no realm that existed before god, and nothing that is more powerful than him. He just always existed, he’s immortal, omnipotent, and all existence is created by him.

In the Inheritance Trilogy, the metadivine realm is the Maelstrom, and it gave birth to the gods Nahadoth, Itempas and Enefa who then created the universe and lesser godlings. None of them are omnipotent, and in fact Itempas killed Enefa and enslaved Nahadoth, which form the basis of the plot of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Itempas’s actions did not mean that he was omnipotent or became omnipotent; he simply achieved dominance over the world and the other gods.

In The Broken Kingdoms it is mentioned that the gods pray to the Maelstrom. In The Kingdom of Gods, Nahadoth takes his child Sieh to the edge of the Maelstrom, and it is clear that this could destroy them both. It also seems that the Maelstrom has a major role in the plot of this book, which is something to be feared because the gods cannot control this force.

The Broken Kingdoms2. Mythology

Mythologies are the stories of the lives of the gods, and this is a basic part of pagan religion: “the gods are born, and they live lives very similar to human lives but on a grand scale and then they die”, says Professor Hayes.

This is the essence of The Inheritance Trilogy: we learn about the major gods’ births, their histories and how they made the world, which is our common understanding of mythology. Unlike mythology though, these stories continue to develop, gaining depth and detail across the trilogy as we hear different perspectives on the seemingly static myths. Because the gods are also major characters their ongoing lives are part of the plot. They interact with each other and with mortal characters, and we see them deal with issues of love, jealousy, hatred, revenge, etc. They fight, they have sex, they fall in love. It’s shocking how human they can be, even if they’re contemptuous of humans. In book 1, the human narrator Yeine describes the plot as two family squabbles pitted against one another – the mortal Arameri family who rule the world, and the family of gods. At the same time, the gods’ human problems play out in different ways because they’re immortal, incredibly powerful, and experience the world as such. We also know that gods can die. Itempas killed Enefa, and hundreds if not thousands of godlings died in the God’s War that followed her death. In book 2, the plot kicks off when someone murders a godling.

In monotheism on the other hand, god has no life story. He isn’t born, he doesn’t fall in love or take on any sexual partners, and he can’t die. He does have a son, but that’s in the New Testament (which is not covered in this course), and parenthood doesn’t have any personal consequences for God. For example, God and Jesus don’t have sex (incest is common in mythology, and in The Inheritance Trilogy); nor do they hang out in any kind of social way.

3. Fluid boundaries between the divine, human and natural worlds

In a polytheistic system, all creation comes from the metadivine realm, so everything is made of the same primordial ‘stuff’ and therefore connected. So gods are often inherent in the natural world – things and concepts like the sun, sky, death, fertility etc. might be gods and worshipping them is like worshipping natural phenomena. Because humans also come from the metadivine realm, there is a fluid boundary between them and gods, and you often have unions between gods and mortals, or mortals becoming gods.

In The Inheritance Trilogy, the three main gods are born from the Maelstrom, and together they create the universe. The goddess Enefa creates life. I don’t know if she uses the substance of the Maelstrom to do this, but all of creation can still be traced back to the Maelstrom.

The gods are all linked to the world through their affinities. Itempas is the god of light, day, and order. Nahadoth is the god of darkness, night and chaos. Enefa was the goddess of life and death. I think this is a wee bit different, in that these gods are associated with these concepts and get their power from them but aren’t synonymous with them. Nahadoth is the god of night and darkness, but when he’s enslaved it doesn’t change the night and darkness of the world. However, his power is affected by night/day or darkness/light.

The fluid boundaries between gods and mortals are indicated in the many instances of gods having sex with mortals, and gods and mortals producing children, often as major parts of the plot. There is also an instance of a mortal becoming a god, and a god becoming mortal.

In monotheism, god is separate and completely other to us. He isn’t kin to humans (at least not in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible), doesn’t come down and have sex with humans and we have no hope of becoming like him.

4. Power is material

The monotheistic god has absolute will, and nothing is more powerful than him. His power is inherent in him, it doesn’t come from anything else.

In a polytheistic system, the gods’ power comes from material things, and not because their will is absolute (see no.1). The substance that constitutes the metadivine realms is particularly powerful – water, blood, etc. – because the metadivine realm is the ultimate power.

Jemisin’s trilogy differs a bit here though. The Maelstrom seems to be a completely different place existing beyond the edges of the universe. It created the first three gods, but no one feels any particular connection to it, or at least they don’t tap into it for power or magic. However, the gods can achieve greater power by “living true” to their affinities, whatever those might be. So for example, Sieh is the god of childhood, and he achieves power by acting and looking like a child, embodying the essence of childhood (impulsiveness, cruelty, playfulness, affection etc.). He also feels more powerful when he’s around children or someone who acts like a child, but feels a loss of power when, for example, he forces a child to make a tough decision and lose some of their innocence.

It seems the gods can choose how much effort they put into “living true”, based on the fact that in book 2, the godling Madding explains to his human lover Oree that Sieh is so powerful because he’s devoted to being childlike. In book 3, where Sieh is the main character, we learn that he can behave in more adult ways, but that it weakens or wounds him to do so.

The Kingdom of Gods5. Magic is possible

This is a consequence of material power in the polytheistic system. Power resides in things connected to the primordial realm or primordial stuff, so magic involves manipulating those substances. This means both humans and gods can perform magic by tapping into the power of the metadivine realm. Humans can even use this to influence or manipulate the gods, so magic can be a way of circumventing the will of the gods by tapping in to a higher power.

This is impossible in a monotheistic worldview: there is no realm above or beyond god, and god is supreme so humans have no power over him.

The magic system in The Inheritance Trilogy is not really about connection with the metadivine realm per se, although magic can be performed by both gods and humans. Magic is described as communication with reality, not the result of tapping into the Maelstrom, at least as I understand it. And the Maelstrom isn’t ‘reality’ in that sense. You can communicate with reality through words – the gods’ language. Human scriveners do this, but they aren’t as powerful as the gods because they are unable to speak or write the language as well as the gods can. However, there are other forms of communication/magic – in book 2, Oree uses paint, and her father used song. Blood is also significant as a kind of carrier of magic. Gods’ blood acts as a drug on humans. When the gods conceived children with humans, they produced demons (which are dangerous but not evil; it’s just the word used for demi-gods) and through those demons the human race acquired magical skills. The demons were outlawed once it was discovered that their blood could be used to kill gods. Demon-blood would of course give any mortal power over a god.

Magic is most often used by mortals against the gods in book 1. After defeating Nahadoth and his three godling allies two thousand years ago, Itempas chained the four of them to human bodies and gave them as immortal slaves to the Arameri family. The Arameri scriveners gave each family member a special sigil on their foreheads that not only prevented the enslaved gods from harming a family member, but forced the gods to obey their commands.

6. Cult

Cult is defined as a system of rites involving the manipulation of substances – like blood – that are believed to have inherent power. This might be done to influence the god in some way – win their favour, keep them at bay to protect people, provide sustenance to the god, etc. It might also be a re-enactment of an event in the life of a god, and this might be seen to play a role in the preservation of the world (eg. a rite of spring ensuring the reemergence of life).

Rituals in monotheism have nothing to do with sustaining god or the world and they don’t celebrate events in god’s life (there are none). Instead, rituals commemorate historical events.

We don’t learn much about rituals in Jemisin’s world, but there is one very important one in the Sky palace – the Ascension Ritual. The entire plot of the first book builds up to this ritual, in which power is passed from the head of the ruling Arameri family to the successor. This is more than symbolic – power is passed literally in the sense that a force is moved from one person to another. This is in line with polytheism, in the sense that the ritual is important and has tangible magical effects. In book 2, there are also examples of people making offerings to gods to summon them or ask for help.

However, the novel’s approach to cult is also similar to monotheism in that no rituals are required to keep the world from collapsing, and the gods themselves don’t need any. In book 3 there is an “atheist” who honours the gods (you can’t seriously doubt their existence) but does not worship any of them, arguing that gods don’t need humanity’s attention, which is true. In addition, the offerings made to gods can’t coerce them. The gods have free will, so they might help a human because they’re pleased or amused by the offering, or simply because they’re kind, but not because they’re bound by magic.

7. An amoral universe

In a polytheistic system, everything comes from the metadivine realm, and this includes both good and evil. So you get good gods and bad gods or demons, and humans are helplessly caught up in the struggles between them, although they can use magic as an aid. Evil is as much a metaphysical reality as good – both are built into the structure of the universe. Good gods are just as powerful as the bad ones, and every god might have their own standards of morality, so gods aren’t necessarily totally good or totally bad.

In monotheism, god and his creation are good, so there is technically no evil force in the universe (a problem that monotheism has never really resolved). Evil comes from the clash between god’s will and human will.

As with the mythologies discussed in no.2, Jemisin really makes the most of an amoral polytheistic universe. It’s not as simplistic as the universe consisting of good and evil gods. I think Nahadoth is the only god believed to be inherently evil but this is untrue, although he is more dangerous than most gods. There was an epic God’s War two thousand years ago that is related in fairly stark good-and-evil terms, but this is inaccurate. As the trilogy progresses, we learn that none of the characters who played a role in the war were entirely good or entirely evil. All the gods are grey areas. They have good and bad sides but these are inseparable. Enefa created life but she was also a ruthless killer because life and death go hand in hand. Itempas is the god of order, and created very useful things like language and gravity, but he’s also responsible for the cruel authoritarian power of the Arameri family. Sieh can be very likeable as a child, but he also has a child’s cruelty. Even the nicest gods have scary sides, and the creepiest ones can be helpful. Gods might do terrible things to those they love deeply. These kinds of moral complications are one of my favourite features of the trilogy.

I highly recommend the trilogy if you haven’t read it yet, and if you have, do you know that Jemisin’s writing “The Awakened Kingdom”, a novella set in the world of The Inheritance Trilogy? Yeah, I can’t wait to read it either 🙂

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The Kingdom of Gods read-along: END

The Kingdom of GodsWe have finally come to the end of The Inheritance Trilogy read-along, and as the host for the section, it felt quite nice to do the last set of questions. To everyone who took part, I have to say I’ve really enjoyed reading and discussing these books with you. I’m also glad I finally discovered N.K. Jemisin, and I will definitely be checking out her other novels.

But right now, I have lots of things to discuss for this last section, so on with the Q&A!

______________

1. How do you feel about they way the relationship between Sieh, Deka and Shahar developed? How might this affect them as the Three of a new realm?
I was really glad that Sieh’s sexual relationship with Deka went so much better than the one he had with Shahar, but I also felt they treated Shahar rather poorly. Yes, she betrayed Sieh, but it was a mistake she made at 16. Lets not forget that Sieh once considered killing the twins for his own amusement, and massacred a room full of people in response to Shahar’s betrayal. So is Shahar who gets alienated as the person who can’t be trusted?

I felt quite sad for Shahar during the sex scene in the Temple, even though she later puts a positive spin on it by saying they showed her how to love. I couldn’t believe how conflictual the scene in the Throne Room became. Sieh really showed how poor his personal skills were by snubbing Shahar and then immediately showing his love for Deka.

When she dies and becomes a god along with Sieh and Deka, her arrival parallels Enefa’s – joining two other gods who have previously been lovers alone in the universe. Sieh and Deka would only have been alone for a few decades, unlike the millennia Nahadoth and Itempas had, but what makes this worrying for Shahar is that they already have an awkward history. On the other hand, I think they are also mature enough to make a better start, and to learn from the mistakes of the other Three. The idea of being able to create an entire universe is also very exciting, so overall I’m really happy for the new Three.

2. The series as a whole and this novel in particular is full of parents, and child-parent relationships often play major roles in the plot and characterisation. Is there anything that stood out for you? Any other thoughts on the theme?
Before I came up with this question, I hadn’t really thought about how many parents there were in this series, but then it hit me – Nahadoth, Itempas, Enefa, Shahar Arameri, Dekarta, Kinneth, Yeine, Oree, Sieh, Remath, Ahad. Often their relationships with their children are quite disturbing or dysfunctional, although they can be loving at the same time.

One thing I liked about the parenting theme is that it shows how fallible the gods are, and how terrifyingly epic their mistakes can be. Enefa made some particularly poor choices – conceiving a child with Sieh and then almost immediately forcing that child into indefinite solitude. If Enefa hadn’t died Kahl might still be trapped alone. Instead he gets free, tries to destroy the world, and gets killed by his father, who dies in the process. That’s like the worst family drama ever.

Paradoxically, expressions of great love from parents came from unlikely sources. The Dekarta in book 1 loved Kinneth a great deal, even though she left the family. Remath reveals how much she loves both her children, even though she could be incredibly cold. And Itempas, for all his crimes, is shown to be an amazingly loving father, more so than the fickle Nahadoth.

3. Can you sympathise at all with Kahl’s desire for revenge or was it just too insane?
I can sympathise to an extent – left alone for thousands of years, loneliness clearly drove him mad, and he has good reason to be very, very angry.

But, what I would have liked was an opportunity to sympathise with Kahl’s insanity a bit more, if that makes sense. We hear very little of his own perspective, and I wanted to know a bit more about his experiences, feelings, and how he could settle on such a devastating plan of vengeance. We know the gist of it, but I wanted a bit more nuance. As it stands, Kahl doesn’t inspire any strong feelings in me, which is disappointing when compared with Itempas, one the major antagonists from book 1. Even though Itempas only made a short appearance at the end, I had very strong opinions on him.

I liked Kahl’s plan to destroy the Tree and harvest enough bodies to power the mask though. Horrific, but smart.

4. “Nature is cycles, patterns, repetition.” What do you think of the way this idea plays into the plot and worldbuilding?
This series has often blurred the lines between gods and mortals, particularly in the way they all get so tangled up in the same kinds of personal problems. It makes sense then, that the lines are further blurred by the possibility of transformation for god, godlings, demons and humans. It means the mythology of this world is still being written. Even the gods don’t understand how everything works and it may be thousands of years before they learn more.

Given that Sieh, Deka and Shahar have a troubled history, their relationships as a new Three will no doubt be just as tumultuous as the relationships between Nahadoth, Itempas and Enefa/Yeine. I doubt anyone will get enslaved, but I think there will still be lots of drama.

5. Are you satisfied with the way everything turned out?
Not entirely. I’m glad there’s a happy ending for most, but there are lots of little things that bother me. How could it not occur to Sieh or anyone else that Kahl would use the mask to become a god? The Three could have reunited for the day to hunt him down. Instead they reunite only to address Sieh’s problem, completely ignoring a major cosmic threat. As I mentioned, I would have preferred to know more about Kahl, and if he’d been captured there would have been an opportunity for that. The sky-battle was cool, but not as satisfying as I’d hoped.

Why didn’t Sieh, Deka and Shahar try using their newly discovered powers to do something about Kahl? Especially after Remath’s revelations.

Glee seems so badass when she goes to battle Kahl with Itempas’s sword. Sieh suggests she’s deadly because this battle will be about more than just strength, and Kahl himself wavers at the sight of her. But then shortly after Sieh says Glee won’t last long and sure enough she tumbles to the earth without having achieved anything. I’m very glad she survived and lived happily ever after with Ahad though.

Sieh’s sacrifice makes sense in that it’s the first properly mature decision he makes, so it suits his transition to godhood. On the other hand, his plan is also based on deceiving Kahl (still the trickster) and instead of facing up to fatherhood he kills his son, obliterating the problem rather than dealing with it. I know that, at this point, there’s no other hope of stopping Kahl, but the whole thing could have been written differently.

I’m glad the world’s power structures change, and Kahl’s actions actually turn out to be useful in this regard – the world was easily united by the tragedy he caused rather than going to war.

I think it’s good that the Three were reconciled early, even though Itempas managed to avoid many centuries of punishment. However, it seems he got off because he fulfilled the clause about learning to love “truly”, and this makes no sense to me. Based on Shahar’s understanding, Itempas was freed because of the love he showed for Sieh after his death. However, this doesn’t mean he learned to love truly – as Glee explains, Itempas already loved Sieh very much. He loved all his children, and his love was powerful and constant, unlike Nahadoth’s. He loved Oree too. So he didn’t learn anything. In fact, I don’t think he needed to learn anything about love, but needed to develop his other personal skills. The sorrow he expressed was a result of his love for Sieh, not the first instance of love, so why should that save him? It would have made more sense if they had simply chosen the benefits of reconciliation over the satisfaction of punishment.

6. Now that we’ve finished the series, what do you think of it as a whole? How does The Kingdom of Gods compare to the first two books?
There are many things I love about this series – the mythology, the psychologies of the gods, the worldbuilding, the relationships between gods and mortals, the spirited narrators, the moral ambiguity, the plot and character development across the three books, the inclusion of so many major POC characters, the fluid sexuality, a blind protagonist in book 2, the way politics is entwined with personal stories… And that’s just the major things. Throughout my reading there will little details that impressed or simply amused me.

I particularly enjoyed the way the story of the Gods’ War got more and more layered as the series progressed. It was a great piece of mythology at the start, and it got fleshed out as we heard different perspectives on the story. We learn that it was never a simple case of good vs. evil as it seemed at the start.

However, The Kingdom of Gods is my least favourite of the series. It’s a good book, but there are too many different things going on, and too many details that bother me, most of which I’ve already discussed in the previous questions. I was really enjoying it at the start, and then it got a bit chaotic.

Other
– Echo Palace sounds amazing! I want to live in a place that cleans itself and makes whatever food or clothing I want.

See what everyone else had to say:
Books Without Any Pictures
Dab of Darkness
Book Bound

The Kingdom of Gods read-along part 4

The Kingdom of GodsHi everyone, it’s week four of The Kingdom of Gods read-along, covering chapters 14-17. Our host for this section is Gabriella from Book Bound, so be sure to head over to her place. Here’s what I had to say for this week’s questions:

 

1. Nahadoth said “You cannot remain in mortal flesh much longer. It’s changing you” to Sieh. Do you think Nahadoth knows what is happening to Sieh? And what could happen to Sieh?
If Sieh’s problems are caused by Kahl being his son and coming out of hiding, and of Sieh regaining his memories of creating Kahl with Enefa, then no, I don’t think Nahadoth knows about it. If he did, he’d probably have murdered Kahl to keep Sieh safe. He might also try to preserve the secret of Kahl’s creation.

His words suggest that he wants Sieh to stay the same, whereas characters like Nsana think Sieh needs to change.

 

2. Sieh half-dies and suddenly comes back with some other magic (something about the universe or other). What do you make of it & why is it only Shahar, Dekarta and Sieh that remember?
That was certainly surprising. I thought Deka would have the power to heal Sieh with his magic alone. But hey, this is much cooler and now we have an explanation for what happened on the Nowhere Stair all those years ago.

I wonder why the three of them have this ability. Sieh says it’s possible for a demon to be more powerful than a godling, so is that the case with Dekarta? What about Shahar? She hasn’t displayed any magical abilities. And why does it still work with Sieh as a mortal? Would it be possible with other combinations of godlings and demons?

I assume only the three of them remember the event because it was their magic that caused it. They altered reality so for everyone else there’s no other version to remember. When Yeine spoke to Sieh in his room though, she seemed to suggest that she knew what had happened.

 

3. What do you think of Yeine’s offer to Remath?
It worried me a little. My first thought was dictatorial power changing hands, rather than the world changing for the better. Why does Yeine want to be worshipped? What will this do for her?

However, it might be that Yeine simply wants the Arameri to worship her because of what it means for the family – a fundamental change in their behaviour. She is all about balance and growth, while Nahadoth is chaotic and Itempas is too resistant to change. By taking her as their patron goddess, they will adopt completely different ideas about power, hierarchy, childcare, religion, race, etc. And I’m reassured by the fact that Nahadoth and Itempas seem to be content with this plan.

 

4. Thoughout the whole book, but more in the last couple of chapters, we’ve seen the Arameri have become more human-like, and especially Remath has been more emotional. Do you think they’ve always been like this or that there is some trigger that is making them behave differently?
I don’t believe that they were genetically predisposed to be assholes, but I do think that their power and culture had an extremely powerful influence on their behaviour and ensured that the most ruthless people came out on top. Based on Sieh’s appraisal, I’d say it’s only since they lost the Enefadeh and T’vril made changes that they started acting differently. Their vulnerability meant they had to change or fall.

I think a lot of their previous behaviour stemmed from hiding their true feelings, so in some cases they changed simply by allowing themselves to show those feelings. Remath’s love for her children reminds me of Dekarta’s love for Kinneth. Shahar’s softness reminds me of Relad.

 

5. The Echo Palace has been built! And Shahar and Dekarta are “safe”. Why do you think Remath is abandoning the normal source of Arameri power?\
As Remath said, the masks that sent “nigh-unstoppable creatures” to kill them, are everywhere. Without realising it, the Arameri have been surrounded by enemies and they are all in danger. Moving immediately to a secret location is a very practical solution and thanks to Yeine, it’s a very simple solution too.

 

6. Sieh has just left with Itempas, Nahadoth and Yeine… How will they save him?
Well, if the Three come together they become omnipotent, so presumably that will give them the power or knowledge to save Sieh. I don’t have any guesses as to exactly what they will have to do, but I believe in Spider’s prophecy, that Itempas is the key. Maybe she just means that Sieh has to accept his help, agree to the plan of Itempas becoming one of the Three for a day so they will have the power to save him. And maybe, if saving Sieh means getting him to accept his son and grow up, then maybe he can learn something from Itempas who, according to Glee, is a good father and loves his children no matter what. Perhaps Sieh has been like Nahadoth for too long – impulsive and chaotic. If he is to grow up, he needs some of Itempas’s stability.

My only concern is that it might ruin Sieh’s friendship with the twins, but now that they know a bit more about their powers, perhaps they can work around that.

 

Other
– Ah, at last, an explanation for what happened in the Nowhere Stair. And I really like the idea that Sieh, Deka and Shahar (unwittingly) altered reality to make the oath possible.

– I thought Glee’s depiction of Itempas was quite touching – he loves his children, and mourned his demon son because he’s a good father and does not love any less if his children are mortal or hate him. She’s also did a nice job of summing up our knowledge of the God’s War so far. Now we just need to know the details of Sieh’s role in deceiving Nahadoth and Itempas.

The Kingdom of Gods read-along part 3

The Kingdom of GodsHi everyone! It’s part 3 of The Kingdom of Gods read-along, covering chapters 11-13. OUr host this week is Grace from Books Without Any Pictures, so head over to her place to get the links to the other replies.

Here’s what I thought (spoilers, obviously):

1.  What are your theories on Kahl?  Who is he, and what is he up to?
I think he is Sieh and Enefa’s son – an elontid. But since having a child is antithetical to Sieh’s nature, Enefa wiped the knowledge of him from Sieh’s memory, and kept him hidden. If no one knew about him, Sieh could be kept safe. I don’t know how long Kahl would have been hidden and alone for, but it would have been millennia, and that could explain his anger (and possibly his complete and utter insanity – we don’t know much about Kahl’s state of mind at this point).

If Kahl is behind the Arameri murders, then I’m not sure what his agenda is. Revenge for his father Sieh? Inciting a Gods’ War as revenge for the way he was treated? I don’t know.

It makes sense that he would have the audacity to do it though – he’s separate from the other godlings so probably does not care about Yeine’s rule against killing humans or interfering with human society.

 

2.  We finally get to meet Oree’s daughter, Glee.  Is she what you expected?  What do you think about her role on the council and her hiding Itempas?
Yes, she’s what I expected. I knew this person would be powerful and probably as determined and level-headed as Oree. So, when we first encountered Glee in Ahad’s office, I wondered if she might be Oree’s daughter, especially since she looks similar, with her afro and dark skin. It was definitely my first guess when she appeared at the council meeting later; it didn’t seem likely that the gods would allow an ordinary human to be part of the group, and I was waiting for Oree’s child to pop up somewhere.

I’m relieved that she’s hiding Itempas and that something bad hasn’t happened to him. I’m not exactly sure who she’s protecting him from though. Yeine? The godlings?

I’m also pleased to hear that Itempas is taking the command to right his wrongs seriously, and that some of the godlings are involved in the endeavour. It actually gives them a good reason to wipe out the Arameri (righting that one “whopping” wrong), but Itempas, as Glee says, would always fight for order. As his representative, I assume Glee would too, will argue for anti-war measures in the council. Which is great; I don’t want war either.

 

3.  What’s up with Deka?  Does he really like Sieh, or is he using him for some later gain?
I’m glad Deka’s not just ok but happy, sane and the most powerful scrivener the world has ever seen. Another demon 🙂 I think it’s possible that Deka has some plan he hasn’t told Sieh about, but I thought his affection for Sieh was genuine. If anything, it’s his desire for Sieh that might become an issue, rather than any malice. There was just one thing about their interaction that worried me a little – Sieh was about to ask where Deka heard about the details of Shahar’s betrayal, and Deka kissed him instead of answering. Is there something important about that answer? Does Deka use spy holes like that demon priest in the previous book?

Oh, and why didn’t Deka and Shahar’s blood kill Sieh if they’re both demons? Still wondering exactly what happened there.

 

4.  In this section, we’re introduced to two new forms of magic–Deka’s use of the gods’ language, and the Darre masks.  What do you think about them?  How do you think the mask will be used?  Does it have anything to do with Sieh’s affliction?
My first guess was that the mask might be used to restore Sieh’s godhood. I’m still holding out hope that Kahl is not (entirely) evil, and wants to give Sieh a chance at being a father. But being a father will kill him, so Kahl needs a mask to counteract that. On the downside, it’s possible Kahl only wants to restore him so he can fight him as an equal.

However, Kahl also seems to hate the idea of being a slave to his nature, and says he wants to control fate, which suggests that he wants to use the mask himself, to be powerful enough to behave in whatever way he wants. That might give him the power to save Sieh though.

Deka’s magic is pretty awesome, but we have no idea what kind of potential it has. It could be really dangerous – as a demon it’s quite possible he could use the magic against the gods. And what would happen if he used that one mask?

 

5.  What secret do you think Enefa wiped from Sieh’s memory?
The child they conceived together (see no.1). Nemmer’s theory about Enefa hiding him makes perfect sense – she could keep him alive by keeping him hidden. From his vague, reawakening memories, I get the impression that Sieh’s union with Enefa was reluctant – he longed for her, and we know he’s always wanted to be part of the Three, but he also knew it would kill him and he was terrified. Enefa should have known better, but seemed to be driven by lust. It was undoubtedly a mistake, so Enefa’s secret could also have been a way of hiding her own crime against Sieh.

 

Other:
– I loved the conversation Sieh had with the godling Egan at the beginning of this section. It added yet another layer to our knowledge of the Gods’ War. In book 1, there was the ‘official’ version – Itempas defeating his traitorous sister and evil brother. There was also the ‘truth’ – Itempas murdered Enefa; Nahadoth and the Enefadeh were defeated and enslaved when they rose up against him. In book 2 we got Itempas’s side of the story. Now we get the godlings POV – the idea that the Enefadeh were “infected” by Nahadoth’s fury and went mad just as Itempas did. Egan says they not only killed adversaries but those who sought a peaceful resolution or tried to help the humans. It reached the point where the godlings thought enslaving the Enefadeh was their only hope. No wonder so many of Sieh’s siblings are angry with him.

Nevertheless, I felt sorry for Sieh at the need of this conversation, when it became clear how very, very lonely he’s been.

– I’m enjoying the way Sieh’s character is unfolding. The conversation with Nsana was very enlightening. There is hope in Nsana’s insistence that Sieh needs to grow up, but that does mean growing old. Even Enefa didn’t think he could be a little boy forever. Obviously Sieh has resisted growing up – to his own detriment – but that means he can change rather than become mortal and die.

The Kingdom of Gods read-along part 2

The Kingdom of Gods

Hi everyone, it’s The Kingdom of Gods read-along part 2! This section covers chapters 5-10, so there will of course be spoilers up to that point. I’m your host for this week, so be sure to leave your link in the comments. And without further ado, lets get to the Q&A.

1. Do you think Shahar can keep her childhood promise and be a good person and an Arameri?
Based on what Sieh said, it seems unlikely – eventually her family will defeat her. She already made the mistake of participating in her mother’s schemes by seducing Sieh. She very badly wants her mother and brother’s love, and that could easily get in the way of her noble goals for the Arameri. However, there is some hope in the fact that the Arameri have changed so much over the past few decades; maybe they no longer have the power to corrupt her. And based on her name, I expect that Shahar will somehow be a world-changing character.

I also wonder what effect the last set of events at Sky will have on Shahar. She agreed to seduce Sieh in the hope of getting her brother back, and perhaps winning her mother’s approval. She knew she’d lose Sieh’s friendship in the process. When she learned that having a child would kill Sieh, she revealed the plan, which led to Sieh slaughtering a whole bunch of family members. How might Shahar interpret this? Does she see herself as a vulnerable child caught between her mother’s scheming and Sieh’s murderous nature? Or does she blame herself for betraying a friend and causing the deaths of some of her family members? I’m keen to get back to Sky palace and see how Shahar has changed.

2. The Arameri family has changed drastically and now we learn they’re being systematically killed off. Do you like the changes? Do you feel sorry for the family or are they getting what they deserve?
I like most of the changes, even though the Arameri must have been very reluctant to change. Nevertheless, I things have improved – they’re more racially diverse, and more tolerant of religious differences. They have non-Amn employees in high ranks, and the Head Scrivener is (was) a primortalist.

On the downside, we now have the Arameri going to desperate measures, like trying to have demon children and breeding incestuously to avoid ‘polluting’ the bloodline.

I think they’re getting what they deserve though. The possibility that their deaths might start another Gods’ War if a godling is responsible is, of course, a major problem, but I don’t think the Arameri deaths themselves are all that tragic. I feel a bit sorry for Shahar who seems unnerved by the prospect of her family disappearing, but for the most part the Arameri don’t even seem upset about the idea of losing family. It’s the fact that they’re losing power that’s their problem. At this point, I think the only reason they should retain power is to help keep the peace. If they can’t, or if that’s no longer necessary, then screw ’em. The Arameri have been responsible for centuries of oppression; it’s about time their reign ended.

3. Any theories on the antagonist that Sieh meets in his dream?
I think it’s Sieh’s son. He’s clearly a godling, but he says he’s not one of Sieh’s brothers. Although he’s very cold and angry, there’s a moment when he touches Sieh’s hair with something like affection.

Sieh obviously doesn’t know about a son, and I think he’s been forced to forget about this mystery figure, whoever it might be (the word “forget” keeps popping up when Sieh come close to the issue). A son could explain Sieh’s condition. As he told Shahar, having a child would kill him because childhood can’t survive it. Given that Sieh is dying but not dead, perhaps forgetting about the child was necessary for his survival; it still had a great affect on him, but as long as he doesn’t actually know about it he remains alive.

I think that would be quite an interesting scenario – the father who can’t be a father. Sieh would be an even worse father than Itempas because it’s antithetical to his being. Having a child automatically becomes an oftence against that child, hence the vengeance. If this is the case, I’m hoping that Sieh’s son’s plan to kill him is actually a way of changing Sieh – killing the god of childhood to make him into something that can accept fatherhood. Sieh’s suffering means that vengeance is – conveniently – part of the package. And if Sieh can be transformed, then maybe his son can have the father he wants.

If Sieh does have a son, I wonder who the other parent is? God or godling? Is the son an elontid or an mnasat? If he’s an elontid, is Itempas the father? Does that explain why he’s disappeared?

(Having done all this speculation I hope I’m right about some of it at least!)

4. Religious belief in the city and the palace has changed a lot, as have humans’ relationships with the gods. Thoughts? What might your beliefs be if you lived in Sky/Shadow?
I like that heresy has become trendy 🙂 Shows how far the world has come from the Itempas-or-death approach during the Interdiction. I also like the idea that most gods don’t want to be worshipped. As Ahad argues, it’s a transaction – the worshippers expect the god to give them something in return. At least The Arms of Night is more honest about that relationship. And why should gods want that just because they’re gods? Our standard understanding of gods is that they expect humans to worship them, but I Jemisin makes us question that assumption. Why would the gods expect to be worshipped just because they’re powerful? For Nahadoth, Itempas, and Enefa/Yeine it makes more sense because they created the world. But for the godlings? Some of them probably are vain enough to want worship, but most of them probably just aren’t interested.

I’d most likely be a primortalist since I’m not inclined to religious worship, but the gods still intrigue me. And I haven’t forgotten the great relationship Oree and Maddiing had. I have to admit, I’d probably want to check out The Arms of Night 🙂 It’d also be cool to just learn about the gods.

5. Sieh’s much more than the charming boy god we saw in book 1. How do you feel about his character at the moment?
It’s been suggested by at least one character that the version of Sieh we saw in book 1 was partly an act he put on for Yeine. I’m inclined to agree. Most of the time he takes childhood to dangerous extremes. The story started with Sieh’s jealousy and anguish about being excluded from his parents’ relationships. He played some scary games with the young twins. He kills people impulsively, and I thought his massacre at Sky Palace was impressive, but over the top. Especially since he killed the scrivener Shevir, who was quite nice. Sieh’s so self-absorbed that he never bothered to understand the choices his siblings made during the Gods’ War; he just wrote them off and he was powerful enough not to care what they thought of him. He’s also terribly hierarchical. He felt justified in killing the mnasat because “they were so foolish as to interfere in the concerns of their betters”.

I was also shocked when Sieh suggested to Ahad that gods shouldn’t have to pay for sex with humans, because all they needed to do was point to a mortal and take what they wanted. Sieh was raped repeatedly by the Arameri for two thousand years, but he doesn’t bat an eyelid at the idea of gods raping humans. His contempt for mortals and his sense of superiority is frightening.

His behaviour suits his nature as the god of childhood, but it also makes him seriously dysfunctional and – for me – increasingly unlikeable. He’s been through a lot, and he’s still struggling with some of his feelings, but he lacks the maturity to cope. It also seems unlikely that childhood could survive the experience of being an Arameri slave for two thousand years, so maybe Sieh has been a broken god for a long time.

6. Should Sieh work for Ahad?
While I hate the idea of Sieh being a whore again, I think he needs to spend time with humans and godlings. He’s so contemptuous of humans, which is no surprise given that most of his experiences with humans are based on his time as an Arameri slave. And he doesn’t seem to have many godling friends. He just wants to be with Yeine and Nahadoth, like a clingy child.

Ahad’s business doesn’t seem that bad either. It’s consensual and mutually beneficial. And I get the impression that it offers more than just sex, so maybe Sieh could provide some other kind of service?

Other
 – Those Arameri and their incestuous ways… What will Shahar and Deka make of it? Interesting that they can do in vitro fertilisation though.

– Wow, En can be pretty badass…

Links
Dab of Darkness
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The Kingdom of Gods read-along part 1

The Kingdom of GodsHi everyone and welcome to The Kingdom of Gods read-along! Our host for part one is Susan from Dab of Darkness, so head over to her blog to leave your link and blog hop through everyone else’s answers. Feel free to leave your link in my comments as well.

This section covers the Prologue through to the end of chapter 4, and at this early stage there are no major spoilers. However, there are slight spoilers for the previous two books.

And now, on with the Q&A!

1) Do you think the twins’ names Dekarta and Shahar are portentous of who they will grow into?
For Shahar there are already lots of similarities. Itempas gave Shahar a knife; this Shahar got one from Sieh. The first Shahar used the knife to kill her abusive father; this Shahar used it to stab Sieh and save herself and Deka. Itempas was intrigued by Shahar’s behaviour; Sieh admits to finding Shahar’s mad fury attractive. Itempas and Shahar became lovers; it seems Sieh and Shahar will do the same. Like Itempas, Sieh is lonely and vulnerable.

Presumably Sieh and Shahar’s relationship will be a very important, maybe even world-changing (although hopefully not because it starts another God’s War). I hope this Shahar isn’t as insane and manipulative as her ancestor, but I don’t think Jemisin would write it so simplistically. She’s not a reincarnation. However, Sieh’s knowledge of what happened between Shahar and Itempas may make him wary of this Shahar’s influence. Also, Shahar’s relationship with her mother makes it clear that she’s got her own agenda.

I don’t think the parallel with Itempas will be lost on Sieh. Itempas ‘lost’ Nahadoth to Enefa, and in the prologue Sieh describes losing Yeine to Nahadoth (at least as a sexual partner). Like Itempas, he feels horribly alone. I hope this parallel  will be a good thing, and he’ll start to empathise with his father more.

With Dekarta, I’m not sure, but I doubt his naming is random. I suppose he might have the same love/hate relationship with Shahar that his predecessor had with Kinneth. Like Dekarta, he might also want to take revenge on a family member.

There’s another parallel as well – the last set of twins we encountered was Scimina and Relad. I wonder if there’s any importance in that?

 

2) Yeine and Itempas. Too early? Or will Yeine be the bridge that puts everyone back together?
I was quite surprised by this, and not entirely sure how I feel about it, but it doesn’t seem to be too early. Even Nahadoth isn’t bothered by it. In fact he admits to desiring Itempas and says he no longer wants him to be an enemy. Sieh is infuriated, but later feels bad for wanting to deny them their intimacy even though it hurts him. The ultimate goal is for the Three to be together again, so it seems good rather than bad.

 

3) Sieh seems to have some need, or at least an attraction, to be in Sky Palace. Healthy or unhealthy?
In itself, I’m not sure if visiting Sky is healthy or unhealthy, but I do think it’s a symptom of the fact that there’s something wrong with Sieh. I think, in a way, he misses being part of the Enefadeh. Not because he misses being enslaved, but he misses the tight family group he lived in, and misses being essential to Nahadoth. They’re all free now but Nahadoth has Yeine and might even become Itempas’s lover again, leaving Sieh alone and angry. So it makes sense that he’d return to Sky, about which he has similarly conflicting feelings – it was kind of like a torture chamber, but, as he states, it was also the only place in the mortal realm he’s ever called home. He might have gone there to wallow in his own unhappiness, or it might help him work through his emotional problems somehow.

 

4) In just this beginning section, we see more than just physical changes in Sieh. What do you think is happening to him, and more importantly why?
Something to do with the Maelstrom, but I have no idea what. And presumably something triggered by Sieh mixing his god’s blood with Arameri blood, or simply by making a blood oath with humans.

I assume Oree’s child will have some role to play in this story, which makes me wonder if her son or grandson is the twins’ father. If they were demons their blood would probably have killed Sieh, in which case Oree’s child might be something other than a demon. After all, Itempas was a god in mortal form. So perhaps the child’s blood could make a god mortal rather than simply killing him? But’s that’s total speculation.

 

5) Shahar is quite angry with her mother and has been for some time. Justified? How do you think their relationship will shape this story?
At the moment, her anger does seem a tad unfair (which is true of most teenagers). Her mother sent her brother away, but that’s infinitely better than pitting them against each other like Dekarta did with Scimina and Relad. Perhaps Remath made a tough but kind decision and her daughter cannot appreciate that. However, I feel like there’s a lot we don’t know yet.

On the other hand, Remath seems ruthless in her willingness to use Shahar as a pawn by making her Sieh’s servant. She clearly not a very nice person. And although it wasn’t stated explicitly, I got the impression that Remath not only wants Shahar to be Sieh’s companion, but to have his baby. That would give them another demon and Sieh’s favour. Imagine – a demon at the head of the Arameri family!

The Arameri full-bloods seem to make for very cruel parents in general as well, and given that the whole family has a long history of killing each other, and based on that it’s not surprising that Shahar has reason to hate her mother, and would react by killing her. Not sure how it will shape the story, but there is the possibility that she’ll use Sieh to get what she wants.

 

6) Why do you think Shahar’s letters to her brother return unopened?
Perhaps the letters never get to Deka. They could be intercepted by his instructors or even his mother, who doesn’t want the twins communicating for some reason.

There might also be something we don’t know yet that led Deka to avoid communicating with his sister. Perhaps he blames her for being sent away? I don’t really have any theories.

 

Other

– The gendering of the gods is interesting – Nahadoth taking female form to comfort Sieh, and later taking Sieh into his womb. Sieh choosing a male form to be among humans because there are fewer restrictions imposed on boys. Itempas was male from the start and stayed that way, which according to Sieh is because is so unchanging and arrogant. I like that their gender is fluid, although there’s also some essentialism to it – female as nurturing, male as arrogant.

– I love Sieh’s sun 🙂

– Where is Itempas?! Don’t Yeine and Nahadoth worry that his disappearance is related to what happened to Sieh?

Blog Hop
Dab of Darkness
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Tethyan Books

The Kingdom of Gods read-along: Schedule

The Kingdom of GodsThe Broken Kingdoms read-along came to an end on Monday, and on 10 February we’ll start with the final book in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, The Kingdom of GodsThe read-along will be hosted by myself, Susan from Dab of Darkness, Grace from Books Without Any Pictures, and a newcomer – Gabriella from Book Bound.

There’s still room for one more host (you can take either one of my dates) so if you’re interested just let me know in the comments or email me at violininavoid[at]gmail[dot]com. Being a host is simple – it just means coming up with the discussion questions for that section, and providing links to other bloggers’ posts on yours.

You can also contact me if you want to blog along, join the discussion or just lurk, and I’ll add you to the email list to get the questions on the weekend before the blog posts go up.

Here is the schedule:

The Kingdom of Gods – 575 pages
– Week 1 Prologue – Chapter 4 (104 pages) Feb. 10th Dab of Darkness
– Week 2 Chapters 5-10 (115 pages) Feb. 17th Violin in a Void
– Week 3 Chapters 11-13 (119 pages) Feb. 24th Books Without Any Pictures
– Week 4 Chapters 14-17 (117 pages) March 3rd Book Bound
– Week 5 Chapter 18 – END (116 pages) March 10th Violin in a Void

Hope to see you there!