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.
I talked about N. K. Jemisin in a post back in May last year, and specifically about the Inheritance Trilogy. This novella was written for inclusion in the omnibus edition of the trilogy, a might tome of over 1400 pages; and takes place after the events of the entire trilogy have concluded, so talking about The Awakened Kingdom involves spoiling the novels somewhat. So,
The Awakened Kingdom is centred on a new godling, created to fill the void left by Sieh’s death. It’s a coming of age story, but an unusual one; Jemisin manages to pack the entire coming of age story of a human into two months in a godling’s life, and since the story is told in first person, also conveys that sense of maturation and growth in her style. The story starts with a very enthusiastic but not terribly coherent and easily distractable narrator, and closes with a narrator with a greater sense of the world and an emotional weight that really is meaningful; Jemisin handles this transition across the course of The Awakened Kingdom very impressively, so that by the end it is clear we’re being told the narrative by a mature individual.
It’s also a very dense novella. For just over a hundred pages, Jemisin packs a lot of things into The Awakened Kingdom; the necessity of compromise, the responsibility that comes with power, the nature of privilege and how carefully it must be dealt with, and the vitality of individual agency. There’s also critique of the patriarchy, in the form of critique of a matriarchy in the novel; Jemisin switches that up so excellently that the reader is almost thrown by it, but when we get down to the serious critique which takes place it becomes obvious just how Jemisin is talking about this world. Jemisin has always been a political writer in some sense of the term, and that is no different here; she uses the coming of age story to also talk about a coming to political consciousness for her protagonist, and The Awakened Kingdom is stronger for it.
The cast Jemisin presents us with is unexpectedly small, given the huge casts of the rest of the Inheritance Trilogy; aside from our narrator there are five or six other significant, recurring characters, each of whom has to play a major part in the maturation of our young godling. They are each unique and bring an interesting perspective to the story, whether that be a youth rebelling against the strictures of his society, a mother enforcing those strictures on her son, a woman who is trained to help godlings come to themselves and has to learn how to do it, a godling who doesn’t have any interest in helping anyone yet does anyway, and more. Each has a very distinct personality and viewpoint, and Jemisin makes sure The Awakened Kingdom has sympathy with all of them; this isn’t a didactic political tract, or rather, it’s a thoughtful one, which acknowledges both sides of a debate even while coming down on one of those sides.
Really, that idea of balance is at the heart of The Awakened Kingdom; balance between genders, balance between individual friends, balance between parent and child, between romantic partners, between young and old. Jemisin has always written fascinatingly on topics around social justice, but has not addressed in quite so head on a manner what that justice means, or how to claim it; but here, the idea of power and its proper use, of how to claim power, of the vital importance of balance to power and justice, are all at the core of the novella.
The Awakened Kingdom is a fascinating, beautiful and very readable exploration of those questions, and I heartily recommend it to you, along with the rest of Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.