Shades in Shadow: An Inheritance Triptych by N.K. Jemisin

He does not pay attention to most of what he detects via the dark that is his ears and skin and teeth and guts. Most of it is routine, and supremely boring. Stars–sparkle flare sparkle. Planets–spin shatter spin. Life–chatter chitter chatter. The unutterable tedium of a breathing, beating universe.

This trio of short stories returns us to the world of Jemisin‘s Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods, as well as the novella The Awakened Kingdom). Each story fits into the timeline already established by the larger trilogy, with mostly characters we already know.

“The Wild Boy” featured Nahadoth in the early phase of his imprisonment – the god of darkness kept in a pit in a dungeon – and meeting a young mortal with a grudge against the Arameri. This opening story was perhaps the weakest; the (digital) pages turned easily enough, but I didn’t feel that anything new was revealed about Naha or the world he inhabits. It was just a little extra time spent with him, which I don’t begrudge but didn’t advance anything. “The God Without a Name” was of more interest: Nahadoth’s human double for the spell of his imprisonment coming slowly to terms with his post-Naha identity, the emptiness and lack of purpose, his troubled relationships, and eventually his improvement of these circumstances. Finally, I think “The Third Why” was the best of this triptych, neatly linked again to the second story, so that they connect like links in a chain – not only joined by the Inheritance universe but by characters one to another, from Naha to the nameless god to Glee in this third story. “The Third Why” sees Glee leave her mother’s home to search for her father, whose identity is a spoiler if you haven’t read the trilogy… but if you haven’t read the trilogy, frankly, you will have limited interest in this trio of shorts. So, spoiler coming: Glee goes to find Itempas and travel “with” him (they cleverly circumvent the rule that he must travel alone by pretending it’s all coincidence – this only works, of course, if the other gods willfully look the other way). The development of these two characters and their relationship makes this story the strongest in my view.

On the whole, I think Jemisin’s novels are quite a bit stronger than these shorts. (And recall I really did love that novella mentioned above.) The short story format is truly a different art form than the full-length novel, to be fair. And what Jemisin undertakes here is something particular: a further development of a preexisting fictional world. The audience is necessarily readers already familiar with that world. As a member of that audience, I was pleased – increasingly so with each story, which represents a good choice, I think (better to end on a strong note). I would not recommend readers enter the Inheritance universe here, but those who miss our weird pantheon of gods should be satisfied with the small investment in this e-book only edition (which translates to just 64 pages). I’m perfectly happy to have spent my time this way. I am still more excited to get back to Jemisin’s big, fat, juicy novels.


Rating: 6.5 groundnuts.

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