Jemisin wraps up her lauded Inheritance Trilogy with The Kingdom of Gods, in which a lonely child-god attempts to befriend scheming mortals with disastrous consequences.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, where these books are set, are very socially stratified. What led you to primarily look at the upper strata, the gods and aristocrats?
Basically, the story follows power. In the first book [The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms], power is held by mortals who’ve gained control over the gods; naturally they’ve set themselves up as aristocrats. In the second book [The Broken Kingdoms] , the aristocrats have lost a great deal of that power because the gods have escaped their control, and power is beginning to shift toward the common folk. In this book, this shift reaches a critical point, and the transfer of power threatens to become horrifically violent as power transfers so often do. I’ve chosen to explore this transition through the eyes of Sieh, a godling who inexplicably begins transforming into a mortal. He fights the loss of his power, fears it, but sees that there are positive aspects to the change. He also literally falls from power, traveling from the gods’ realm to the mortal world.
In many respects, the world of your trilogy is dystopian and disquieting. Why focus on uncomfortable settings?
I think most fiction focuses on uncomfortable settings because that’s interesting. As for the setting of the Inheritance Trilogy being dystopian, the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms are idyllic compared to our own world. The Arameri established world peace! For a price, granted—but I’m sure there are many people living in that world who simply don’t see its dark side: it doesn’t affect them directly, happened forever ago, has no bearing on anything they care about. I decided to tell the story from the perspective of someone who does see its ugliness. So to write a more utopian setting, all I would have to do would be to shift the focus, I think, from those who tend to notice the ugliness to those who tend to ignore it. Everybody’s utopia is somebody’s dystopia.
How are you changing things up for your next series, the Dreamblood books?
The Inheritance Trilogy, to some degree, was born out of American epic fantasy’s tendency to focus exclusively on people at the top of society, exclude or diminish cultures that don’t read as European, squeal “Ew! Cooties!” at any hint of a feminine aestheticism, and take all damn day getting to the point. In the Dreamblood books I’m focusing more on what I like about epic fantasy: the layering and depth of tension; the chance to really delve into the minutia of an alternate society and its politics; a large cast of characters to love and hate. There are no pig-boys who take the MacGuffin of Power to the Place of Significance to bring down the Evil Overlord, but it’s a little more traditional in style: third person, multiple points of view, no timeline shenanigans. I like to try new things.