So now that The Broken Kingdoms has been out for awhile, I figured it was time to resurrect the Character Studies. And who better to start with than our protagonist, Oree Shoth. Spoilers, obviously!
Those of you who’ve read the book know Oree’s history. She’s a typical small-town girl who moved to the big city, pursuing big dreams — or more specifically, fleeing the smaller dreams that would have been pushed on her if she’d stayed in Nimaro Territory. She’s very much a girl who hates to be held back, because this has been a constant problem throughout her life in part due to her blindness. It’s not just her blindness that causes others to try and restrict her, though; as anyone who’s grown up in a small town knows, the pressure to live one’s life a certain way is powerful. Sometimes the only way to escape that pressure is to go somewhere else.
A more subtle manifestation of this problem can be seen in Oree’s father, however. Like Oree, he was a demon, powerfully attuned to his own magic and that of the world around him. Unlike Oree, he had no outlet for his specialness, and no safe way to express it or embrace it. This is ultimately what killed him — eventually he could no longer hold it in, and his devoutly Itempan society saw through the camouflage he’d used to keep himself safe.
I’d be remiss in not noting the obvious parallels between what happened to Oree’s father — what could’ve happened to Oree — and our own world. I’ve been following, with sorrow and awe, the It Gets Better Project*, meant to address the horrific suicides and bullying incidents of GLBT kids noted recently in the media. (Brilliant, powerful, and NSFW example here, from SF/F writer Hal Duncan.) I didn’t construct Oree’s life and struggle against constraints as a parable of queerness, note; far from it. It’s just that there tends to be a lot of obvious similarity when you compare the struggles of any oppressed groups, IMO. I wrote Oree from my own experience of being a geeky black girl**, who often herself felt constrained and threatened by destructive cultural pressures that have a complex genesis. (Anyone who wants to understand modern racism in America should read that book. Now.) I’m sure there are a lot of real-world situations that can match Oree’s experience — including her own geeky-Maro-girl issues; the struggles of the disabled in a society that actively discriminates and passively devalues them on a constant basis; and the struggles of any poor person to pursue self-actualization while trying to scrape together the monthly rent. There are so many ways in which human beings enforce conformity, often on pain of death.
But Oree’s a fighter. This is partly her father’s doing; he did a good job of teaching her her own value, and preparing her to face a world that would not accept her readily. It’s also just the kind of person she is, and the partial result of circumstance. The events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, in addition to triggering Oree’s greatest life tragedy, ironically also freed her to live a fuller life, by making the world a safer place for magic. It helps, too, that she found a supportive social group: all the godlings who were drawn to her, her fellow Shadow-dwellers (since everyone who stayed in/moved to Shadow after the Tree grew necessarily had to be comfortable with magic), and her nonconformist friends at Art Row. Even Shiny, in spite of himself, helped Oree. Regardless of how you feel about the end of The Broken Kingdoms, I think she came out of the whole affair stronger and better-off. And y’know, Oree’s the kind of girl who knows how to create her own happiness, so don’t feel too bad for her. Trust me: she’ll be okay.
* I’m aware of the criticisms of the It Gets Better project, note — particularly for queer folks who aren’t white and male like the IGB project’s founders. I’m not queer, I don’t know what it’s like, so I don’t get a vote on this — but my non-voting opinion is that any encouragement, wherever it comes from, however minimal, helps. God knows I wouldn’t be here without that.
** I’m always amused to see reviews of 100K that assume Yeine was an authorial self-insertion. Those are clearly people who don’t know me! Oree’s not me either, note — she’s prettier, braver, and lonelier — but she’s a heck of a lot closer than Yeine was.