May 10, 2012

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Published: 2010, Orbit
Series: The Inheritance Trilogy, #1
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Library book
I absolutely love books whose major conflict is literally a ticking time bomb. Although it's hard for me to read too many of these in succession, there's something about the immediacy of the situations in these novels that draws me even further into those worlds. Of course, if there's little else to offset the major conflict in the novel, then it can quickly become old for my feelings to solely center around anticipation. Not only does The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms have the threat of time looming over the protagonist's head, but N.K. Jemisin really goes into detail with her characterization and worldbuilding, leaving the readers other things to care about besides this one major conflict, which I definitely appreciated.

On the surface, the story's conflict seems to focus on the succession to the throne, where politics are paramount. Yeine is summoned to Sky as the unlikely third heir and contender for the throne of Sky. The people of Sky see her as a barbarian from a rustic northern tribe, while she is also a physical representation of the loss that the Arameri ruling family suffered when her mother, Kinneth, the previous heir of Sky, abdicated her power for a northern man. Yeine must deal with politics, intrigue, cruel family members, and acclimation to a world completely unlike anything she's ever known as she searches for answers to her mother's murder. Now, as a reader I generally have trouble with books that deal too heavily in political intrigue. If there are too many players, too many motives, or if politics comprise the vast majority of the book, then it's usually difficult for me to enjoy the novel. Although politics and political intrigue are important aspects of this book, I thought they were nicely handled. I never felt like I was drowning in too much history and political intrigue, which made me appreciate the times when the world politics were actually explained, because Jemisin did a good job of focusing on the important political aspects at stake in the novel - not more or less.

Jemisin's worldbuilding is wonderful and refreshing. Although a map would have been useful (seriously, when aren't maps useful for fantasy worlds?), since the vast majority of the novel was firmly placed in the world capital city and palace, Sky, it was not too much of an issue. I personally adore any re-imagining of mythology and creation and gods, and the mythology that Jemisin creates is no exception. According to the mythology of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the world and existence as the people know it is due to three sibling gods, Nahadoth, god of chaos and night, Itempas, god of light and order, and Enefa, goddess of dawn, dusk, and life. Not only does Jemisin create a thoroughly engaging creation story for her world, but it becomes so much more than simply a story. In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the gods are still very much a part of the world. Enefa, Nahadoth, and some of the younger gods lost a major battle against Itempas a long time ago, and the world continues to be directly affected by the results. The goddess Enefa is dead, while Nahadoth and some of his children are enslaved and controlled by the Arameri, the ruling family of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I love any story where the world's mythology becomes more than simply an exercise in the author's worldbuilding, where gods can play an active role in the lives of the world and characters. In this aspect, the story reminded me a lot of one of my favorite series of all time: The Queen's Thief series.

Without giving away any spoilers, I'll just say that Yeine finds herself in a situation far more complicated than she ever imagined. The gods have a stake in the succession as well, and so Yeine must learn how to deal with both human and godly influences. And she does. Her background kind of sounds like the mythical Greek Amazons, since her nation Darr values female power and casts them as the warriors. Although her fighting skills are not of much value to her at Sky, Yeine is also resourceful, determined, and, above all, has a strong sense of morality that makes her willing to do whatever she thinks is right - regardless of the consequences. Yet Yeine does have her bouts of doubt and uncertainty, among them trying to piece together an understanding of who her mother, the Arameri heir, actually was. Yeine's strength is ultimately not in her physical power, but that's just fine, as she's an empowered character nonetheless. And that's hard to pull off, with both mortal and immortal competition at each and every turn. 

I was a little confused about the relationship between Yeine and Nahadoth. Don't get me wrong - I liked it. But it didn't make much sense to me. This relationship kind of reminded me of the good girl falling for the bad boy, but it was much more extreme than that. He's a god. By day an enslaved god stuck in a more mortal body, perhaps, but by night he's this terrifying creature of power, seduction, chaos. He was born into the maelstrom that existed before time began. While Yeine is a strong character, I am just not sure what exactly Nahadoth sees in her - besides a certain spoilery aspect - but he makes it clear that his feelings for her run deeper than that. And I'm also not quite sure what Yeine sees in him. Yes, he's seductive - if she's willing to overlook the fact that he's uncontrollable at night and just as willing to kill her as to seduce her. I think that part of her feelings stem from sympathy and empathy. There are slight reasons given for the relationship between Yeine and Nahadoth, but they weren't strong enough to satisfy my questions. Maybe I'll get a better understanding for these two through books two and three.

The ending was another part of the novel I had a bit of trouble digesting. Although I was left relieved and eager for the next two novels in the trilogy, I just didn't get a clear sense of Yeine's evolution or why things happened the way that they did. Everything wasn’t clean-cut exactly, but there was, as other reviewers have said, too much of a sense of deus ex machina. Once again, this is something I hope Jemisin continues to describe in the second and third books.

Overall I found this to be a fun read. And this was a strong debut novel from Jemisin. I definitely plan on returning to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to see what happens next to Yeine, Nahadoth, and all the rest of the characters.
author image


Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment! I strive to make my blog the very best it can possibly be and I appreciate each and every comment on here.