The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a book I had somewhat been looking forward to but not overly so. N.K. Jemisin delivers a story beautifully in a way that matches my expectations, though not surpassing them. This is also Jemisin’s first novel as well as the first book in her Inheritance Trilogy – I won’t even start to talk about the poor judgment used in choosing that name for her series – it is a book that has a very original feel to it, due in part to the style, though the material itself is not something that ever breaks the “mould” entirely.
Blurb: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family.
I like that this book is about gods. I mean, that isn’t exactly the main subject but it does feature prominently. At times it felt like the story wasn’t really so much about Yeine as it was the story of the gods told from Yeine’s point of view. Jemisin builds a fair amount of background history/mythology around the gods; she tells of their way of life before the current epoch and then tells some if their “War of Gods” that ripped their world apart. At the end of this war, some of the gods – including of the big three – have been subjugated and given to the most powerful human family as slaves to use their power at their bidding. That I think is the interesting part of this book for me. The gods are presented as such flawed and human beings while the story and the characters never stop re-enforcing the fact that they are so very different.
Yeine was an interesting enough character; she did become a bit more interesting over time, but I never really got to like her so much. She seemed too undefined to me. Her thoughts were all over the place, she acted impulsively and her decisions sometimes just didn’t make any sense. Yet I still read through the book – keeping in mind that the whole thing is told from Yeine’s first person point of view – and enjoyed it. The story was good enough to surpass the slight lack in interest I had for the main character. There weren’t very many characters we got to know. I did like the general structure of the ruling family, with all the members of the staff, all the savants, being part of the family to some degree.
I was a bit disappointed about how limited the setting was. We pretty much never leave the palace, and though it’s an interesting enough place, with a title like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I was expecting to see a bit more of, you know, the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. All we get are meager quick magic trips to two places in the kingdom but we don’t get to see any more of it than that. I was sort of hoping that we would really leave the palace at some point in the book but – and this is not to spoil it- we don’t.
One of the more original parts of the book, apart from the brilliant plot elements I already talked about, is the peculiar style of writing that Jemisin uses. It’s kind of hard to describe. At first I wasn’t so sure I liked it but I guess it sort of grew on me until by the end of the book I really did appreciate it. What she does is….strange. There are a couple of things: first off, a lot of the chapters start out with some strange thoughts or conversations between Yeine (our first person narrator) and some unknown consciousness, which is bizarre for me because I was sitting there a lot of the times thinking: who the hell is talking here? Of course, this all does get explained. The second thing she does is to make some page breaks to have kind of asides from the story. These are often quite interesting and important to the story, but occasionally the page breaks will happen halfway through a sentence with no particular need for a pause…
Anyways, I feel I’m digressing. A good book, though not without its faults, even though it is only Jemisin’s first book. I’m looking forward to the next book in the Inheritance Trilogy (there’s that horrible name choice again), and this is one of those that I have no idea in what direction the story will continue since it seemed done-ish to me in this book (or at least more than I’ve seen some books that didn’t have sequels). Read if you’re one of those that enjoy political scheming or god-heavy fantasy; I don’t think newcomers would really enjoy this book since it’s a bit different from what you typically get in the genre.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Violence: None really
Sex/language: No language and sex: barely
N.K. Jemisin's website: http://www.nkjemisin.com/
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