Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
by N.K. Jemisin
432pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.14/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.42/5

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a debut novel by N. K. Jemisin, who was recently nominated for the Nebula Award for her short story "Non-Zero Probabilities." Even though it's the first book in The Inheritance Trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a complete story with a satisfying conclusion. The next two books in the series each focus on a different main character than the first one. According to Jemisin's website, the second book The Broken Kingdoms will be released in fall 2010.

Soon after the mysterious death of her mother, Yeine Darr is summoned to the Arameri court by its ruler, her grandfather. When Yeine's mother met her father, a minor barbarian noble, she abdicated her position as heir to the Arameri throne. The Arameri have ruled the world for a very long time due to their favor with the Skylord, one of the three major gods. The Skylord killed one of the other gods and gave the Nightlord along with his sons and daughters to the Arameri as their own personal weapons. These gods are slaves to the Arameri, bound in flesh and made to obey their every whim.

Yeine goes to the Arameri home of Sky and meets with her grandfather, who informs her that he is making her his heir while keeping her cousins as his other two heirs. She will now be a true Arameri - and will quite possibly be killed by one of her cousins in an attempt for the throne while trying to unravel the truth about the past.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is one of those books that appeals to me on so many levels and I loved it. It did have a couple of cheesy sex scenes, but other than that, I have no complaints and was completely engaged in this novel from beginning to end.

The story is told from the first person perspective of Yeine. Her narrative is very scattered and feels as though she really is telling the story to the reader as she interrupts herself often to insert information or go back and fill in parts she just remembered. For instance, when she goes to meet her grandfather for the first time, she then stops to expound on the history of the gods and how it relates to the Arameri people:
I knelt before my grandfather with my head bowed, hearing titters of laughter.

No, wait.

* * *

There were three gods once.

Only three, I mean. Now there are dozens, perhaps hundreds. They breed like rabbits. But once there were only three, most powerful and glorious of all: the god of day, the god of night, and the goddess of twilight and dawn. Of light and darkness and the shades between. Or order, chaos, and balance. None of that is important because one of them died, the other might as well have, and the last is the only one who matters anymore.

The Arameri get their power from this remaining god. He is called the Skyfather, Bright Itempas, and the ancestors of the Arameri were His most devoted priests. He rewarded them by giving them a weapon so mighty that no army could stand against it. They used this weapon - weapons, really - to make themselves rulers of the world.

That's better. Now.

* * *

I knelt before my grandfather with my head bowed and my knife laid on the floor. (pp. 6)
Some may find this style a bit chaotic, but personally, I really liked it. Yeine herself is far from an omniscient narrator since she spends much of the novel trying to discover the truth about her mother and the gods (since the only accepted account allowed by the winning god may be a bit biased). Throughout the tale, more and more about the world and the characters and how everything weaves together is slowly revealed.

The world mythology was well-developed and added a lot to the novel. The gods were somewhat reminiscent of the Greek gods since they shared so many human traits and complexities. In spite of the fact that they were very powerful and different from the humans, they were also capable of jealousy, greed and love.

Most of the characters were well-written with diverse motivations. Of course, Yeine was a favorite as the point of view character and the easiest to sympathize with. She went from being leader of a relatively small nation to contending for the title of world ruler, plus she has the disadvantage of not knowing the Arameri ways like her two cousins. After Yeine, my favorite character was Sieh, the trickster god who usually appeared as a child (happily, he is the subject of the third book). At once ancient and childlike, Sieh had an interesting dual nature and before he was enslaved the world was his playground (he still has several suns that he keeps around to play with). Nahadoth, the dangerous god of night, was also a major character as Yeine's romantic interest.

There's a lot packed into this book and it deals with themes such as race, gender, slavery and religion. Yet these different issues are all subtly intertwined into the story - there are no long diatribes on any of them and they are all incorporated into the novel without being heavy-handed or excessive. Yeine is a dark-skinned woman raised in a matriarchal society. The gods were enslaved and this removal of the other gods affected the people's religion and the perception of truth.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was both entertaining and different. This debut novel had a compelling story with some complex and human characters, and I'm really looking forward to reading more by N.K. Jemisin.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: The publisher sent me a copy.

Other Reviews:


ediFanoB said...

Great review Kristen.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the next book I will read and review.
I read the first chapter online and liked it a lot.

It seems there are several great debuts within 2010.

Benjamin said...

Very good review, Kristen! I got this book last week and I plan to get to it soon.

Re: sex scenes. I heard about this on the Westeros message board. Not sure if it means anything, but I couldn't help but note that the few people complaining about it were guys. And then all of a sudden some people were saying they may not read the book after all. I'm like, "why don't you read the book for yourself to see if you like it or not?" *cue rolling eyes*

orannia said...

Fantastic review Kristen - so detailed. Thank you! This book sounds very good! The only downside is that now I want to read it ASAP.. *looks at pile of books by bed* I m u s t resist *grin*

Kristen said...

ediFanoB - Thank you! I liked the first chapter, too - it was one of those books that hooked me immediately.

Benjamin - Thank you! I hope you enjoy it.

The sex scenes were cheesy, but I don't see why anyone wouldn't read it because of that. It was a small part of the book - it was not like the book was a collection of endless sexual escapades.

Orannia - Thank you! It is hard when there are so many books you want to read right now - I have that problem too.

Juli D. Revezzo said...

This looks very interesting, particularly for the chaotic nature of the writing. :) I can't wait to see how the author pulled it off. Thanks for the review!

Kristen said...

JAD - I did really like that aspect of the writing. Hope you enjoy it too if you do read it!

Anastasia said...

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was one of the books I finished today. One of the reviews on Amazon mentioned that the original title was going to be "Sky-Lord's Lover" - that would make a lot more sense. The title as it stands really doesn't fit. This book reminded me of By the Mountain Bound and All the Windwracked Stars more than anything. Yet it was missing that emotional twang for me that I would have wanted. Then again, I've been re-reading Constatine's Sign for the Sacred this week and that's just unfair to anything that might follow.

I definitely look forward to reading more of Jemisin's books, and certainly don't regret reading this one (in one day!). It's an 8/10 for me though. (On the love scenes, nothing wrong with them. Weird that some people objected.)

Memory said...

I love the sound of this one. I'm all about narrator/audience interaction, so I think I'll really like Yeine's voice.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - Yes, I agree, the title doesn't make a whole lot of sense. From reading the book, you know where it comes from but it really doesn't have that much to do with this particular story. Glad you liked it, though! I actually struggled a bit with whether or not it was an 8.5 or a 9 for me, but for most of the book I thought 9 so that's what I went with.

I can see why people objected to one or two of the parts in the loves scenes, but the ones I'm thinking of were such a small part of the book that I don't see any reason to dwell on them too much.

Memory - Hope you like it. I like strong narrative voices, too, and thought this one worked out very well.