Sunday, March 7, 2010

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

Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Pages: 432

Received from: publisher


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 gods’ and mortals’ lives are intertwined. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential 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’s bloody history. But it’s not just mortals who have secrets worth hiding and Yeine will learn how perilous the world can be when love and hate – and gods and mortals – are bound inseparably.

I say, with confidence, that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is one of the most highly anticipated books in FantasyLand of 2010. I had to fight off my more magically-inclined friends for first dibs (even though I'm the one who has to review it...*grumble*), and it seems impossible not to come across at least a passing mention on most fantasy and speculative fiction blogs. I myself am not a huge fantasy reader, but I know good stuff when I see it. And this, friends, is good stuff.

We begin with Yeine, and she is trying to remember.

I am not as I once was. Thye have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore.

So, I'm intrigued; here is a narrator. She is clearly unreliable. She is sitting in some kind of purgatory, and she can't remember who she is. But then, where is the surprise? She is dead, we know that. She is dead and remembering what lead her there. So where can we go from here? Good for you, Yeine. We know your dead. What now?

But wait. Do I sniff a plot twist?

Yes, I think I do.

So, with a refreshed sense of who Yeine is and why exactly I am here, I continue.

Yeine is nineteen, the child of an outcast and a barbarian. She lives in the High North country of Darr, herself seperated from her fellow countrymen the day she is summoned to Sky, city of the Amn and their ruling family, the Arameri. Her mother's people, those she has never met. The most powerful collection of people in the world, rulers of this world. Known for their cruelty and imprisonment of the banished children of the Maelstram--the gods. She has no relation to these people but by blood. So she is shocked when she is announced as a possible heir to Dekarta, head of the Arameri family. She must win this title by killing her tw twin cousins. This is immediatly dubbed an impossible feat and she is quickly dismissed as a minor distraction.

She is shocked at the ranking system of Arameri; everyone is part of the family, from Dekarta to the lowest servents. Quarters, half bloods, and full bloods. Only the full bloods have power over the gods, the weapons.

This explanation, I will steal from the Book Smugglers, because I hardly understood what I was reading but they did, and they could explain it far better then I.

Once upon a time, there were three Gods. The Nightlord (or Nahadoth) who came first; Bright Itempas , the god of day, and Enefa, the goddess of twilight and dawn. Or light and darkness and the shades between. Or order, chaos, and balance.

The three Gods were siblings and lovers in what can be called the most beautiful and yet terrifyingly sad story ever.

Falling out. Death. Betrayal, Enslavement. The outcome is this: Enefa is dead, Itempas is the sole remaining God, the Skyfather worshiped by the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The ancestors of the Araremi were his devoted priests and in reward they were given the weapons: Nahadoth and three of his Godling children, entrapped and enslaved in (somewhat) human vessels controlled by any Highblood who dares to (because there is a catch – any command you give must be very carefully phrased as the Gods tend to take them very literally). Still, weapons they are, hence, the power the Arameri hold all over the world. Who would stand up against a family who wield the power of Gods?

Thank you, Ana.

So yeah. Yeine. She doesn't want power, she doesn't want the riches and glory of being ruler of the Arameri. No, she wants something else; revenge. Against the man who killed her mother, who killed his daughter. But she also seeks her mother's true identity, one that has become obscured by childhood idealism. She wants to know why she left her powerful family for a dark skinned barabarian like her father, why she betrayed the father she loved. She also learns of the gods she is imprisoned with. Notably, Nahadoth, the Nightlord, the seducer, and his son Sieh, the trickster, the eternal child. Both she will love, in very different ways, and both will gradually teach her more then she could have learned herself.

There are things to be seen from the two central families of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the Arameri and the Gods. It displays the outcome of too much power. That everyone around you can either become an asset, an enemy, or a liability. It also puts into place the question of what makes you human. Yeine, neither a god nor a Arameri nor a Darr, is more human then any of the other members of her family. She feels pity, sadness, grief, while all those around her can only feel lust and greed. Even the, the very definetion of "inhuman", feel more then their captures. Sieh and Nahadoth at once commanded my pity and respect, obviously having the same effect on Yeine.

Yeine herself originally didn't really come across as sympathetic. I thought she was kind of cold and...well, not friendly. But then I stopped and thought, "well, damn." She was raised in a culture that teaches its women that displaying emotion is a weakness, not to mention that she is in the presense of some of the most vicious rulers in the world. Of course shes gonna be a bitch.

The gods were just cool. They were very Indian-Hinduism-slash-Buddism-esque, both abstract and tangible, and reminescent of Greek mythology being that they all have their fair share of sexy times. Nahadoth reminded me of Zuess because, well...alright, he's a pimp. But not like the dbag pimp Zuess is. More like...okay, you know those troubled rock stars who are all angsty and they fuck basically anything with a vagina (and some without) but they're secretly aching inside? Yeah, that's Nahadoth. I wanted to give him and Sieh a big ol' hug because, gosh, those boys had it rough. They have to literally obey every command a full blood gives them, no matter how degrading (though Arameri have to be careful with their wording; the gods have been known to take things literally), and alot of them, especially Sieh (in form of an eternal child most of the time) are used as playthings for perverted old men and horny, desperate women. I mean, they're gods for christ's sake! Fuckme, I'd be pissed as all hell.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was, by far, one of the best modern fantasy novels I've read. It combines intrigue, politics, deep emotional ploys that just work, great characters, lovely prose, and just general awesomeness. My only problem was the end. I didn't get it. I won't spoil it for you, but if anyone has read it, I ask you--please explain it to me.

Rating: either 8 or 9. The ending is still making my head hurt.


Ana said...

Hey, great review! What didn't you get? Email me and I will try to explain if I can?
: D

alana said...

Totally agree with you. I was able to understand the ending, but to do so I had to rationalize it on my own if that makes sense. (Like the author never said exactly what was happening, but in my head I came up with a justification for the ending she wrote.)

Simon said...

Where be Teddy, yo?

And the Gods being used as "playthings"? Pshaw!

D Swizzle said...

Simon-I kid you not, dear sister! There was *leather* involved!

Alana-Thats kind of what I did. I went back and reread the last few chapters until I came up with a conclusion that satisfied my brainhurt.

Ana-thanks, but no need! See above.

rachaelgking said...

"But wait. Do I sniff a plot twist?

Yes, I think I do."


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