The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

I’ve been seeing lots of good reviews for this book but the cover wasn’t particularly pulling me in. It was reading an excerpt that sold me (and why I bought the book), but now that I’ve read it I have changed my mind about the cover – it’s not just a random fantasy castle. The column it sits upon means something, as does the dark figure with hair whipping around it’s face. I think I like the cover more after reading the book!

The Premise: Yeine Darr’s mother has recently died, and soon after the death Yeine was called to the palace in Sky, seat of the powerful Arameri family. Yeine expects to be killed off is surprised when her grandfather, who disowned her mother years ago, formally announces that she is now one of his heirs. The problem is that he already has two heirs – Yeine’s cousins Relad and Scimina. To be Arameri is to be utterly ruthless, and Yeine does not fit into this world although as a Darr she’s a leader in her own right. Yeine is being thrown into the mix without much knowledge of the family and the palace of Sky, including it’s four resident gods, who have been chained in human form by Itempas, the Skyfather.

Read chapter 1, chapter 2, and chapter 3 of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

My Thoughts: This book started off very strong for me. I loved the world building and the beautiful palace of Sky which towers over the city of Sky on top of a giant, impossible column – a palace created by gods. When Yeine meets her relatives they don’t think much of her and her “barbaric” upbringing as a Darr. It doesn’t help that she is really half Darr and half-Amn, since her mother abdicated when she met Yeine’s father. (A minus for Yeine’s family, a big plus for me – I love a heroine of mixed race). It seems like a big clash of cultures where Yeine’s world is equivalent to a matriarchal, Amazonian, tribal society who are used to plain speaking, while the Arameri are a metropolitan, Euro-centric society who value treachery and maneuvering. The power is definitely in the hands of the Arameri, who have magic, religion, and four captive gods to rule the world, and who are ahead of the game of succession against Yeine.

The basic story of the universe begins with one god, Nahadoth, who represents chaos, darkness, and change. He is joined by his brother Itempas, who is his opposite – the god of order and light, and their sister Enefa was the gray in between, and bringer of Life to the universe. They also have children. If you have ever read Greek or Roman mythology you should have and idea regarding the things that gods do which seem dysfunctional and childish to mere mortals. This is the case here – their morality is different from Yeine’s and our own and sometimes their relationships are surprising.

The gods were fascinating characters. Yeine’s first encounter with them starts off with a bang when her cousin Scimina sics the most powerful of the gods, Nahadoth, on her like a horrifying hunting dog. The desperate race through the castle is riveting. Anyway, Yeine meets the gods and throughout the book she learns the real events that led to their slavery, rather than the story she was brought up to believe. The gods want to be free from the chains put upon them by Itempas and they have plans that involve Yeine.

Yeine finds herself manipulated from multiple directions. From the gods, and from her family, who have their own power struggles that she is not completely privy to. In the meantime, Yeine has her own agenda. She didn’t come to Sky because she was summoned. She wants to find out what really happened in her mother’s recent death. Her first suspects are of course her Arameri relatives, and so she asks questions about her mother and learns the family dynamics. Not all the answers are easy. Yeine’s mother, who she remembers as loving and open, was someone else in the palace of Sky. Somehow this is related to the current fight for succession.

I thought the multiple machinations were very clever in sucking me into the story. I wanted to know who was doing what, what had happened in the past and what was going to happen. This story is told from the first person POV, but throughout the book Yeine’s recalling what has happened to her and sometimes her memory is faulty. Once in a while, she backs up and restarts, and she has conversations with herself about what was happening or what will happen next. Not to say that the book was confusing – it was the opposite. The prose is clear and simple – it has a sort of young adult feel because of this. The hints of what would happen next were the most effective in keeping me reading to see if my guess was right.  Usually I was still wrong. There were a couple of plot twists I did not expect.

Like Yeine, I was drawn to the gods and in particular Nahadoth, although Sieh, his son, the god of mischief who usually takes the form of a child, was compelling as well. Sieh seems almost human in his need for comfort, but Nahadoth was temperamental and hard to read, like you’d expect from the god of chaos. The idea that a slip of the tongue from an Arameri in commanding him and he will happily kill them added to his fearful power. Any one of the gods is capable of horror beyond imagining. That’s why when the relationship between Yeine and the gods changes, it began to feel nonsensical.  After the narrative stresses how immense their power is, how time moves differently for them, how alien their minds are compared to a mortals, the idea that Yeine would mean much to them in the short time this book spans was difficult to believe. I allow that the gods shared the feeling of being trapped with Yeine, and she has another quality that draws them to her, but I struggled with anything beyond that. I can’t really go into detail without giving spoilers, but there was one part of the relationship where I thought the scene that I had trouble buying could have been removed completely and the story wouldn’t have really changed, so I don’t understand why it’s there at all.

Overall: This was a keeper. The writing let me slide smoothly into a story of treacherous families (both human and divine) living in a beautiful palace called Sky. Yeine’s impact on these families (and their impact on her), knocked my socks off, but I did have reservations regarding the extent of Yeine’s relationship with the gods, and because I struggled with that, the book was just shy of being on my uber-selective Blew Me Away pile (but it came very close). If I think about the reservation, I feel like saying “Don’t mind me. Read this book”. Basically – I’d recommend The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because I don’t think everyone will have the reservation I did, and frankly, I loved rest of it.

I’m looking forward to the next book, The Broken Kingdoms (expecially after reading the excerpt at the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). The cover (which may still be a work in progress, I don’t know for sure), looks excellent.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:

Review at tor.com by Kate Nepveu – loves it “almost without reservation”
My Favourite Books – positive review
My World…in words and pages – positive review
Fantasy Cafe – 9/10
Fantasy Literature – “a very solid debut”
Fantasy Literature – “Almost perfect debut”
The Book Smugglers – 9 (Damn Near Perfection)
Fantasy Book Critic – “almost-perfect debut”
Starmetal Oak – A+
bookblather – positive review
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8 thoughts on “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

    • Well it depends on what you were looking for at the time. This is more fantasy than romance (though there is a bit..). I am still working out your taste so I’m not sure how you’d like it. If you ever do read it would be interested to see what you thought!

  1. I’ve had my eye for this book since I first saw it over at The Book Smugglers. Excellent review, janicu! I definitely want to read this book one day.

    • Yes, the Booksmugglers both liked this one! I mentioned I was reading it to them at BEA and they were giving me thumbs up. I think if you get a chance you should give this book a try. At least read the excerpt and see what you think.

  2. Pingback: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms / N. K. Jemisin – Rat's Reading

  3. What do you think of the relationship between Yeine and Nahadoth? I think I read an excerpt showing that she is immediately attracted to him (a love at first sight?) and this is a big no go area for me in novels.

    • Hmm. From what I recall, when they first meet she thinks he’s been told to kill her so she has to run for her life. So… I don’t think that love at first sight is a problem in this one.

  4. Pingback: Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin | Jawas Read, Too!

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