Monday, April 05, 2010

"The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms," N.K. Jemisin

The Heroine: Lady Yeine. When the royal grandfather she's never met bids her to come to the royal city of Sky to compete to be his heir, she has no choice but to agree.
The Rub: She knows she has little to no chance of winning - she's far too ignorant of court intrigue and her devious cousins obviously want the title far more. But if she stays, she might be able to solve her mother's murder - plus, the magical, enslaved weapons of the king have plans of their own, plans that also include her.

The Supporting Cast:

Dekarta: Evil Granddaddy Supreme. Soft spot for death matches. May or may not have heart of tarnished, tarnished gold?

Scimina: The Bitch Rival for the throne. Likes to torture and have sex with gods. Screams a lot. Deserves to die in a fire.

Relad: The Lameass Boozy Rival for the throne. Kind of a wimp. Possibly attracted to his sister Scimina but unlike Jamie from George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire doesn't really have to stones to go through with it.

T'Vrill: The steward - related to Dekarta by way of the king's deceased pedophile son. Red-haired. Wee bit resentful of those in power but otherwise a Righteous Dude.

Nahadoth: Enslaved God of Chaos, Death, Nighttime, and Bad Boy Romantic Heroes. Crazy. Immortal. Cursed to live as a mortal man during the day, during which he is kind of a prick. During sex he'll smash the bed and possibly kill you but what a way to go.

Sieh: Enslaved God of um, Childishness. Huggable. Eternally a child star without the inevitable drug problems. You're such a cute little child god, yes you are.

Itempas: Asshole God of Order, Light - and circles, oddly enough. Thousands of years ago he screwed his celestial siblings over big time and now Rules the School.

Enefa: Goddess of Balance and Twilight. Dead - by Itempas' hand, but not entirely gone. She and Nahadoth were kind of an item back in the day.

Viriane: Creepy creepy court wizard. May have shagged Yeine's mum.

Fantasy Convention Checklist

1 World-Saving MacGuffin

1 Contest for the Throne

1 Soul Too Many

Several Peeved Gods

1 Impending War

1 Murder Mystery

1 Inconveniently Dead Parent

The Word: Hey look, I'm doing a fantasy review! I don't think I'm going to go more into fantasy, a la The Booksmugglers, but I've been getting more fantasy books into my library so I figured why not. As you can see, the format is similar but still different - spoilers are different things in fantasy novels where the ending is not as pre-determined as romance. In romance, the secret is more like what exactly constitutes the Hero's Dark Brooding Past, or why is that Demented Pastry Chef determined to steal the Heroine's Secret Love Child - but the Hero and Heroine still inevitably get together.

I won't be doing this too often - sometimes, I just need a break and so I usually read and review three romances and then read something else in a different genre without reviewing it. This book, however, was so very good that a mini-review at the end of the month won't really cut it. Also, while not a romance, it has really strong romantic elements. If I choose to review other fantasy novels I read in between romances, I will, but it will be totally arbitrary because it's my blog and I can do what I want, nyaa nyaa nyaa.

Anyhoo - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Props again to The Booksmugglers for suggesting it. Most of the fantasy I'm reading nowadays is thanks to their suggestions, and I'm very, very pleased in this case.

Yeine is the young ruler of the backwoods, matriarchal Northern nation of Darre. Her father was a native of Darre, and her mother was a princess of the Arameri - the race that unofficially rules their entire world - but abdicated her position to marry Yeine's father. However, she recently died under suspicious circumstances and Yeine's convinced someone murdered her.

Now, however, Yeine's maternal grandfather Dekarta, the head of the Arameri, and essentially the King of the World, has commanded she travel to the city-palace of Sky to take her place as his heir. The only trouble is, he already has two heirs - the children of his deceased brother, Scimina and Relad. It's clear Dekarta means for them to compete for the crown, but the Arameri-raised Scimina and Relad have a clear advantage so Yeine isn't certain why she was summoned in the first place.

Yeine is a practical sort, thankfully, and decides that when the Gods give her inevitable-power-struggle lemons, she oughta make murder-mystery-lemonade and use her proximity to the Arameri court to learn who killed her mother.

However, the Gods also have a use for her. Thousands of years ago, there used to be three gods - Itempas (God of Order/Day), Nahadoth (God of Chaos/Night) and Enefa (Goddess of Twilight/Dawn/Balance) - and their various children. However, war erupted between the Big Three, and Itempas emerged as the victor after killing Enefa and cursing Nahadoth and his children to live as slaves, Godly weapons confined to mortal shells. These immortal, embittered beings believe Yeine might just be the key to freeing them from enslavement.

What is there not to like about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms? Okay, maybe the sadistic Scimina, who can go sit on a knife, thank you very much. But holy crap, everything else!

The world-building, for one, is wonderful - Jemisin provides lots of colour and imagery while at the same time reserving the details for when they're needed. We don't get a lot of infodumps about, say, the plumbing system or the boots that are currently in style, for one thing. The worldbuilding revolves mainly around the theology and the epic saga of the gods gives the world an equal richness. Through Yeine's eyes, we see a pale, deadened world of strict rules and empty pleasures - the result of the tyranny of the God of Order now that the gods of Chaos and Balance have been removed from the picture.

What steals the show, and what sets this book up for me as a Keeper, are the characters. I've always been a character-reader, and if the story and worldbuilding are good but the characters are ciphers, I may enjoy the read but I won't gush-love-adore it. Here, though, there is plenty to like and love.

Yeine is a fantastic heroine - strong, decent, courageous, but hardly perfect. Her mother's people see her as little more than a savage, and Yeine herself has trouble coming to terms with the fact that her loving mother was once one of them, and as manipulative and calculating as any of them. She knows she's in for a losing battle the moment she enters Sky, and she makes a lot of mistakes and occasionally succumbs to her temper, her fears, her longings, but it's the fact that she keeps moving forward that makes her the novel's hero.

Jemisin's excellent characterization extends beyond her human characters - she eloquently portrays the suffering and madness of Nahadoth, Sieh, and the other enslaved gods to whom Yeine finds herself allied. Nahadoth, especially - he's the god of Chaos, of seduction, of darkness. He's probably the most realistic depiction of an immortal I've ever come across in fiction. He has been alive for eons and he's not a sparkling pure marshmellow god. He's death and violence and evil as well as creativity, grief, and hotness. He's a very complicated character who's fractured by circumstance and nature - he's allowed to resume some semblance of his Godliness during night time, but he's still a slave to Itempas, and during the day he's forced into the form of a helpless human. Yet he's still a cohesive character - and his unorthodox, developing relationship with Yeine is one of the highlights of the novel. Yup! This novel has romantic elements in it! Yay! I won't say more, because reading it happen is one of the novel's joys.

As well, N.K. Jemisin's writing is just plain purdy. With fantasy, writers often have to wrestle between metaphorical scenery (such as what happens during magic spells, dreams, visions, etc.) and physical scenery and sometimes the narrative can be confused (S.M. Peters, author of Ghost Ocean and Whitechapel Gods has trouble with this), but Jemisin keeps the fantasy and action scenes of the novel very grounded so that the chain of events is never distorted or lost - but still uses very beautiful writing. Her pacing is good, her development is good, her intrigue is good - and more importantly, her narrative is good. The novel ends on a soundly concluding note that allows the novel to work as a stand alone but still leaves a lot open for future books (The Broken Kingdoms is out in the fall!).

If you're into a paranormal romance, or you're just a romance fan who wants to trip on over into epic fantasy to give it a try, I wholeheartedly suggest The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Do it for the Nahadoth, Sexy God of Sexy Darkness!


  1. I seriously can't wait to read this one now. Thanks for the timely and awesome review! It sounds right up my alley.

  2. Oh yay you did it!!!!! : D

    Loved the format you chose for the Fantasy review. I think you should totally do this for more Fantasy with romantic elements

    oh hey, look! Heir to Sevenwaters? Is the most amazing Romantic Fantasy EVER. Actually all Juliet Marillier's are *ninja*

    anyways: DO IT FOR NAHADOTH? LOLOLOL. YES dooooooooooooooo it.

  3. I thought it was...not a bad read, but not a terrific one. I'm a diehard epic fantasy fan, though not necessarily of the GRRM school (Tolkien is much more my style). Yeine's insistence on chasing after her mother's past instead of actually vying for the throne made the middle-end portion drag somewhat for me. That and the double soul thing. Suffice to say, I was wee bitty bit confused.

    There were some beautiful moments (Altarskirt FTW!) and some really immediate ones (Nahadoth destroying the old Sky), but all in all, it failed to really enrapture me. Yeine's character flatness bothered me, and while I agree that Nahadoth is totally awesome (sometimes), it was really Sieh that I adored beyond all the other characters.

    The ending boiled down to something of a sudden mess, I thought, but I'll still be on the lookout for the Broken Kingdoms in the fall. I definitely do want to know what happens to Itempas.