Monday, September 14, 2015

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

It feels like N.K. Jemisin's name has been coming up a lot lately, in blog reviews and also in the controversy over this year's Hugo Awards.  (She wrote about the latter on her website, back in April.)  I decided to start with her "Inheritance trilogy," because I thought the first book sounded very intriguing.  Here's a summary from Amazon:
     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. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress 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 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.
     With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably together. 
The King here is her grandfather, Dekarta Arameri.  Her mother Kinneth was heiress to the throne, before she met a young man from barbarian Darre and married him.  Her father cut her out of the succession, but now he wants her daughter to take her place.  The Arameri control the Consortium, the official governing body of the kingdoms.  Their power relies on a secret weapon, or rather four of them: gods bound into human form, the losers in a heavenly war, and bound to serve the Arameri.

This book more than lived up to its promise.  I read it in a day, fascinated with the vivid world that N.K. Jemisin created and her characters, both mortal and immortal.  Yeine, who narrates the story, is our introduction to that world, and our guide.  But she is as new to Sky - and to its power struggles - as we are. We discover it as she does, seeing it through her eyes, and knowing only what she knows - which isn't enough.  But she is strong and quick to learn, loyal and honorable, and I so enjoyed watching her story unfold, though I was often afraid for her.

I am always interested in the religions that some science fiction and fantasy authors create for their worlds. I particularly enjoy it when the gods and goddesses play a part in the story.  Among my favorites are those in Lois McMaster Bujold's Five Gods series, who interact with their believers and sometimes act through them (the Bastard has such fun with his acolytes).  This book is packed with gods, who are a big part of the story.  But I had no sense of the role that they play in the larger world.  There are references to the priests of Itempas Skyfather, the god of day and light, who vanquished his brother Nahadoth, the Nightlord, and killed their sister Enefa, goddess of dawn and dusk, to reign alone in the Age of the Bright.  I wanted to know more, about how people live with their god(s), what their rituals and beliefs are.  But then this is a story of the Arameri, living far above their subjects, and cheek to jowl with their gods.  Maybe I'll find out more in the other two books of the trilogy, which I have already ordered.

I looked for N.K. Jemisin's books at the library this weekend, but I didn't find any on the shelves.  Saturday night I was in the Google Play Store, checking some books that had been recommended earlier that day at our Jane Austen meeting.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that you get several chapters of books in their free samples.  That was my undoing, when I finally got around to putting N.K. Jemisin's name in the search box.  By the time I finished the four free chapters, I was well and truly hooked, and not just because the last chapter ended mid-sentence.  So much so that I ended up buying an e-version of the book, which I've never done before - but I really wanted to find out what happened next to Yeine.  I did find the format frustrating in reading this, though.  It is such a complex story, with layers of politics and religion and relationships, not to mention its unfamiliar world.  I kept wanting to flip back to check something - even more than usual.  It's partly my lack of practice with the format, but I found it hard to navigate back and forth, and to find the parts I wanted to re-read. I've ordered a print copy of this one as well.  I see there are also a couple of novellas in the series (only available in e-versions), as well as other stories that N.K. Jemisin has written.  I'm so looking forward to exploring her worlds.


  1. I love ebooks and am so glad that traveling with boatloads of books has magically become easier -- but I do ultimately prefer the physical type. It's the flipping back and forth that I miss! I love to flip back and forth! Not JUST because I like to read the end (although that, for sure).

    1. Reading anything on my e-reader makes me realize how unconsciously I flip back & forth, in physical books. And while I might not have read the ending, ahead of time, in a paper book, I know I'd have flipped to the end and found (too late) the very helpful thesaurus! (why not put it at the beginning?!)

  2. I will read the link you give to the controversy next.

    1. It is a pretty incredible story - one that just leaves me shaking my head and wondering about people.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!