Monday, May 3, 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Publisher: Orbit (2010)

Note: I just read this book over the weekend and have already loaned it out because I loved it so much I couldn't keep it to myself. As such, this is all from memory so if my spellings, etc are not correct please forgive me.

In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Yeine, leader of the Darre in the North,  has been called to the city of Sky where the ruling family (of the hundred thousand kingdoms) lives. Her grandfather is king but her mother was disowned for marrying Yeine's father. For reasons that escape Yeine, the king has called her back and named her as a third heir. Now she must learn the ins and outs of palace politics if she wants to survive long enough to assume the throne over her cousins. To complicate her already difficult situation, the gods that are enslaved by the ruling family have their own political agenda for Yeine.

Holy shitballs there was so much about this book that I loved! So let me start with all that I loved and then tell you about the few quibbles I had. Firstly, I have always loved themes that involve mixed family backgrounds and seeing your family through other people's eyes. Yeine's mother was the sole, beloved heir of the Arameri family in Sky. Her father was a leader of the Darre, considered a barbaric people for several interesting reasons that I won't spoil here. The story is that they met and fell instantly in love. Yeine's mother left Sky and joined Yeine's father in Darre. Now that Yeine has been called back to the palace she must try to reconcile her Arameri background (which she is none too impressed with) with the Darre she considers herself. On top of this, she has a very specific idea of who her mother was and now she must deal with hearing things about her mother that do not track with her memories. This entire set-up works so well because the novel often explores identity, truth, self-determination, and courage. Trying to reconcile disparate family backgrounds and others' views of her mom in the midst of palace intrigue make for a nice backdrop to exploring what I listed above.

I also loved the writing style. It's in first person (it's starting to feel like that's all I've been reading lately) but it's very clearly being told as a story and there are times when our narrator is having conversations with an unknown person (poss persons?). This perspective and these conversations lend a nice mystery to what is going on. The narrator knows everything that's coming (remember, it's a story) but the style used by Jemisin keeps the suspense palpable (oooh, fancy word!) for almost the entire book. The style really worked for me but, what's more, Jemisin is a fantastic writer. Even if the style doesn't speak to everyone like it did me her talent as a writer will be enjoyable anyway. Also, her characterization is lovely. With only one exception her characters are interesting and subtle. Jemisin doesn't insist that we know everything about her characters the minute we meet them but lets us get to know them over the course of the book.

The overall story is solid but nothing that's going to blow you away. The ending is pretty predictable because, in the end, it's a very familiar narrative. But Jemisin's talent lies in her excellent use of characters within that narrative and her ability to keep a reader entirely engaged in how things are going to unfold. It's interesting to me that I come away feeling that she plots really well even if I predicted the end. Does that make sense? Journey's the thing, ya know? Also, the gods were fucking awesome! Again, Jemisin used some very classical themes with her gods (they are emotional, fond of or disgusted by humans, seductive) but their being controlled by the Arameri family makes for some sweet conflict. I don't want to spoil anything so that's all I'll say. Trust me, it's good stuff!

Ok, I could go on and on about everything I loved but I'd have to start giving things away in the story and I don't want to do that. So a couple things I didn't like: the baddest of the baddies was the least interesting character. While definitely a badass, she was boring. She was just evil. There was nothing more to her. It's mentioned a couple times that she's crazy. She certainly seemed crazy but that's kind of boring. I like my main baddies to do something more than just be evil for the plot's sake. Also, as with many stories of this length, there's a bit of drag about 3/4 of the way through. Well before this point the ending is pretty obvious (again, let me say that didn't bother me because getting there was totally rad) so if the book had been about ~50 pages shorter it would have been even tighter with that suspense being pretty much non-stop.

This book is the first of a trilogy and I think the second comes out this Fall. I can't wait! I'll be going out and getting it on release day. I love discovering a new author but it's always hard when it's a debut author, I just don't want to wait for the next book! 

rating: 4 of 5 stars

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