Friday, December 27, 2013

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

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first part of The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Despite being a trilogy, the first book stands on its own and can be read without the others. This is my second read through it thanks to selection by our local book club. I sure hope they like it better than my last recommendation!

Without further ado, let's jump right in to my spoiler-free review.

Overall Impression
This is Jemisin's first publication and it was a good one. It is well regarded among the scifi/fantasy community and for good reason. This is a novel take on some familiar tropes in epic fantasy literature. The story is that of a young woman, Yeine, who is thrust into a world of courtly politics among deadly gods. The world is fascinating and the plot moves along at a good pace. We see the story solely through the eyes of Yeine so we get to know her very well.

The plot is fairly straightforward since it focuses on a single character as she struggles to understand her place in the world. Yeine has been taken from her people and thrust into a position of power. However, she doesn't understand why and wonders at the death of her mother. She searches for answers at the same time as navigating the complicated world of Arameri politics to ensure her survival and that of her people.

The story revolves around Yeine Darr and in fact is told in the first person perspective from her point of view. This is an odd choice as most epic fantasies are told in third person limited, however, Jemisin makes this work. While at first it may sound weird, by the end of the story you'll have no problem hearing Yeine's voice and thoughts. Yeine herself is a fascinating character, flawed, but strong. My favorites, though, tend to be the enslaved gods in Sky because they are so unique. I would have liked to see more of Zhakkarn and Kurue since we see so much of Nahadoth and Sieh.

Setting / World Building
All great fantasies have cleverly created worlds and Jemisin's work is no exception. In this world, there are Three main gods (Nahadoth, Itempas, and Enefa) and in the God's War, which takes place prior to events in the story, Enefa is killed and Nahadoth and some of his children are enslaved. The slave gods are used as weapons by the Arameri family, which quickly conquer all nations on the world. Everything is subject to Bright Itempas' will through the Arameri family.

The gods are frequently seen in the palace of Sky, a veritable 'floating' (not quite, it's just balanced on a very thin spire) castle atop a city, also known as Sky. From Sky, the Arameri rule with absolute power and can command 4 gods to do whatever they want. We see some magic from the gods and also from the scriveners, men and women who have studied the gods' language.

An interesting aspect is that the gods have particular affinities and they are grouped in particularly interesting ways. Nahadoth is the Nightlord, the god of darkness and change. He is not a god of evil or death as more typical renditions. Itempas is the god of light and order. He is not a god of peace and is actually more of a bad guy as you progress through the story. Enefa is a goddess of both life and death. None of them are 'evil' or 'good' and it's interesting to see how the world is balanced with Three rather than One or Two gods.

Final Thoughts
This was a thoroughly enjoyable book and a fresh take on what can be seen as a stale or traditional fantasy story. We're all familiar with the story of a young man (or woman, though it tends to be a man) that is thrust into power as he/she inherits it or discovers he/she is a lost prince/princess, etc. We're also familiar with the stories of all-powerful gods intervening in mortal affairs. Jemisin manages to take both aspects and merges them together in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. While there are more books to this series (a trilogy), the first feels very independent as the other two deal with different characters and plots. If you're interested in the history and development of the world, you can continue reading them, otherwise you end at the first and get a complete story.

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