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Monday, January 18, 2010

“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N.K. Jemisin (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official N.K. Jemisin Website
Order “The Hundred Thousand KingdomsHERE (US) + HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: N.K. Jemisin is a career counselor, political blogger, and would-be gourmand living in New York City. “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is her first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic floating city of Sky by her grandfather, Dekarta, head of the Arameri, the ruling family of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. There, to her shock, Yeine is named Dekarta’s heir.

But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine finds herself thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she comes ever closer to discovering the truth about her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history—as well as the unsettling truths within herself.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate are bound inseparably together . . . for both mortals and gods alike...

CLASSIFICATION:The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is epic fantasy that mixes together court intrigue, mythology, romantic/family drama, and celestial magics. Brought to mind everything from Jacqueline Carey, Lane Robin’s "Maledicte", and Marie Brennan’sMidnight Never Come” to Gregory Frost’sShadowbridge/Lord Tophet”, John Scalzi’sThe God Engines”, Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet and the Valkyrie Profile video games.

FORMAT/INFO:The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is 432 pages long divided over twenty-nine titled chapters. Also includes a Glossary, a Clarification of Terms, a Historical Record, an interview with the author, and an excerpt from the second book in The Inheritance Trilogy. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via the protagonist Yeine. “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is the opening volume in The Inheritance Trilogy, but acts as a self-contained novel with the book’s major plot points satisfactorily concluded.

February 4, 2010/February 25, 2010 marks the UK/US Trade Paperback publication of “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” via Orbit Books. Cover art provided by Cliff Nielsen.

ROBERT’S ANALYSIS: Every year, it seems like at least two or three novels are hyped as the fantasy debut of the year. Some of these books actually manage to live up to the hype like Scott Lynch’sRed Seas Under Red Skies”, Patrick Rothfuss’The Name of the Wind” or this year’s “Spellwright” by Blake Charlton. Most of them do not. And some books, like N.K. Jemisin’sThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”, aren’t receiving enough hype...

The best thing about N.K. Jemisin’sThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is the narrative voice of the novel’s main character, Yeine. Accessible, charming, and elegant, Yeine’s first-person narrative grabbed me from the very first page and kept me hooked throughout the novel with her warm personality, vivid and colorful descriptions, thoughtful insights, and fairy tale-like storytelling:

I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore. I must try to remember.”

My mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. I say that not because I am her daughter, and not because she was tall and graceful, with hair like clouded sunlight. I say it because she was strong. Perhaps it is my Darre heritage, but strength has always been the marker of beauty in my eyes.”

Once upon a time there were three great gods. Bright Itempas, Lord of Day, was the one destined by fate or the Maelstrom or some unfathomable design to rule. All was well until Enefa, His upstart sister, decided that she wanted to rule in Bright Itempas’s place. She convinced her brother Nahadoth to assist her, and together with some of their godling children they attempted a coup. Itempas, mightier than both His siblings combined, defeated them soundly. He slew Enefa, punished Nahadoth and the rebels, and established an even greater peace—for without His dark brother and wild sister to appease, He was free to bring true light and order to all creation.”

After Yeine’s narrative voice, what I loved most about “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” was its uniqueness and imagination. While parts of the book reminded me of other authors and novels like the court intrigue and sensuality conjuring memories of Jacqueline Carey and Lane Robin; the clashing of mortal and immortal worlds evoking Gregory Frost’sShadowbridge/Lord Tophet” and Marie Brennan’sMidnight Never Come”; and the enslavement of gods bringing to mind John Scalzi’sThe God Engines”; as a whole, N.K. Jemisin’s debut is not quite like anything else that I’ve read before.

Imagination-wise, “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” may play with a number of familiar concepts like succession wars, mortals enslaving gods, and a floating city, but the book is just brimming with creativeness with the Arameri family divided into nobles or servants based on their status (fullbloods, halfbloods, quarters), petitions which gives a country permission to begin a war, Nahadoth’s many different forms (day, nighttime, etc.), and the history between Itempas, Nahadoth and Enefa some of my favorite ideas in the book.

Another area of the novel that really impressed me was N.K. Jemisin’s polished writing. In addition to Yeine’s compelling narrative voice and the author’s vibrant imagination, the prose was skilled, and at times, poetic; the book’s supporting cast was well-crafted and engaging, particularly Nahadoth; world-building, while scarce in some areas, was for the most part, rich and informative; and the story, which is full of riveting twists, revelations and drama, featured excellent pacing and execution, leading to a powerful and rewarding conclusion.

Negatively, there is very little to say. World-building, like I mentioned, was scarce in some areas with the book focusing mainly on the Arameri, the city Sky, and the Three Gods and their children (Itempas, Nahadoth, Enefa, Sieh, Zhakkarn, Kurue), but it sounds like this is an issue that will be addressed in the sequels. Other than that, I wish the author would have further explored Arameri court politics & intrigues, and felt that the book was sometimes overwhelmed by all of the emotional drama going on.

In closing, even though N.K. Jemisin’sThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” has been on my radar ever since Orbit first announced the title in 2008, the book really took me by surprise. Part of the reason is because the novel hasn’t been receiving the same kind of hype and publicity that other 2010 titles have enjoyed. A lot of it though is because “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is much better than most of the debut novels that I’ve read over the years. Extremely well-written, imaginative, emotionally gripping, and featuring a compelling narrator, “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is an almost-perfect debut that deserves far more attention and could end up being one of the best fantasy releases of the year...


Calibandar said...

Hey Robert,

Great review. I was already going to buy this based on the chapters listed on Jemisin's site. One question though, we get a glimpse of Nahadoth in those first chapters, do we, in the rest of the book, also get to see what Itempas can do?

Robert said...

Thanks Calibander. Itempas makes an appearance in the book briefly, but he's not nearly as cool or interesting as Nahadoth...

ediFanoB said...

Your great review forced me to read the first chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdom. And now I know that I must read this book.

Claudia said...

Thank you for the brilliant review. I absolutly agree. I read the book about two months ago, and am now waiting impatiantly for the next one. In the mean time, I am going to try some of the authours and books you compared N.K. Jemisin to.

Anonymous said...

so far i am very unimpressed with this book. nothing reads right: she's a "barbarian" but she acts like a fairy princess from the start, i don't see what really separates her from any of the other nobles walking around; where are the descriptions? i just read the second time she goes to some council meeting, and not one person is described at all. are they all naked? i'm just having a hard time understanding what the big deal is about this book. i've read reviews talking about how she's from a matriarchal society, but she seems pretty easily accustomed to being commanded by a man, even if it is her grandfather. and why this girl to be an heir, there's nothing from the start that tells me why he'd even want her to be there. i'm just very frustrated with this book so far.

Anonymous said...

i thought the book was pretty good overall, abit different to what im used to but engaging.

Mike said...

Nitpick time: Red Seas under Red Skies was not Lynch's debut fantasy novel, but the 2nd in his purported, er, septology? to come. The debut was The Lies of Locke Lamora.


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