“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N. K. Jemisin

“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N. K. Jemisin tells the story of a young woman named Yeine Darr.  After her mother is murdered, she is summoned to Sky, the capital of the Arameri, by her grandfather, who is the ruler of the world.  The Arameri are renowned for their cruelty and have maintained absolute power through the enslavement of powerful gods known as the Enefadeh.  When Yeine arrives in Sky, she learns that she and two of her Arameri cousins are contenders for her grandfather’s throne.  Yeine allies herself with the Enefadeh, who are as dangerous friends as they are enemies, as she becomes wrapped up in a plot that could threaten her very life.

The story is told through Yeine’s voice, but uses flashbacks to both childhood memories and religious stories to accomplish worldbuilding.  It’s mostly told in the first person, but sometimes Yeine breaks the fourth wall and speaks to us directly.  The style worked for me far better than a giant infodump would have, and allowed relevant details about the setting to be introduced as they become meaningful to the story.  However, it’s the sort of thing that isn’t for everything, and my prediction is that readers will either love it or hate it.

One of the major themes throughout the novel is the difference between the way that children perceive their parents and the way that they really are.  Yeine keeps asking questions about her mother while trying to reconcile herself with her murder, only to find that her mother wasn’t always the kind and gentle person whom she remembered, but rather a scheming Arameri woman who didn’t shy away from using torture or sex to achieve her own ends.  Her mother was a complex character with a variety of motivations, and Yeine’s memories only portrayed one facet of her character.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Jemisin’s writing is the setting.  Most fantasy novels take place in some permutation of medieval Europe.  This one doesn’t.  “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” features a large and diverse group of nations that are overseen by the Arameri.  For example, Yeine’s home nation of Darre is a matrilineal warrior society.  On a similar note, this isn’t the type of fantasy world where all (or almost all) of the characters are white.

“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” is the first novel in the Inheritance Trilogy, but it can function as a standalone.  The two novels that follow it each focus on different characters at different points in history who have their own self-contained story arcs.  I was very happy to see that Yeine’s storyline was resolved, and I was quite pleased with the ending.

You might not like this one if you have a weak stomach; the torture scenes here make the ones in Scott Lynch’s novels look tame by comparison, and they always caught me by surprise.  Jemisin doesn’t shy away from violence or the darker sides of human nature.

I’d recommend “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” to anyone looking for fantasy set in a world that’s refreshingly different from the norm.  If  enslaved trickster gods and a devious inbred ruling class sound appealing, then this one’s for you.

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I read this book as part of the Award Winning Books Challenge hosted by Gathering Books.  “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” won a Locus Award in 2011, as well as being a Hugo and Nebula nominee.

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Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on ““The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N. K. Jemisin

  1. Pingback: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms review | Worldbinding

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  3. I really loved this book and the sequel. I need to read the third…. which I have sitting on shelf for a few months now (embarrassed). My husband is currently enjoying the second book. I found both books difficult to put down because of the excellent writing and because of the unfamiliar setting.

    • I definitely need to read the next two then, preferably soon! It’s so unusual compared to a lot of the fantasy that I’ve read.

  4. The novel has its fantastic characters and a great plot and that includes the romance thread as well. But it goes beyond that. It is a very emotional novel, and I went through a broad range of emotions while reading it: fear, rage, hate, compassion, sadness, lust; and finally, there was the writing. It felt very welcoming. I don’t think I ever used this word to describe someone’s prose but that is exactly how I felt, as the author eased me into a story that started thousands and thousands of years ago like I was just there.

    • I think that Jemisin handled the romance wonderfully. It’s an important part of Yeine’s life in Sky, but at the same time it’s one of many important occurrences and doesn’t overshadow the story of the Enfadeh or of the Arameri succession.

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  6. Oh no, another trilogy that I now want to read. Why? I’ll tell you what we need – a good standalone.
    This does sound good though – I’ll check it out.
    Lynn 😀

    • It functions pretty well as a standalone. I’m a big fan of trilogies like this one where the storyline changes in each book and the term “trilogy” just means that there are three books set in the same universe. I read this one and loved it, but it’ll probably be a while until I get to the second two books, because my TBR list has exploded and I’ve got a stack of at least six months worth of books right now. At least I know that if the zombies come that I can lock myself in my apartment and have enough reading material to last until they’ve been defeated.

  7. I liked The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but with a few more reservations. I really liked that Jemisin created a diverse and interesting world, culture and religion, but the specifics of the story were less to my taste…

    • I didn’t mind the specifics of the story, mostly because it was the kind of story that sucked me in immediately. It’s not bad for an intro to the world, although I’m still curious about what comes next.

  8. L

    great review.. I have heard endless ravings, and am glad to have your opinion on it–and thanks for the heads-up on the torture/violence aspect!

    • Thanks! It was the kind of story that I found myself sucked into immediately, and I’m curious to see how Jemisin will continue to develop her world in the next two books. I was surprised about the level of violence, but it’s not a bad thing. Just unexpected, and of course I got to those parts of the story while I was trying to eat lunch…

  9. Hmmm. Torture scenes more graphic than Scott Lynch’s. Didn’t think that was possible but thanks for the warning about that one.

    The setting was what made me put this book on my list but sadly I’ve yet to read it. I feel like I need to have time for this one and so far I haven’t found that time. Maybe I need to just give in and go for it time or no time.

    • The setting was one of the biggest draws for me. I love it when fantasy steps away from tradition and experiments with new settings or plots.

      If a book has a torture scene, I inevitably read that part during lunchtime.

  10. This sounds like something I would like. I love complex female characters and an exploration of such a woman by her own daughter sounds really interesting and engaging. I put this on hold at my library immediately after reading your review! So thanks for adding to my tbr pile. 😉

    • I hope you enjoy it! I had a hard time putting it down, and I’m excited to read the rest of the trilogy and Jemisin’s newest series.

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