Sunday, February 20, 2011
"A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" by N.K. Jemisin
Yeine has been raised with her father's family in Darr ever since her mother--sole heir to the Arameri throne--was disowned after giving up her heirship to be with Yeine's father. Both of Yeine's parents are now dead, and Dekarta, Yeine's grandfather and current ruler, has recalled Yeine to Sky in order to name her potential heir, along with two of her cousins. In Sky Yeine learns what it means to be Arameri for the first time while becoming uncomfortably close with the enslaved gods, particularly the seductive god of darkness, Nahadoth.
The gods and the Arameri clearly all have plans in place--and Yeine must decide her role in the future of the world.
Musings: The summary above is much longer than the summaries I typically write, but that's because there's so much going on in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that it's difficult to even know where to start. The complex nature of the novel is one of its greatest strengths and occasionally a hindrance. The depth of the mythology and characters of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms makes it such an engaging read, but there's so much of interest that inevitably some areas are unexplored.
Jemisin's greatest achievement is her ability to create an entire back story--to the gods, the Arameri, and Yeine--that comes together in a compelling narrative. There's so much going on that at times I did feel a bit lost, but everything comes together in the end. I especially liked the richness of the gods' histories and the way in which they seem mortal and not-mortal, understandable and unfathomable. Most people today think of God (or gods) as an unreachable, perfect being, but these gods are more like those of Ancient Greece--all the more powerful and deadly because of their semblance to humans. Like American Gods, Hundred Thousand Kingdoms addresses what happens when a god is no longer at the pinnacle of power, something I found especially fascinating.
Yeine is the perfect protagonist, a strong woman from the matriarchal Darr who is thrust into a world she doesn't understand. She finds herself pulled in many directions, and only slowly does she (and the reader) come to make sense of the world around her. Her relationship with Nahadoth is unusual and intense, but I appreciated that it isn't her only relationship in the book--her friendship with the godling child Sieh and the Arameri servant T'vril are also significant.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is definitely high fantasy, and some people might be put off by the complicated world building, as well as the violence and sex. However, for me, the novel came together perfectly, and I finished it far more quickly than any other book I've read recently. Yeine's strong voice is completely compelling, and I think most any reader would find the book hard to put down once begun.
***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.