Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N.K. Jemisin

Summary: One young woman must survive intrigue, betrayal, and passion in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north.  But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky.  There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king.  But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  Sometimes when I am looking for something to read I will select a handful of books from my bookshelves and sit down to read the first few pages of each, just to see what will grab me.  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms begins as follows:

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 people tell stories of the night I was born.  They say my mother crossed her legs in the middle of labor and fought with all her strength not to release me into the world.  I was born anyhow, of course; nature cannot be denied. Yet it does not surprise me that she tried. 

Jemisin had my attention!

Yeine is leader of the Darre people and daughter of a disinherited princess of the Arameri realm.  After her mother's sudden death, Yeine is called back to Sky, the elevated royal city, as one of three potential heirs to the throne.  Yeine quickly realizes that she is in danger, a pawn in a ruthless game much larger than any mortal mind can fathom.  In the sky palace, disgraced gods are bound to serve the upper echelons of society.  Whatever the mortal elites command, the immortals are bound to carry out, although more than one mortal has lost their life due to careless phrasing.  Yeine must tread carefully if she wants to survive.  While waiting to see who will be named heir, she develops a tenuous group of allies who agree to help her save her homeland and uncover the truth of her mother's death...for a heavy price.  

A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is best read in larger bites rather than nibbles.  As is often the plight of the book-loving mama, my kids seem to have this uncanny ability to sense whenever I have the smallest smidgen of free time, at which point they are drawn to me like powerful but incredibly needy magnets.  Initially, I was only able to read in sporadic bursts and, although the author's somewhat non-linear narrative style, felt incredibly organic, I didn't always understand what was happening or who was narrating.*  The plot was well-paced and beautifully detailed, but the occasional asides and flashbacks for historical context, made it hard to grasp and it took far longer than it should have to find clarity.  I finally resorted to telling my kids that the next person to speak to me would receive chores.  It worked (hallelujah!) and I was finally able to stay immersed in the story long enough to figure things out.  I finished in an afternoon and (aside from the sensitive reader issues) enjoyed much of the story, including the incredible twist at the end. I was worried it would be a massive cliffhanger, but all loose ends were sufficiently tied and, even though there are more books in the series, this book can stand alone.  

N.K. Jemison has crafted an intriguing story with elegant, creative prose and complex, highly unpredictable characters.  Her world-building is impressively extensive; the kingdom has its own developed history, geography, demographic, politics, religion, and mythology.   I have to admit, the whole concept of gods bound to earth and mortal command during certain times is rather intriguing, if a bit sacrilegious.  However, the 'gods' in this story felt more mythological than sacred, so I didn't find that part of the story particularly offensive.   The chemistry between the Yeine and another character was palpable, which I  pretty much loved, but sometimes their 'interactions' became a bit more detailed than I care to read.  ALSO (and that is an intentionally big 'also') some character relationships are strangely incestuous.  I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised, given the whole mythological feel, but I wasn't really expecting it. The author doesn't really elaborate on the details of those relationships in a graphic way but they are repeatedly mentioned and it was hard to ignore and definitely hard to stomach.  Although I can't in good conscience recommend this book to anyone who is bothered by anything in the 'sensitive reader' section, I did enjoy the other aspects of the story and would recommend it to less selective readers.

*I spent the entire book wishing there had been a character/term glossary at the front of the book, only to find it located in the appendix when I finished reading. *facepalm* I must remember to check for those!  Don't be like me!!

My Rating: 2.75 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  A handful of swear words, violence, some sexual innuendo and vague reference to nudity, and a few moderately graphic heterosexual sex scenes.  There is also frequent reference to incestuous relationships, though with very little detail. 

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