The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a debut novel by N. K. Jemisin, who was recently nominated for the Nebula Award for her short story “Non-Zero Probabilities.” Even though it’s the first book in The Inheritance Trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a complete story with a satisfying conclusion. The next two books in the series each focus on a different main character than the first one. According to Jemisin’s website, the second book The Broken Kingdoms will be released in fall 2010.
Soon after the mysterious death of her mother, Yeine Darr is summoned to the Arameri court by its ruler, her grandfather. When Yeine’s mother met her father, a minor barbarian noble, she abdicated her position as heir to the Arameri throne. The Arameri have ruled the world for a very long time due to their favor with the Skylord, one of the three major gods. The Skylord killed one of the other gods and gave the Nightlord along with his sons and daughters to the Arameri as their own personal weapons. These gods are slaves to the Arameri, bound in flesh and made to obey their every whim.
Yeine goes to the Arameri home of Sky and meets with her grandfather, who informs her that he is making her his heir while keeping her cousins as his other two heirs. She will now be a true Arameri – and will quite possibly be killed by one of her cousins in an attempt for the throne while trying to unravel the truth about the past.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is one of those books that appeals to me on so many levels and I loved it. It did have a couple of cheesy sex scenes, but other than that, I have no complaints and was completely engaged in this novel from beginning to end.
The story is told from the first person perspective of Yeine. Her narrative is very scattered and feels as though she really is telling the story to the reader as she interrupts herself often to insert information or go back and fill in parts she just remembered. For instance, when she goes to meet her grandfather for the first time, she then stops to expound on the history of the gods and how it relates to the Arameri people:
I knelt before my grandfather with my head bowed, hearing titters of laughter.
* * *
There were three gods once.
Only three, I mean. Now there are dozens, perhaps hundreds. They breed like rabbits. But once there were only three, most powerful and glorious of all: the god of day, the god of night, and the goddess of twilight and dawn. Of light and darkness and the shades between. Or order, chaos, and balance. None of that is important because one of them died, the other might as well have, and the last is the only one who matters anymore.
The Arameri get their power from this remaining god. He is called the Skyfather, Bright Itempas, and the ancestors of the Arameri were His most devoted priests. He rewarded them by giving them a weapon so mighty that no army could stand against it. They used this weapon – weapons, really – to make themselves rulers of the world.
That’s better. Now.
* * *
I knelt before my grandfather with my head bowed and my knife laid on the floor. (pp. 6)
Some may find this style a bit chaotic, but personally, I really liked it. Yeine herself is far from an omniscient narrator since she spends much of the novel trying to discover the truth about her mother and the gods (since the only accepted account allowed by the winning god may be a bit biased). Throughout the tale, more and more about the world and the characters and how everything weaves together is slowly revealed.
The world mythology was well-developed and added a lot to the novel. The gods were somewhat reminiscent of the Greek gods since they shared so many human traits and complexities. In spite of the fact that they were very powerful and different from the humans, they were also capable of jealousy, greed and love.
Most of the characters were well-written with diverse motivations. Of course, Yeine was a favorite as the point of view character and the easiest to sympathize with. She went from being leader of a relatively small nation to contending for the title of world ruler, plus she has the disadvantage of not knowing the Arameri ways like her two cousins. After Yeine, my favorite character was Sieh, the trickster god who usually appeared as a child (happily, he is the subject of the third book). At once ancient and childlike, Sieh had an interesting dual nature and before he was enslaved the world was his playground (he still has several suns that he keeps around to play with). Nahadoth, the dangerous god of night, was also a major character as Yeine’s romantic interest.
There’s a lot packed into this book and it deals with themes such as race, gender, slavery and religion. Yet these different issues are all subtly intertwined into the story – there are no long diatribes on any of them and they are all incorporated into the novel without being heavy-handed or excessive. Yeine is a dark-skinned woman raised in a matriarchal society. The gods were enslaved and this removal of the other gods affected the people’s religion and the perception of truth.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was both entertaining and different. This debut novel had a compelling story with some complex and human characters, and I’m really looking forward to reading more by N.K. Jemisin.
My Rating: 9/10
Where I got my reading copy: The publisher sent me a copy.