Saturday, March 12, 2011

Girl on Book Action: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
ISNB: 978-0-316-04392-2


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.


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My Thoughts:

Well, this little novel (395 pages without the appendices) was a delight.  Yeine is a good choice for first-person narration and the disjointed way that she remembers events was a good hook.  The movement between different times and the conversation she has with an unnamed person in between her memories lend the novel a layer of complexity that sets it apart from other fantasy books.  I enjoy novels where the story is told as a recollection, rather than just having some external narrator telling you about things that happened without clear connection to how this absent narrator knows about the contents of the story.  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms used first person narration skillfully.  It drew me in and made events seem more immediate than a more removed third person point of view.

It wasn’t a perfect book.  In some ways, it was formulaic and hit a number of items on the "generic fantasy checklist."  For example: political intrigue, powerful creatures and the idea of northern barbarians, torn loyalties and a protagonist being forced into a difficult social / political situation with little training.  I was often reminded of Jacqueline Carey’s two books in The Sundering series (which I reviewed here: Part One and Part Two), at least when it came to the mythology (I’m not saying that this is another take on Tolkien, because it’s not).  The subject matter of a conflict between light and dark gods and the talent shown in the telling were similar. 

While the set-up was generic, the execution made it work.  Sky the City was a fascinating setting and I think served as a good physical representation of the division between the world and its rulers since the city is quite literally built in the sky.  The world and the myth-building were good, as well.  The blurb may lead you to think it’s just about political intrigue and a struggle to survive, but it’s more than that – there are gods mixed up in all of this wrangling.  A chained god and his children, to be specific, punished for not accepting the rule of the god of light (you see how there are some generic elements here).  I don’t want to get into too many details of how the story unfolds, since it was well done and the revelations were well paced.  Some of the plot twists were a genuine surprise and pleasure.  I don’t like being able to predict the outcomes of novels and the generic elements here made me worried that it would conclude the way other such novels end, but it didn’t.

As a character, Yeine was alright, but no more than that.  Her continually losing her temper felt like a contrived character flaw and I didn't buy that she wouldn't learn from her past mistakes.  She gains so much knowledge, but better control doesn’t necessarily come with it.  I guess at the end she masters her anger issues, but that didn't make it less frustrating to read.  Maybe I just don’t understand anger well-enough (I tend to simmer until pushed to the brink and then boil over; she just exploded with little provocation).

Ultimately, I enjoyed this novel and I recommend you read it, too, if you like fantasy books.  For me, it turned out to be a bit of a diamond in the rough - setting my expectations low with the generic elements, but drawing me in and surprising me in the end.  The second part is out as a trade paperback so you don’t even have to wait to learn what happens next if you like what you read in the first one (yes, it’s part of a trilogy).

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