CLASSIFICATION: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is epic fantasy that mixes together court intrigue, mythology, romantic/family drama, and celestial magics. It brought to mind everything from Jacqueline Carey, Lane Robins‘ Maledicte, and Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come to Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge / Lord Tophet, John Scalzi’s The God Engines, Daniel Abraham’s THE LONG PRICE QUARTET and the Valkyrie Profile video games.
FORMAT/INFO: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is 432 pages long divided over 29 titled chapters. Also includes a Glossary, a Clarification of Terms, a Historical Record, an interview with the author, and an excerpt from the second book in THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via the protagonist Yeine. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the opening volume in THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY, but acts as a self-contained novel with the book’s major plot points satisfactorily concluded.
ANALYSIS: Every year, it seems like at least two or three novels are hyped as the fantasy debut of the year. Some of these books actually manage to live up to the hype, like Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind or this year’s Spellwright by Blake Charlton. Most of them do not. And some books, like N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, aren’t receiving enough hype…
The best thing about N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the narrative voice of the novel’s main character, Yeine. Accessible, charming, and elegant, Yeine’s first-person narrative grabbed me from the very first page and kept me hooked throughout the novel with her warm personality, vivid and colorful descriptions, thoughtful insights, and fairy tale-like storytelling:
“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 mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. I say that not because I am her daughter, and not because she was tall and graceful, with hair like clouded sunlight. I say it because she was strong. Perhaps it is my Darre heritage, but strength has always been the marker of beauty in my eyes”.
“Once upon a time there were three great gods. Bright Itempas, Lord of Day, was the one destined by fate or the Maelstrom or some unfathomable design to rule. All was well until Enefa, His upstart sister, decided that she wanted to rule in Bright Itempas’s place. She convinced her brother Nahadoth to assist her, and together with some of their godling children they attempted a coup. Itempas, mightier than both His siblings combined, defeated them soundly. He slew Enefa, punished Nahadoth and the rebels, and established an even greater peace — for without His dark brother and wild sister to appease, He was free to bring true light and order to all creation.”
After Yeine’s narrative voice, what I loved most about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was its uniqueness and imagination. While parts of the book reminded me of other authors and novels like the court intrigue and sensuality conjuring memories of Jacqueline Carey and Lane Robins; the clashing of mortal and immortal worlds evoking Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge/Lord Tophet and Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come; and the enslavement of gods bringing to mind John Scalzi’s The God Engines; as a whole, N.K. Jemisin’s debut is not quite like anything else that I’ve read before.
Imagination-wise, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms may play with a number of familiar concepts like succession wars, mortals enslaving gods, and a floating city, but the book is just brimming with creativeness with the Arameri family divided into nobles or servants based on their status (fullbloods, halfbloods, quarters), petitions which gives a country permission to begin a war, Nahadoth’s many different forms (day, nighttime, etc.), and the history between Itempas, Nahadoth and Enefa some of my favorite ideas in the book.
Another area of the novel that really impressed me was N.K. Jemisin’s polished writing. In addition to Yeine’s compelling narrative voice and the author’s vibrant imagination, the prose was skilled, and at times, poetic; the book’s supporting cast was well-crafted and engaging, particularly Nahadoth; world-building, while scarce in some areas, was for the most part, rich and informative; and the story, which is full of riveting twists, revelations and drama, featured excellent pacing and execution, leading to a powerful and rewarding conclusion.
Negatively, there is very little to say. World-building, like I mentioned, was scarce in some areas with the book focusing mainly on the Arameri, the city Sky, and the Three Gods and their children (Itempas, Nahadoth, Enefa, Sieh, Zhakkarn, Kurue), but it sounds like this is an issue that will be addressed in the sequels. Other than that, I wish the author would have further explored Arameri court politics & intrigues, and felt that the book was sometimes overwhelmed by all of the emotional drama going on.
CONCLUSION: Even though N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has been on my radar ever since Orbit first announced the title in 2008, the book really took me by surprise. Part of the reason is because the novel hasn’t been receiving the same kind of hype and publicity that other 2010 titles have enjoyed, but a lot of it is because The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is much better than most of the debut novels that I’ve read over the years. Extremely well-written, imaginative, emotionally gripping, and featuring a compelling narrator, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is an almost-perfect debut that deserves far more attention and could end up being one of the best fantasy releases of the year.
I’m not quite sure where to begin talking about N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I guess I should start with my pre-reading impressions. This book came recommended to me from a few here at Fanlit, and from many authors and blogs, but I resisted reading it for quite some time. There was nothing in the descriptions that really caught my fancy. It sounded like a typical high or epic fantasy, and even the title, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, seemed to confirm my initial thoughts. I kept thinking, a whole hundred thousand? Will there be a hundred thousand royal family members with a hundred thousand titles? How about a hundred thousand political squabbles? I’m not a big fan of the type of fantasy with long lists of families and loads of political intrigue, and I was so sure that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was going to be just like that. I was an idiot.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first person account of Yeine Darr. Yeine is one of three heirs to the Arameri crown. After her mother’s death she was whisked away from her northern barbarian home to the capital city of Sky. She is to compete with the two other heirs for the right to succeed the reigning king, Dakarta. No one knows why Dakarta brought Yeine out of the rural north to be a part of the succession events. You can imagine what would happen in a game of deadly politics between a highly intelligent and savage young lady and the spoiled and educated master schemers of the royal family. To say the least, things quickly get interesting.
The most amazing part of this book is Yeine herself. She is one of the most engaging and charming characters I’ve ever read. She is the sole voice of the story and always stays in character while describing the events of the story.
There are also plenty of gods with unique personalities who each bring something different to the table. There are only a few characters who Jemisin spends a lot of ink on, and the rest are left a little underdeveloped. The world itself is also left a little unexplained. The story’s focus is on the capital city of Sky, and the Arameri family that resides there, so the other lands and peoples, except Yeine’s homeland of Darr, are left in the background. I hope that will change in the sequels.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is beautifully written and I enjoyed the story a great deal. The fact that this is Jemisin’s debut novel is disgusting. That one person could contain this much talent is a crime upon humanity. Jemisin will join Pat Rothfuss on my “List Of Disgustingly Talented Authors Who I Should Hate From Jealousy, But Can’t Because They Are Too Awesome Not To Love” (The LODTAWISHFJBCBTATANTL, for short). Seriously, the writing is both vivid and entertaining with a very reader-friendly pace and I appreciated that there was none of the hoighty-toighty self-indulgent Arthurian hooey in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
I listened to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on Brilliance Audio CD. It was narrated by Casaundra Freeman. Casaundra was amazing. It’s extremely important that the voice actor of a first-person story become that character in the reader’s mind. If a voice is too different than what you would imagine then it is difficult to become engaged. That is definitely not a problem in this version of the book. Ms. Freeman is Yeine, and a delight to listen to. I highly recommend this version, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Broken Kingdoms coming in November 2010.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the eponymous setting of book one, has long been ruled by the Arameri family from its floating capital city (appropriately named Sky). Ages ago, the world was overseen by three gods: the oldest, Itempas (light/day), and his two younger “siblings” — Nahadoth (dark/night) and Enefa. Legends say Enefa and Nahadoth conspired against Itempas, who slew Enefa and punished Nahadoth (partly by embodying him in human form). Now Itempas alone is worshipped as the embodiment of light and order, while Nahadoth and those who sided against Itempas are forced into serving the Arameri. One of these enslaved gods is Sieh, a trickster god with the attitude of a child most times.
When Yeine Darr’s mother dies, Yeine is summoned from the far-off “barbarian” north by the current head of the Arameri family — her grandfather Dekarta — and to everyone’s shock is named as his third heir, along with her two already-named cousins, throwing her into a cutthroat political battle. This begins her attempts to navigate the strict caste system of Sky, the schemes of her cousins, and the enslaved gods’ attempts to escape.
The strength throughout the series is in the characterization and the narrators’ voices. In the first novel, Yeine’s point-of-view gives us both a likable character to engage with and someone whose cluelessness allows us to learn and grow with her. The secondary characters vary a bit in quality. Some, such as her cousin, Sieh, and one of the scriveners come alive quite nicely. Others, such as her two cousins, are less interesting and fully dimensional. The major plot is interesting enough, though I’m not sure I’d call it compelling or highly original, and it may suffer a bit from Yeine’s early passivity. I did, however, love the backstory of the three gods and thoroughly enjoyed those digressions. The romance/sex parts I could have lived without as both the language and the plot seemed to become less original when it reared its head, and I admit to having a hard time with god-mortal sex rocking the world of a god. And I wished for a larger sense of worldbuilding; beyond the mythology the world felt a bit thin to me.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms garnered a lot of buzz in 2010 and 2011, and rightfully so. N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel takes a fresh look at gods and humans. She creates a suspenseful story along the way.
The hundred thousand kingdoms all worship one god, the Dayfather, Itempas. The human Arameri, from their floating palace called Sky, rule the kingdoms — all of them. Centuries ago, the priests say, there were three gods: light, darkness and dawn/twilight. Two of them turned on light (Itempas), betraying him. In the war that followed, the god of twilight was killed. The proud god of darkness and the gods’ children who had followed him and “the betrayer” were enslaved, and the Arameri, Itempas’s human allies, given dominion over them.
It is important to remember that history is written by the winners.
Yeine Darr, ruler of the kingdom of Darr and daughter of a rebellious Arameri, is summoned to Sky after her mother is murdered. Although Yeine ruled Darr, she was never fully trusted by her people because of her Arameri blood, and at the palace she is considered nothing more than a barbarian. Her grandfather has named her one of three “chosen heirs” to succeed him as the supreme ruler of the kingdoms, but it is clearly not his intent that she actually rule. She is at best a pawn, at worst a sacrifice.
The enslaved gods, though, have other plans for Yeine.
About a third of the book follows the history of the original three gods and their children. Jemisin puts a new spin on the old “duality” tradition of deities. The rest of the book focuses on Yeine’s struggle to discover her place, and her role, in the corrupt palace; her investigation of her mother’s death and life, and her attempts to figure out whom she can trust. Her two cousins, the other chosen heirs, plainly do not fall into that category, so Yeine must also dodge their murderous schemes. I think Jemisin named the woman cousin “Scimina” for just that reason.
Jemisin also remembers the rules of romance novels, and a key one is: Chicks Dig Bad Boys. She gives Yeine a bad-boy of cosmic proportions. When she writes about Yeine’s infatuation, Jemisin perfectly executes the do-what-you-will-with-me swooniness of a romance novel, but she also gets the tone right when Yeine remembers that she comes from a society of women warriors. Throughout the book, Yeine is believable as a person lost in a strange and dangerous place with, ultimately, only herself to trust. In fact, descriptions of Yeine’s life before coming to Sky, and life in the kingdoms in general, are pretty thin in this book, and for me the societal “rules” of Darr didn’t hold together very well. Fortunately, since all the action and political intrigue takes place in the floating palace, that wasn’t a big deficit.
I really liked The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The ending is emotionally and dramatically right, and plausibly sets in motion the subsequent books. Jemisin’s writing is smooth and goes down easy. The book was a quick read for me and I appreciated how, even with a first-person narrator, Jemisin managed to maintain suspense, since Yeine’s life is believably in danger from the opening paragraph. If you are looking for an engaging and different fantasy, check this one out.
Having been completely blown away by N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate (the first two books in her BROKEN EARTH trilogy), she immediately became my favorite SFF author of this decade. Her DREAMBLOOD series was also very good, exploring Egyptian and Nubian themes in a very compelling story. However, I have been reading Jemisin’s work in reverse chronological order, because so many people told me I HAVE to read The Fifth Season first. So I left her earliest work, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Book 1 of the INHERITANCE trilogy), till now.
Sadly, this book suffers in comparison to her later, more polished work, which is too bad since it has intriguing mythology and a unique pantheons of gods, interesting set-pieces (a sky city packed with intrigues, corrupt nobility, and enslaved gods) that are let down by a lack of world-building details, too many thinly-sketched and two-dimensional supporting cast members, and a heroine who can’t decide if she is a fierce young leader with royal blood, or a swooning teenager being swept away by a brooding but sexually-irresistible Lord of Night god named Nahadoth. The steamy love scenes with her dark and sexy bad boy were cringe-worthy and undermined her credibility as a tough and resourceful young woman raised in a matriarchal barbarian tribe thrown into a den of royal intrigue in a complex and treacherous sky city.
I really admire Jemisin’s work now, so it pains me to criticize her debut novel, and it really is a valiant first effort, but when you have been spoiled by the incredible storytelling of her BROKEN EARTH books, it’s a tough comparison. Is it fair to compare anyone’s initial book with their more polished later work? Probably not. I might have been more forgiving if I had read this first, without any expectations. But it probably still wouldn’t have been my favorite book.
One of my biggest complaints is the title THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, which is deceptive and inaccurate. Practically the entire story is set in the floating city of Sky, which rules over the entire world backed by the implicit power of the Skyfather Bright Itempas. But other than a few flashbacks to Yeine Darr’s early upbringing, and details of the mythological origins of the gods, the entire story is confined to one location. So why bother claiming a number like 100,000 kingdoms? We hardly learn about more than a handful of kingdoms, and even an entire planet filled with kingdoms doesn’t get you there. Tribes, yes, but kingdoms, no. And since they play no meaningful role in the story, it just irritates me, since it sets up reader expectations that will be disappointed.
On the positive side, I appreciate that Jemisin centers the story on a young woman of color, and we see the story through her eyes as she is thrust into a dangerous situation in which nobody can be trusted, especially her two cousins who are rivals to her (unwanted) claim to the throne. But those two characters are cardboard villains for much of the story, with the female named Scimina in case you weren’t sure. Instead, the much more fully-fleshed out characters are those of Nahadoth (her dark and brooding lover), along with a playful child god named Sieh (who turns out to be much more and is my favorite character), T’vril (a palace steward who become her source of information), and Viraine (the palace scrivener, akin to a lore-master or sorcerer, whose motivations and allegiances are unclear). The audiobook is narrated by Casaundra Freeman, who gives each of the characters a distinctive voice and captures the mix of innocence and young angst of the the heroine.
Normally if your setting is a floating city filled with cut-throat intrigue among royal factions, enslaved gods, and a complex struggle for succession of an old and cynical king, you would expect a lot of sudden betrayals, hidden passageways, desperate fights in narrow spots, perhaps a night-time jaunt along the outside of the castle, etc. Sure, those may be the stereotypical expectations of the genre, but the entire middle portion of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS has almost no action to speak of. It consists mostly of Yeine desperately trying to find out 1) why she has been designated heir along with two much more powerful rivals; 2) the mystery of why her mother was killed; 3) what type of person her mother was; 3) the various schemes of the captive gods and the other Arameri nobility.
So this section is very heavy on talk and light on action. The only “action” we are subjected to are the embarrassing sexual encounters between our torn heroine Yeine and Mr. Lord of Night, who is impossibly attractive and hungry for her. There was one love scene that literally features an orgasm to infinity and beyond, which I wish I could erase from memory. He is such a stereotypical misunderstood bad-boy, I just picture him with a leather jacket, smoking a cigarette, leaning against his motorcycle, and waiting for Yeine to sneak out of the house, telling her parents she’s going to study at a friend’s house, and going joy-riding in the mountains instead.
Things do pick in the final third, as the succession approaches and Yeine and her allies arrange a number of stratagems to foil the evil Scimina’s plans. The enslaved gods have their own agendas, and Yeine manages to spring a reversal of epic proportions, a bit confusing and hard to believe, and literally heads off into the the bigger universe at the end. It’s unclear what the next two books will focus on, but since the second book The Broken Kingdoms is available from Brilliance Audio, I will give it a try and hope it is better.
The Inheritance Trilogy — (2010-2015) Available for download at Audible.com. Publisher: Yeine Darr is heir to the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. She is also an outcast. Until, that is, her mother dies under mysterious circumstances. Summoned by her grandfather to the majestic city of Sky, Yeine finds herself thrust into a vicious power struggle for the throne. As she fights for her life, she comes ever closer to discovering the truth about her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history — as well as the unsettling truths within herself. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate are bound inseparably together, for both mortals and gods alike.