The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N K Jemisin
Just finished reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N K Jemisin. Don’t ask me why but I’ve had this book sitting waiting to be read for ages and, in fact, the second book as well, but for some reason – it just didn’t inspire me enough to make it my next ‘must read’. I don’t know why. I haven’t read loads about this series so it’s not one of those ‘too much hype’ syndromes. I think it may have been the blurb on the back which admittedly isn’t the most inspiring. Anyway, I don’t know why I left this for so long but basically I didn’t go into this with one of those raring to go and ready to be bowled over type of feelings! How wrong I was. From the very first few lines I enjoyed the story style voice of the main protagonist and I was hooked. I simply flew through the pages and found it really enjoyable and original. I’m basically a sucker for a tale being told in this fashion plus it’s quite cunning of the author. She basically puts the main protagonist in an unfamiliar situation therefore we learn things in the same way she does – no info dumps!
I’m probably not going to do the story justice here but… The world created here is vast – read the title if you don’t believe me! Many different kingdoms all ruled by the one. No, start again. Many, many years ago there was a war of the Gods. The victor, Itempas, killed one of the Gods and imprisoned the others in human form. These enslaved Gods were given to the Arameri people who revered Itempas the most and they now rule over all the other kingdoms, sat on high in their rather appropriately named City – Sky. The enslaved Gods carry out their will and enforce their edicts. As a result the Arameri people have become haughty, superior and vicious. Dekarta, the current ruler of Sky, who has lived many years is starting to fade and therefore the competition between potential heirs to take over his seat is about to begin. There are two main contenders, siblings, Scimina and Relad – that is until Dekarta calls back to Sky the granddaughter he has never seen since her mother married a lowly Darre man and was disinherited as a result. Confused yet! You won’t be, don’t worry. The story flows really well and is told in a beautifully imagined way.
So, the granddaughter – Yeine, is brought back into the fold but there’ll be no celebrations here – she’s going to be thrown in at the deep end. In order to become the next ruler – it’s highly likely that two of the contenders will die in the process. On top of this Yeine is far from experienced at court politics and did I mention that the Arameri are somewhat vicious. In spite of all of this Yeine doesn’t really spend her time trying to win friends and influence people she instead tries to find out about her mother and more importantly who may be responsible for her murder. She also befriends the enslaved Gods. However, everyone has an ulterior motive here and on top of that not everyone is what they at first seem.
The characters – on the whole I thought this was a great cast. The rival siblings were, admittedly, a little flat but Yeine is really easy to read and well fleshed out. I also just loved the whole idea of the Gods trapped in mortal form, particularly Nahadoth and Sieh. Dekarta, the sort of character that you can enjoy disliking – although at the end I had a measure of sympathy towards him (I still didn’t like him though). In fact, now I reflect, there are actually very few characters involved so maybe that’s why they all feel like they have such depth. In fact the characters, dialogue and wonderful writing are what made this story for me. There are obvious twists along the way, the mystery of who killed Yeine’s mother and the competition for ruler. There is also a love story going on which whilst it doesn’t completely take over the story does play a fairly significant part. Dark, dangerous, slightly sexy – but not overpoweringly what the story is about. I confess I hadn’t expected that from this story and it was quite a pleasant surprise – although maybe not to everyone’s liking.
The story looks at a number of issues. The relationship between Gods and mortals and particularly the differences in both given that humans have such short lives. On top of that there’s the whole slavery issue, not just the issue of the slaves at Sky but the enforced slavery of the Gods. It’s all very thought provoking and well supported with the myths and history of the world in which it’s based. Mortals, living in the sky like Gods, using Gods as their slaves and weapons!
What’s really surprising about this book is that having thought back about it, there are only a few main characters, the timespan covered is very brief, maybe 2 or 3 weeks, and there are no large scale wars with tens of thousands of people slaying each other for one reason or another. In fact, there’s no adventure, maps and prophecies, swords and sorcery or rampaging monsters and yet, it feels majestic or mammoth even. It’s like by a sleight of hand Jemisin has written something that, put bluntly isn’t epic and yet impossibly it feels like it is!
Looking forward to No.2 which I won’t wait quite so long to pick up now!