Wonderful readers, the moment has arrived! Toss confetti, make some noise, and settle down to the first ever review of the 2011 Women of Fantasy Book Club. Every WoF post will have the above image to keep things familiar and easy to identify. Read the review (or not), see what else this post has to offer and comment below to begin discussion with other readers. I expect a lot of trial and error with the formatting of these posts. Suggestions are appreciated.
In the first of The Inheritance Trilogy, there is mystery in abundance as the former Darre leader turned heir to her grandfather’s throne searches fervently for information about the inexplicable death of her mother. Yeine’s inquiries take her deep into Arameri politics, family squabbles, and the dangerously complicated relationships between gods and mortals. The limited first person perspective might not have worked entirely well for me (it is a tricky method of storytelling that I don’t always prefer), but after having finished, I’m curious where the story has to go and whether there is yet more to be revealed about the events that happened in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
N. K. Jemisin is an author whose reputation precedes her. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has received a lot of positive attention from readers and critics alike. The only difficulty with having a book become so popular is the risk any reader takes when picking up something new, compounded now by the potential foreknowledge of its popularity. While I thought this was a very interesting debut, I felt it fell just shy of reaching its full potential. There were, however, many positive qualities—namely toying with the idea of gods being made into servants, a fallen god burdened with three personalities, and a convoluted plot that doesn’t lose itself in dense exposition.
The prose is accessible and the narration easy to follow with some lovely turns of phrases. The structure had brief interruptions from a future Yeine that sometimes worked to the narrative’s advantage and sometimes didn’t. Passages were reworked and put out of place for no clear purpose I could find other than having something for future Yeine to forget and later remember for her audience. I could find little insight that benefited from those moments being rearranged. They were, however, very few and far between.
I even enjoyed some of the world-building, despite how little is said of Sky (aside from its bland lack of color) and Darre. Rather, I believe these brief descriptions are meant to convey atmospheres of warring ideals and cultures in opposition. Yeine has been raised in a female dominant society steeped in dark traditions. Darre has never shaken off the savage reputation this garnered; many still see it as a barbaric culture. Ideally, Yeine would carry this burden to Sky with her as a child of mixed heritage identifying strongly with only her Darre people. In reality, the only Darre-ness we see out of her is in her bluntness, nothing of the prejudices that might be ingrained in her psyche (there is one very brief instance where she speaks down to an Arameri male). Either this means the Darre people are not as bad as everyone assumes, or there is something missing that could have truly made her transition to the Arameri political family a deeper struggle—even something as simple as incredulity at seeing a man in the highest seat of power. As it was, Yeine’s resistance and rudeness are built around her own assumptions and disgust of the Arameri, which I do believe are cold and careless (the hints toward this are eventually convincing), which have everything to do with Arameri reputation and nothing to do with her being Darre.
But the theme of opposition, of polarities, throughout the novel was interesting, especially when two of them (Arameri vs gods) began paralleling each other in strange and fascinating ways. The gods seek to use humans as much as the humans use the gods. Despite their casual brutality, the Arameri played the bored elite quite well. Finding new ways to entertain themselves in increasingly bizarre and perverse scenarios was a bit stomach churning, if only implicitly, but my imagination tends to fill in the gaps well enough. I wish I had a better grasp of how Yeine’s Darre nature is supposed to be opposed to this, rather than (as a reader) feeling Darre history mimicking Arameri culture (or vice versa) with the only difference being one is unapologetically brutal—the other simply masks with justifications of culture and tradition.
The politics are almost incidental to Yeine’s developing relationships between the gods (Nahadoth and Sieh in particular) and to a lesser extent, two Arameri (T’vril and Viraine). Of these relationships, the strongest seemed to be the childishly vulnerable and cruel Sieh. I found the struggling Nahadoth to be too vague when I needed clarification. A god with three sides to his personality in constant conflict with each other is entirely fascinating. With the way the book ended, it seems nearly impossible to study those dynamics further. I did, however, appreciate how Jemisin created an entirely different and inexplicable set of rules for the gods, who think nothing of incest because they operate on levels beyond human comprehension, far removed from our morals. The allusions to Greek gods was apparent in their petty jealousies, love, and need for revenge. Although I enjoyed their human flaws (also very Greek), I would have liked to see more godliness out of Sieh (aside from gimmicks) and Nahadoth (aside from being told he’s acting incredibly menacing by staring down Yeine).
Yeine is, however, drawn to one side of Nahadoth: the dark, seductive, and dangerously unpredictable side who also happens to be good in bed (the sex scene—which was all metaphysical abstractions involving space and the cosmos—was a bit too ridiculous for me, all things considered). In short, I believed this book to be divided between something of a budding romance novel and that of a fantasy political thriller in which the only real danger is two weeks away (when Yeine is to choose the succeeding Arameri ruler and die in the process); how Yeine spends the intervening days fills the remainder (asking about her dead mother and denying lustful feelings toward an unhinged god).
As it was, I found myself too distanced from Yeine, whom I felt was a bit uninteresting (her POV was pleasant enough, but unremarkable). For someone uprooted from a culture that operates under different gender politics and expected to adjust quickly in order to survive, she rose to the occasion surprisingly well. She’s a bit conflicted, yes (the Arameri method of changing eye color was fairly grotesque; I probably would have reacted the same way!), and I thought the investigations into her mother’s death was intriguing. But I found the contest of succession lacking any real moral complexity. Her rival and cousin, Scimina, is a two dimensional villain and someone easy to dismiss, as was her drunken competitor, Relad. I actually found his substance abuse interesting, considering his life may have been leading up to this point, but he was unfortunately overshadowed by predictable Scimina.
Overall, many elements of this novel worked well, but not quite to where I found myself completely satisfied. I am encouraged by the end (which I thought brought promise to the sequel) and would love to see Jemisin grow as an author. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a good debut. It will no doubt continue to impress many readers with its contemplations of the mundane vs the divine and the cyclical nature of the universe that affects everyone—even those whom we believe to be immortal. There is something in the attempt to create a kind of beauty out of tragedy that struck me. I look forward to reading the sequel.
Release Date: October 1, 2010
Reviewed Format: Trade paperback
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Vague Topics With The Potential To Be Used As Points of Discussion
Liked it? Loved it? Hated it? Can’t think of anything to say? Try the topics I’ve outline below. Answering them directly is not required. Feel free to discuss anything pertaining to the book, even if I don’t mention it here.
1. It becomes apparent that Yeine has done some things in her life that her Arameri ancestors would be proud of—namely killing her aggressor in her coming of age ceremony. Does the contradiction in this surprise you or does it suit her character as one who is discovering she is equally Darre and Arameri? Did being raised Darre help her better cope with adapting to Arameri culture?
2. Nahadoth is a complex character. One of his most interesting traits is how receptive he is to the human urges around him. How do you think this benefited him as a whole god, especially considering how it affects him as a broken one?
3. There was some drama with Yeine’s homeland. Do you think its troubles are over or is war unavoidable?
4. Jemisin was careful to include the physical differences as well as the cultural ones between the Northern folk of Darre and those living in Sky. How different do you feel the cultures actually are? Or are the two more similar than the distinction appearances Yeine persists in noticing?
5. There was a creation myth in this novel. Did this work for you or did it merely explain the history of the God’s War?