The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

By N.K. Jemisin

Rating: 4 stars

Yeine Darr is an outcast, chief of a faraway kingdom and is shocked to get a summons by her grandfather to the capital. She’s even more shocked to find that she’s been named as his heir, to fight with the other two such named for the privilege of taking his place. In the city of Sky, effective capital of the world, she must learn politics and intrigue and strive to tell her pitifully few friends from her many foes. And that’s before the imprisoned gods get involved with anything.

I hadn’t realised until I read the interview at the end that this was Jemison’s debut novel. It is well-written and assured throughout. If this is her at the start of her career, I can definitely see why she ended up winning a trifecta of Hugo awards for her Broken Earth series. I’ve avoided that as everything I’ve heard suggests it’s extremely dark, and that’s not for me. You can get a foretaste of that here, in the coldness and ruthlessness of the Arameri (Yeine’s estranged family and erstwhile rulers of the world), and it’s something Yeine herself has to learn quickly as well.

Some of the other reviews here have commented on the sex in the book. I must say that this took me aback, since it mostly passed me by. Yes, there was some, but it wasn’t something I thought was particularly graphic or excessive. The line about the god’s phallus did make me giggle though, which may not have been the intention!

In a lot of ways this book reminded me of Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, it also has a distant scion of a powerful family thrust into the centre of the political world and having to adapt quickly to changed circumstances. But both Yeine, and the story itself, is much harder than Maia and Emperor. That book left me feeling sort of warm and fuzzy; this one has a satisfying ending, but I wouldn’t call it warm or fuzzy.

The worldbuilding here is fantastic, with its central Three gods, and the story of how one overthrew the others woven into Yeine’s story. How the idea of light, dark and balance is central to the whole book. The characters are all fascinating. Most of the human ones, other than Yeine, don’t get a lot of characterisation (although her dead mother is a central driver and we learn more about her than about many of the living people) but the gods and godlings are brilliant. Nahadoth, god of night, and Sieh, the childlike god of mischief are particular standouts.

Excellent worldbuilding, great characters and a definite page turner. I enjoyed this a lot, and I look forward to reading the others in the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841498171
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

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