The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: An engagingly different fantasy

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews N.K. Jemisin The Hundred Thousand KingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

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 RobinsMaledicte, 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.

February 4, 2010/February 25, 2010 marks the UK/US Trade Paperback publication of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms via Orbit Books. Cover art provided by Cliff Nielsen.

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 RothfussThe 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.

~Robert Thompson


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews N.K. Jemisin The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms audiobookI’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.

~Justin Blazier


fantasy book reviews N.K. Jemisin The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms audiobookThe 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.

~Bill Capossere


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin fantasy book reviewsThe 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.

~Marion Deeds

Published in 2010. 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 with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate – and gods and mortals – are bound inseparably together.

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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff September 2009 – September 2012) Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on Tolkien. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. Justin lives in a small home near the river with his wife, their baby daughter, and Norman, a mildly smelly dog. He doesn't have much time for reviewing anymore, but he still shows up here occasionally to let us know how he feels about stuff.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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13 comments

  1. I got the 1st two chapters of this book from the author’s website and I cannot wait until this book is released. The prose hypnotized me so much that I went right out and pre-ordered the Kindle version. N.K. Jemisin can WRITE!

  2. oooohh… Kindle version

  3. I’ve already got this one on my Amazon wish list (Kindle edition, of course). Really looking forward to it.

  4. Sounds like one to keep an eye out for! Thanks!

  5. No problem Melissa :) Scott & Jazz, hope you enjoy the book when you get the chance to read it!

    I’m not sold on e-books yet, but if I decide to get an e-reader, what’s the best one out there?

  6. I have just played with the nook, had a long-time demo of the sony 505 (co-worker) and owned a Kindle 1 and Kindle 2. I can only really recommend the Kindle as the nook has a horrible menu navigation system and still is plagued with a lot of bugs around the reading experience. The Sony’s books have always been more expensive than other ebooks. Which leaves the Kindle, which for me is an almost perfect reading experience. My only caveat on the Kindle is that if you want to read a lot of PDF files or use ebooks from your library, get something else.
    ————————-
    My Kindle Stuff – http://www.knuckleheadnetwork.com

  7. For the Kindle I have worked around the pdf issue by editing and increasing the font size to 20 (newer versions of Adobe Acrobat allow you to edit the pdf).

    Unfortunately, the iPad is backlit, which rules it out for me. I am on a computer all day long — don’t want any more eyestrain.

    I love the Kindle, but the navigation isn’t nice enough that you’re going to be wanting to surf the web with it (which it now allows, but it’s not very practical).

  8. “I was an idiot.”

    Best title of the year?

  9. I am glad to hear your opinion of this book, Justin. I had the same ideas about it that you had. Now I will definitely give this a try!! Thanks! :thumb:

  10. I’m very glad to hear you finally got to the book and enjoyed it. It is nicely done. And you got to it just in time to read the second book coming out in November. :)

    And, wouldn’t say an idiot. Just stubborn. ;) Great review.

  11. This book is on my all-time Top 10

  12. I adored this series. The last book wasn’t quite as good as the first two, in my opinion, but all three of them were top-notch, and I loved reading them!

  13. I seriously look forward to reading this. I remember picking it up quite some time ago. But now you’ve reminded me how much I want to read it!

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