By December 22, 2011 0 Comments Read More →

Unwrap The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

When Yeine Darr is summoned from the far north to the city of Sky, she learns she is heir to the throne of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Every young girl’s dream, yes? Well, not so much…

Yeine quickly learns that only the truly ruthless survive the political infighting in Sky, and to win the battle for rule, she’ll have to become many things–bloodthirsty, despotic, and willing to enslave her gods and use the people of her homeland as pawns.

Even worse, the competition–cousins Scimina and Relad–are both nasty pieces of work, one in love with her own capacity for evil and the other a drunken pathetic shell. Yeine’s dying grandfather is perhaps the worst of all, he’s already destroyed many, including members of his own family to retain his power.

There’s a lot going on in this dark fantasy to make this worthy material for book groups. Yeine’s coming of age and the viper’s nest of court politics that she must negotiate are pretty standard for epic fantasy, but Jemisin adds a dollop of mystery (who killed Yeine’s mother?) and a hearty helping of naked romance. The world building is first rate and unusual.

Best of all perhaps is the way that the author uses gods. The gods of this world, the Enefadah, have been trapped (by their own maneuverings) in a kind of slavery by the mortal leaders of Sky and its empire. They must obey direct commands from the ruling Arameri family, although if these commands are not carefully worded, they can be turned against their speakers. So readers get walking, talking, powerful yet capricious Gods mixing with humans in the political dealings. It’s done as effectively here as any author has done it since early literatures formed around pantheons of arbitrary powers. Yeine quickly develops a love-hate relationship with the god of night, Nahadoth, and a playful relationship with the child god Sieh.

The twists and turns keep coming, as Yeine discovers that she’s not just fighting for power, but for survival, that she’s not just intimately, but passionately involved in the struggle. You could spend a whole evening just talking about the moral questions evoked by this book, but make sure to leave time for at least noting that Jemisin is a person of color (rare in this genre, but becoming less so: try Nnedi Okorafor, David Anthony Durham, or Tobias Buckell in your book group as well ) and her world is distinctly non-European, her heroine not white, and her treatment of race distinctly realistic.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is that happy and rare beast: the fantasy novel that both begins a series but has an ending that will satisfy those for whom one book is enough. Finish the trilogy if you like with The Broken Kingdoms and the recently released The Kingdom of Gods.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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