Monday, March 8, 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Genre: Epic Fantasy

Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: February 25 2010
Paperback: 432 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book 1 of the Inheritance Trilogy

Summary: (from Goodreads)
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 a pair of 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.

From the second I heard about this book I was super eager to give it a go. Maybe I was looking to fill the spot in my heart left empty by George R.R. Martin’s reluctance to finish his damn books, but for some reason I looked forward to reading this book in a way I haven’t felt in quite a while actually. I thought the blurb was interesting and the cover art beautiful (though I know that shouldn’t matter). And when I saw my library had a copy, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on it.

This story has some pretty extensive mythology going on. Throughout the book you'll get a better understanding, but here is the gist of it from chapter one:
There were three gods once.

Only three, I mean. Now there are dozens, perhaps hundreds. They breed like rabbits. But once there were only three, most powerful and glorious of all: the god of day, the god of night, and the goddess of twilight and dawn. Or light and darkness and the shades between. Or order, chaos, and balance. None of that is important because one of them died, the other might as well have, the last is the only one who matters anymore.

The Arameri get their power from this remaining god. He is called the Skyfather, Bright Itempas, and the ancestors of the Arameri were his most devoted priests. He rewarded them by giving them a weapon so mighty that no army could stand against it. They used this weapon — weapons, really — to make themselves rulers of the world.
The weapon, of course, is the enslaved god Nahadoth (the god of night) and the lesser gods who sided with him. As Yeine becomes entangled in the power struggle for the throne of sky, she begins to form a relationship with these gods. This story is very much about the process of Yeine coming to terms with her mother’s life and death and whether or not some sacrifices are worth the cost.

What really sucked me into this story though, beyond the general idea, was N. K. Jemisin’s writing style. Even though there were some parts of the story that I thought were too disjointed (one of the major problems with books written in a first person perspective in my opinion), Jemisin’s lyrical story telling was perfect. I was also surprised at how sympathetic I felt towards the gods and I’m not sure this story would be what it is without that sympathy since I didn't find Yeine very likable.

The biggest complaint I have about this book is the romance aspect of it. Though I understand why Yeine felt the way she did, I just have a hard time accepting that the first being that came into existence would be interested in a teenage girl. I know this is pretty much the standard theme in romance books, but I just can’t buy into it (and one of the reasons I don’t read romance in the first place). Of course other people probably love the idea of Yeine and Nahadoth, but for me it felt artificial and ridiculous (though the attraction is totally understandable).

Maybe if I could think of one compelling reason why a being older then time itself would fall in love with a person of the species that has tormented and enslaved said being for centuries I might not think the whole thing was total crap. But it better be a damn good reason.

That of course is my personal totally biased opinion so don’t take it too seriously random person on the internet that might read this. This, and the less then clear ending, is the only complaint I have. Overall I thought this story was great. It was interesting enough for me to plow through it in one night and I will definitely read the next book in the series.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:
My name is Yeine. In my people’s way I am Yeine dau she Kinneth tai wer Somem kanna Darre, which means that I am the daughter of Kinneth, and that my tribe within the Darre people is called Somem. Tribes mean little to us these days, though before the Gods’ War they were more important.

I am nineteen years old. I also am, or was, the chieftain of my people, called ennu. In the Arameri way, which is the way of the Amn race from whom they originated, I am the Baroness Yeine Darr.
One month after my mother died, I received a message from my grandfather, Dekarta Arameri, inviting me to visit the family seat. Because one does not refuse an invitation from the Arameri, I set forth. It took the better part of three months to travel from the High North continent to Senm, across the Repentance Sea. Despite Darr’s relative poverty, I traveled in style the whole way, first by palanquin and ocean vessel, and finally by chauffeured horse-coach. This was not my choice. The Darre warriors’ council, which rather desperately hoped that I might restore us to the Arameri’s good graces, thought that this extravagance would help. It is well known that Amn respect displays of wealth.

Thus arrayed, I arrived at my destination on the cusp of the winter solstice. And as the driver stopped the coach on a hill outside the city, ostensibly to water the horses but more likely because he was a local and liked to watch foreigners gawk, I got my first glimpse of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ heart.

There is a rose that is famous in High North. (This is not a digression.) It is called the altarskirt rose. Not only do its petals unfold in a radiance of pearled white, but frequently it grows an incomplete secondary flower about the base of its stem. In its most prized form, the altarskirt grows a layer of overlarge petals that drape the ground. The two bloom in tandem, seedbearing head and skirt, glory above and below.

This was the city called Sky. On the ground, sprawling over a small mountain or an oversized hill, was the city: a circle of high walls, mounting tiers of buildings, all resplendent in white per Arameri decree. Above the city, smaller but brighter, the pearl of its tiers occasionally obscured by scuds of cloud, was the palace — also called Sky, and perhaps more deserving of the name. I knew the column was there, the impossibly thin column that supported such a massive structure, but from that distance I couldn’t see it. Palace floated above city, linked in spirit, both so unearthly in their beauty that I held my breath at the sight.

The altarskirt rose is priceless because of the difficulty of producing it. The most famous lines are heavily inbred; it originated as a deformity that some savvy breeder deemed useful. The primary flower’s scent, sweet to us, is apparently repugnant to insects; these roses must be pollinated by hand. The secondary flower saps nutrients crucial for the plant’s fertility. Seeds are rare, and for every one which grows into a perfect altarskirt, ten others become plants that must be destroyed for their hideousness.


The ending good have been better explained and the love story was a bit contrived, but besides that the book was superb. I look forward to book number two.

Rating: 9 - Damn near perfection

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