Ashana Lian's Fantasy Lab

Fantasy and Fantasy Writing from every angle: fantasy and sci-fi novels, films, artwork, superhero cartoons, children's and YA books, manga, anime, video games and comics. Put the microscope on 'Geek Culture'.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Book: A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

This book is important for me, being a fantasy book written by a black female author, with a protagonist of colour. Sadly, I don't know very many of those.

If you remember, this was one of my holiday reading choices. I never got round to reading it, but my eldest sister read hers while we were away. Almost every time she put it down, she said to me, "Shani, this is SO GOOD." I tried not to have unrealistically high expectations when I finally got round to reading it last night.

Little update. Upcoming posts: books review that should've been posted in July/August, the first fantasy artwork posts on this blog (finally e_e ), and either a YA of Children's book post.

My reviews are not spoiler-free. To be clear. :)

A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms analysis

Author: N. K. Jemisin
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 2010
Fantasy Sub-Genre: Epic

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 - a palace above the sky where gods and mortals intertwine.

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.

This story is... an epic fantasy meets murder mystery meets paranormal romance meets royal court intrigue. That the best way I can describe it. The novel is smaller than a great deal of fantasy novels, only 398 pages. It is also, incredible. I'll tell you right now - I gave it five stars. Now I'll tell you why.

Last night, I was wondering what to read, and picked a few titles from my horde, deliberating. I really wasn't in the mood for any "Oh ye child of destiny, come unto Mordor," slay-the-dragon, save-the-realm bullshit. I really needed something light, easy, and PLAIN ENGLISH. I've been reading tombes all summer. >=(

I read the first page of this to make up my mind, and it seemed like only a couple seconds passed before I realised suddenly I was on page five or six. I thought, 'Clearly this is the one!' and I got into bed to read a little. As it turned out, I couldn't put it down and read until three o'clock this morning. I fell asleep full of wonder and thoughts and gods and mortals. I woke up late.

In terms of epic fantasy, the magic was wondrous and well described. As a murder mystery, I loved how we were given information in pieces, so one bit of harmless knowledge is suddenly a big deal three pages later when the realisation hits. This is actually because Yeine is trying to remember what happened up until the present moment, but it serves the mystery aspect of the story as well.

Because Nahadoth is the God of Night and everything associated with him is dark, ominous, dangerous, seductive, and almost oppressive, when Yeine starts getting obsessive about him it really did remind me of the sort of paranormal romance blurbs I'd casually read while tidying up at work (I was working as well, I swear. And at the time, I had higher hopes for that genre). Royal Court Intrigue - Scimina embodies that element! She was cunning, very cruel and despite how pitifully shallow she was, she was an excellent character because she had enough power to be a very dangerous enemy to Yeine. All in all, a complex and uunbelievably engaging story. I got so, so hooked.

Yeine was such a likeable character, even more so because she didn't belong anywhere. Thanks to her Anameri mother marrying her 'barbarian' Darr father, the Anameri's see Yeine as below them and the people of her father's homeland, Darr don't completely see her as one of them either. She's stuck between two worlds and neither one wants her - pretty heartwrenching. Yeine herself isn't remarkable, but she's brave and compassionate. Surprisingly, that's what helps her get ahead in the ruthless Sky palace, where the Anameri live and where some really appalling things go on, with everybody plotting and killing and sleeping with each other, the Gods, and underage children. Damn.

As for the side characters, I particularly loved Sieh. He seemed both ageless and childlike, and also both human and godlike. He was unnerving and loveable all at once, so N. K. Jemisin definitely pulled off this complex character in a pretty impressive way. Viraine the scrivener reminded me of Lord Varys from George R.R.'s ASOIAF - mysterious and untrustworthy, his spiderwebs clinging onto everyone.

The GODS. I Ab. So. Lute. Ly. LOVED the mythology of this story. The origin story of the Three Gods was probably one of the best I've read in some time. Nahadoth aka Nightlord (I'm sorry but - LOL) was awesome and fearsome, but I'm not sure how I felt about his relationship with Yeine. Nahadoth being a God trapped in mortal body is inevitably going to attract some incompatible lovers. But she gave in pretty easily, which - now, I don't want to say 'made me think less of her' but - really skewed up whatever her motives were meant to be.

There is always the afterthought about whether she ever would have had a chance with Nahadoth in the first place if she didn't harbour his sister's soul. One of the Gods I didn't like (either Zhakkarn or Kurue or someone) said that Enefa's soul being in Yeine had altered her and made them similar, which made the issue a bit hazy. I know I shouldn't have expected a happy fairytale ending for these two, but I was kinda hoping for it. We're talking about a relationship with a God and a mortal - I don't see how that could ever end happily (except in a YA), yet, I don't want it to end badly. I guess I'm one of those annoying hopeless romantics.

Intempas aka Skyfather! The God of Jackassness! (I'm joking, it's Day.) Such a great character, but very easy to dislike. I kind of like that despite the story's complexities, there are some invisible arrows pointing to who you're allowed to hate! Nahadoth is the God that welcomes change, whereas Intempas is his opposite in pretty much every regard, and so resists change. Thus, his stubbornness makes him irritating, and makes the story so much more interesting. It's bittersweet that their differences mean they will always fight, and yet they love each other infinitely.

Finally, it was wonderful to discover the irony that Yeine, investigating her mother's past to avenge her, discovers that that is exactly what Kinneth was trying to do as well. It seemed, then, that everything Kinneth did, even having Yeine, all led back to the revenge she was exacting on her father for (ceremonially, yes,) killing her mother. Despite all of Yeine's fond memories idolising her mother, in the end Kinneth - who didn't even have any emotional attachment to her mother - seemed cold.

It raises the thought that we only see one side to many of the people we meet, or whose blogs we read c: As the second youngest of six kids, it's weird to think that my eldest brother remembers my Mum from before I was even born and what she was like. I've heard she was different. My Dad though... yeah I'm pretty sure he has always been the same.

The Verdict

5 Sha's!!

I did dithered between the four and the five for some time, because there were some things a bit like "Hmm." Because the magic didn't go overboard on the Rules And Boundaries, as I'm used to, sometimes I was a bit like "Huh? What? She/He/They could do that?" Plus, Yeine got a bit annoying at times, but considering that for half of the novel she was on death row that's excusable.

Also, even though I loved the narrative, I am not a huge fan of the whole "What happened to me? Ah, let me tell you my story to help me remember" method of narration as opposed to the, "I have a story to tell you, curious listener, sit your ass down." But I gotta say, N. K. Jemisin did it very cleverly, structuring the narration to give a sense of Yeine recollecting her memories. They weren't alway in linear order, and sometimes she made herself stop and go back.

So then, I judged the ending. It could've ended a lot of ways, and despite that I'm not entirely sure if I liked Yeine becoming a goddess and being able to assume those staggering physical/spiritual/magical characteristics of the goddess Enefa through harbouring her soul (hinted at when she was able to have sex with Nahadoth without dying like every other mortal gone before (that scene was beyonddd my comprehension, man)) despite not assuming anything else... *inhale* was still a brilliant ending. There is no denying it. So it became a no-brainer. Five stars.

Image: Reminds me of Sieh!

Fantasy Food For Thought

Two quick points. The first, surprisingly, is technical.

One thing I personally obsess over in my writing is descriptions. Over the years, I've focused on it more and more and now I go over and above to bring settings and particularly characters to life. I'll admit that characters are more important to me than any other aspect of my fantasy writing (I think I shows. I'm working on that). A long time ago, when I read parts of my eldest sister's working-novel, I was swept away by her incredible her descriptions were.

But lately, I've read a long of books where descriptions have been startlingly minimal - which usually works but sometimes doesn't - and then the rest is left to the reader's imagination, which I both enjoy and think is very important.

When rereading books on characters I enjoy, I realise that me liking that character is partly down to whatever perception I created in my mind of that character when I read about them, which immediately becomes clear when talking to another fan and realising that our perceptions clash, although are both essentially the same.

Remember I said this protagonist was of colour? Guess how many times that's mentioned? Twice. Yeine described her skin as brown two times and no more, and it works - possibly because it isn't terribly important other than adding to her being an outsider, I suppose. Or possibly because the fact doesn't need to be shoved in readers faces - she no more alien than any other ethnicity. Previously, I never thought about how successful short and concise descriptions can be, mainly because I like to obsess over details.

Gods and mortals. It's been some time since I read a fantasy novel where the Gods of the story verbally or physically interact with the characters. The first ever fantasy book I ever remember reading did this, but I'm not gonna day it because I think it's a spoiler. (If you really don't care though, it's in the Bio.) I really liked watching Yeine get to know them and compare folklore from her homelands to the actual deities themselves.

This book also made me think about religion beliefs and the way they shape our world. In Sky the city, punishment for believing anything other than that Intempas is the one true and worthy God is severe. But as it turns out, many of the details are skewed, and during the story Yeine realises the scale of the pain he inflicted. The God that the people of Sky worship is nothing like the actual diety himself.

But I'm gonna stop now, or I'll start getting philosophical about it.

Ashana Lian .


  1. Great Review! I read the book recently and I LOVED it! Personally, I would have prefered that Yeine end up by herself. I thought her and Nehedoth was kind of weird, lol. At some point, I wished she would have ended up with T'vril, but well as a couple I don't think they are right for each other.

    By the way, I nominated you for a Liebster Award. Here's my post about it:

    1. Really! I'm glad you liked it as much as I did. I know what you mean about that. I think, all things considered, it was a better ending than it could have been. Nahadoth WAS weird, but he was also a very interesting God.
      Wow, thanks very much! Hopefully I can fit into it along with my lined up posts.


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