Things That I Read
This Week: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin
Grade: >A for... A really really good book
WOW! Ok, I haven't written a book review in a while, but I really felt like I need to gush about how wonderful this book is. I haven't felt this strongly about a book since I first read Name of the Wind. Something about the writing, the world building, the characters, really connected to me. So hear we go...
Yeine is screwed. Ok, back up. Yeine is a young woman from the "barbarian" tribe of Darre. She is leader of her people, though she is not always accepted because her mother is of the Arameri, who are the ruling class and control pretty much the whole world. Physically she is different: she has her mother's green eyes, but her father's dark skin and hair. Mentally, her personality doesn't quite fit in either: she is too impulsive and reckless, of somewhat ill-manners and bearing, and also somewhat manipulative. Her grandfather, who is leader of the Arameri, has invited her to his palace in Sky for reasons that aren't quite clear. Her mother abdicated the throne and is now dead under murky circumstances, so what does he want with her? She couldn't possibly be of any value, she is sure, given that the Arameri already have everything, including control of the Enefadeh, gods who are enslaved to the Arameri because of a war they lost to Itempas, god of the day. After reluctantly becoming involved with the gods in the palace, Yeine is forced to confront harsh realities of politics, and her true destiny. What follows is a really rich and fascinating story of political maneuvering, mystery, and myth.
The Enefadeh are very similar to the Greek gods: their power and "magic" are unfortunately coupled with a penchant for meddling (and having sex). Of course, since they are slaves to the Arameri, their power is muted, but not so much that they aren't a danger. They also have very distinct, very mythological, personalities. The characterizations of the Enefadeh were just wonderful, in particular the child-like Sieh. Nahadoth, the night lord, is both creepily attractive and incredibly dangerous. Unlike some of the popular (and terrible) vampire stories of late (::cough::twilight::cough::), the danger of Nahadoth is very real and Yeine's growing attraction to him throughout the book puts her in genuine peril. Yeine is not a "Mary Sue," but she definitely is a stand in for the reader with her limited knowledge of politics, a lack of self control, and a drive to uncover the mystery. My only criticism of the book, and it really is the only one, is that there is a bit too much exposition at times because Yeine doesn't quite understand how things work. If anything the book could have been longer and spent more time explaining things in a natural or gradual way rather than info dumping at certain points to move the story along. Part of the problem, though in general I think this was an asset of the book, was that the story is told through first person narration. I found this to be very appealing compared to some of the convoluted, multiple storyline fantasies that are popular, but the lack of an omniscient narrator meant that everything had to be told in dialog that at times was a bit too "tell-y." That really is my only criticism because the book itself is very well written and exciting. I really enjoyed the fact that the protagonist was female, and yet not a woman who is impossibly gorgeous and talented or falling over waiting to be saved by somebody. She might be unsure of herself in her new environment, but she is still a powerful woman who can hold her own in a fight.
To some up:
Fans of epic fantasy and science fiction will definitely enjoy this book, but I also think it is accessible to readers who like good world building and story, but who otherwise might be turned off by genre fiction. Oh, and just as a side note not that it has really anything to do with the book, but it is so super rare to read a scifi/ fantasy book by an African American author, not to mention an African American woman. I really think I liked the characters more because they were written by somebody who wasn't a white dude. Just saying.
So go read it. You'll like it. Promise. In fact, you can even read the first three chapters on the author's website