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Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy, Book 1)
Author: N.K. Jemisin ([livejournal.com profile] nojojojo; NKJemisin.com)
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 410
Publisher: Orbit





Basic Plotline: Yeine Darr is summoned by her grandfather to the capital city, Sky, to compete against her two cousins for the succession to the throne. There she is thrust in a vicious struggle amongst enslaved gods, ruthless nobles, and a dark family secret that could change everything.

The Positives: Lush, striking, dark, and complex, this debut novel is rather a masterpiece and I devoured it gleefully.

I am a self-confessed prose snob. The narrative in this book, with it's well spaced interruptions and flourishes of poetry while keeping a believable cadence made the story that much more enjoyable.

It does not lack for anything when it comes to the main characters, the setting, or the plot. It reads as much like as mystery as an epic fantasy. Even as the reader journeys through the cutthroat but elegantly beautiful world of Sky, there is a masterful whodunnit being played out concerning not only the murder of Yeine's mother years ago, but the many family secrets that have been kept from her all her life.

Yeine makes for a wonderful protagonist. She is as strong and smart as anyone can credibly be in such a situation given that she thrust into a lifetime's worth of conspiracies and plots and politics that she knows little or nothing about and no one will give her anything resembling a straight answer. I appreciated that the heroine was not effortlessly lucky or successful in her efforts and that Yeine's victories were all well-earned, nothing coming without consequence.

The captive gods with which she interacts are very human, fragile characters. For all their contained powers, they read no less sympathetic.

Nahadoth is gorgeous, dangerous, fragile, and sympathetic. He embodies everything I love in dark, brooding male protagonists without coming across as whiny or excessively weak. One feels both sympathy and trepidation surrounding him and he is nothing short of compelling. I, like Yeine, fell unadvisedly in love with the character.

Sieh, especially, stands out as being a well drawn character. Childlike without being a child, I appreciated that the author did not settle for portraying simple innocence and guile, but at one point mentioning that Sieh is capable of a kind of cruelty, impulsiveness, selfishness that all children possess by virtue of being children. Ancient and youthful all at once, sometimes funny and sometimes scary and sometimes very profound, Sieh became one of my favorite characters.

As for Sky itself, it is a magnificent setting - both beautiful and hostile, as frigid and bitter as the high atmosphere in which it resides. The visuals are impressive, but not so overly described as to take away from the story or to leave my mind trying to piece it together. Some books are problematic for me because I have a hard time visualizing and getting mental images of things described on paper, but I was easily able to construct a picture of Sky in my mind. Which is high praise for any book or writer, indeed.


The Negatives: For me, there were relatively few negatives in this book.

As far as characters go, the villains are the only shortcoming. Both Scimina (Yeine's sadistic, power-hungry, greedy cousin) and Itempas seem one-dimensional compared with the complexities of the heroes. Itempas's motives for hating his sister and doing the things he did not completely feel fleshed out or credible to me. Scimina read very hollow for me, and I would have liked to have gotten some insight into what made her so vicious, especially because I believe she could have been a better developed character though probably not sympathetic. After all, her upbringing in Sky was bound to be abusive and perilous and she has good reason to know that losing the throne will probably result in losing her life.

The end of the book came on somewhat too quickly and wrapped up a bit too neatly with the very deserving T'vril becoming king of Sky and Itempas being sentenced to his own meaningful imprisonment in a human body. While such conclusions are part and parcel of the genre, I would have liked to have seen more of a mess left behind.

The other negative is, and this didn't bother me so much, is that there is a lot of reference to sexual abuse and incest. The three gods are siblings and have sex with each other. Sieh is the son of Nahadoth and his sister, Enefa and Sieh mentions that he and the other trapped gods, all relatives or children of Nahadoth, act as lovers to him at some point. It is explained that they are divine and thus human rules and relationships don't precisely apply to them, but I can definitely see that readers with individuals squicks might be very put off. Sieh, because he takes the form of a child of various ages (from seven to a teenager in the book) mentions that many of the nobles of Sky like for him to take the form of a very, very young child when they have sex with him, and consent is dubious at best. It is never shown and only mentioned briefly and Sieh himself seems rather indifferent and untouched by the experience. I was greatly comforted to see Yeine become disgusted to the point of nausea at hearing of it and to understand that the author is obviously showing that even if everyone in Sky takes it as de rigger, it is meant to be disgusting to the reader and we're meant to feel as disgusted as Yeine. That helped me to deal with it, because it is a subject I get easily upset over.

Thus, this is not a book that I would put into the hands of a younger reader unless there were an understanding adult there to talk about these issues and guide them through reading about it. I also might keep this in mind if you're a reader that has squicks, triggers, or other issues with reading about such things in fiction.

I personally was not bothered and it didn't hurt my enjoyment of the book, but that's me personally. Your mileage will definitely vary.


CoC Score: 10. The book explores many races, and it made clear that Yeine and her people are CoC's and that there are many, many different kinds of races at court. She also de-centers a dominant, white-reading gaze in this novel, even while Yeine is surrounded by people who constantly remind her that they consider her and her people to be barbaric. There is also a wonderful exploration of the fact that the dominant culture of Sky is just as barbaric as any other, but that through military might and domination of other peoples they have reframed the world such that their barbarity is called civilization and everyone else's is considered the opposite.

Gender Score: 10. Yeine is a wonderful protagonist, and while other women didn't get as much development in this novel, even the ones who were off screen played powerful roles, retaining their agency even, sometimes, after their deaths. I would have like to have seen the matriarchy of Yeine's culture explored a lot more in depth, and was somewhat comfortable with the role of rape even in a matriarchal society. It's understandable, however, given the plot, that the kind of exploration I wanted to see just wasn't feasible.

GLBT Score: 7/5. I'm somewhat torn as to how to rate this book in terms of queerness, gendering, and sexuality. The gods themselves are shown to take lovers (willing and otherwise) of either gender. Nahadoth and his brother-god Itempas are intensely in love. There is a line somewhere in the middle in which Yeine discusses ennu (love of danger) and how it relates to her women falling in love with enemy women (if that's how you read the sentence) - so lesbians and bisexuals are definitely something that occurs in her culture, whether that's accepted or not is not discussed in any detail. The focus seems to be on the heterosexual relationships and there does seem to be a gender binary that even the gods hold to. I didn't see any overt discussion or inclusion of transgender/intersex

Ablism Score: 0. Aside from the elderly Dekarta (Yeine's grandfather), using a cane, there are no disabilities or persons with disabilities shown, and it's not entirely clear the cane is an assistive device or merely for show. I think there could have been room for showing PWD's in this novel, but there is, thankfully, not a lot of ablism to be found. I say this as an able bodied person and so totally understand if someone else should see things that my very privileged eyes completely skipped over.
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