Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the 2011 Hugo-nominated novel by N. K. Jemisin, and the first part of the Inheritance Series. I have mixed feelings about this book. However, the author is really awesome and you should check out her blog and twitter. She has lots of good writing advice (and she has a full-time job, which I completely respect) and you can read sample chapters of all her books.

A synopsis, from BN:
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.

On one hand, I completely understand. This book is original in premise, setting, and plot. It's exactly what the Hugo committee is looking for. On the other hand, I don't think the quality of writing was as high as the other Hugo-nominated books I've read from this year: Feed and Blackout. That being said, I still think this was a good book, especially for a debut novel. I think most of the problems I had with it will fix themselves with subsequent books. It was mostly the way the plot unfolded. Yeine would have a thought and understand everything, but the conversation around her would continue and she wouldn't tell the reader what she just realized, and you'd have to put it together yourself while trying to follow the continuing action. I got tired of always thinking "But what is it????" It was all very disconnected. And then there were paragraphs pushed in with backstory or a mystery POV that you don't know who it is until the end, and all the jumps got tiring. Especially when the narrator would stop and say "Oh wait, let me tell you this first" practically midsentence. I don't normally like books where the narrator addresses the reader, just as my personal preference. At least it was a signal that we would be getting some backstory now. So yeah, the nomination... wouldn't have been my choice. Glad to have read the book though, and will likely finish the series.

Enough griping. Yeine Darr is an interesting character. She is pulled from her home and thrown into this insane royal game, and she handles herself very well. She was very beleivable in her part of being completely overwhelmed, even if that meant lots of sleeping and emo-spells. She saw through fa├žades where she should and tentatively became friends with the one good person in the palace. I actually really liked the relationship she had with T'vril (the aformentioned good guy) and was appropriately happy/sad with the bittersweet ending of their relationship.

One thing I didn't expect from this book: the romance! And not just a love story, I'm talking BAMpenis! Not expected at all. It's not even a bad thing, I just had no warning going into it. I would have normally recommended this my best friend, but won't now because she doesn't like any kind of sex at all in her books. Weirdo. Also, it was sex with a god, so it was very... explicit

I thought the gods could have used more characterisation. Seih was good, Nahadoth was glossed over even though he was the one Yeine was falling in love with, and the other gods were barely mentioned at all. The royal family each had their role, embodying one trait and two-dimensional but serving their purpose. The book was about the gods, and I would have liked to see more there. Also the setting. The book is a political plot for control over the realm and the gods (because the humans have "domesticated" them, we'll say) and yet we see very little of the world. The book is very contained to the game and the palace. On one hand, this is just the first book and it hints at a much larger world, on the other hand, you go through an entire book without getting to see any of it. The book felt very incomplete because of this, as if it was only a half a book.

BUT. THE ENDING. It rocked. I expected part of it, but not in the way I thought. The rest of it totally blindsided me and totally rocked. It made me happy, and it made vengeful-me happy, and it made romance-me happy. Also, the game. Screw you, evil grandfather, but you stood up to it like a champ and made yourself three dimensional. And fuck you, and fuck you, and You get a big hug and YOU get a sloppy kiss. It was just awesome. It didn't have the part happy/part sad, it was all happy. But it worked, and it was refreshing.

Overall, I would recommend this book. But I may also mention to a big SF/F reader that I didn't think it was on the same par as the other Hugo books. The series continues with The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods. I should also mention that they all follow different characters. I'm definitely going to pick up the second one. I may have done so already, but my BN is cleaned out for Christmas and didn't have it yesterday. Jemisin has another series coming out, The Dreamblood, with The Killing Moon out May 2012 and The Shadowed Sun out June 2012.

Reading now: The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

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