Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemison

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4.5 out of 5 Stars

As of the lazy writing of this review, I have already inhaled the series, and I loved the whole thing.

This is one of the oldest books on my Goodreads ‘to be read list’. Not publication-wise, but I’ve owned it FOREVER, and I finally read it. Now I wanna kick myself for waiting so long. Don’t get me wrong – this was a challenging read. I’d heard it was a challenging read, and that’s what held me back. I love fantasy but I’m not a huge fan of Game of Thrones political-based stuff – which is why I haven’t read Game of Thrones. This is political, but it’s all around the succession of the head of this crazy family. It’s got lots of twists and turns, tons of magic, but it’s all around that one thing, so it doesn’t make the plot wander. And despite being a twisty turny, kinda-hard-to-follow book, I read it in two sittings.

Yeine is the young chief, or ennu, from a far north kingdom called Darr. They are poor and basically considered a backwater region. The Darr are a short, dark skinned race of people – and the terms savage and barbarian are thrown around a lot. However, it’s always as a slur and it’s not normalized. It’s clear the people saying and doing this don’t know anything about the Darr, and are racist jackholes. Part of the reason the Darr are so poor is because they’ve been intentionally blockaded and unofficially sanctioned. Yeine’s mother, Kinneth Arameri, was the heir to the ruling family of the Amn, the most populous and powerful of the races in this world. Who rule the world? The Arameri rule the world… unofficially. Officially, it’s the Nobles Consortium who run the world, but the Arameri are behind it all. When Kinneth fell in love with a Darr man (considered by the racist Amn to be one of the “lesser races” which is basically any race that isn’t Amn), she abdicated her position and lost her father’s favor. Kinneth died under mysterious circumstances, and now Yeine has been called to Sky, the name of the capitol and the palace, by her grandfather. He names her heir… the problem is he already has two heirs.

From the get-go, this is a confusing read. There are broken, fragmented chapters, from vague points of view and occasionally, it’s told from the point of view of someone who seems to be losing their sanity or slipping into dementia. You don’t know who is talking. One particularly difficult chapter had no quotation marks. As you read, you become aware it must be a conversation between two people, neither of which are named. I never figured out exactly what that was about. The way characters are introduced is off-putting. I keep notes of characters names as I go along, and people are introduced by description, with no name, for many, many pages before you finally learn their name. But these little tiny bumps are nothing in retrospect. I enjoyed the hell out of this.

The only other thing that bothered me was the nature of the succession. You find out right away about the whole heir thing (it’s in the blurb) and old Dekarta (her grandfather) straight up tells her he doesn’t care who kills who. I was so confused about the nature of it for awhile, because it sounded like one of them had to win something, but where? How? Was it a competition? A political thing? Well, none of that matters much when the gods get involved. Yes, gods, multi. The Bright God, Itempas, who art still in heaven, is the one they are all forced to worship, and the rest of them are in chains. There was a war between the gods (of which there are three or were three, originally) and Itempas won. There was much drama and betrayal, but now, the lesser gods and their children (the godlings) are bound into mortal flesh and forced to work for the Arameri. The enslaved gods want to use the secession, and Yeine, to break free.

Ah yes, the gods. Not only is this world amazing because it’s truly diverse – there are many different races and cultures all across the world, who are their own unique society, all conquered by the Amn with the help of their god-servants. The gods themselves are pansexual, gender-fluid and polyamorous. Much of that is explored later in the series, but they are what they are.

My favorite character, besides Yeine, was Nahadoth. He is the Nightlord, and he is terrifying. I don’t want to spoil your discovery of the story, but let’s just say, our introduction to him is scary and intense and an amazing WHU? WHUT IS GOING ON? moment. I was so confused. I was confused a lot of the time. But I wanted to know what was going on/going to happen – and she explained what I was confused about almost each and every time and I just enjoyed the reading experience. Anyway. Nahadoth. He’s like the Darkling on really intense steroids… and meth. And drinking Fireball right from the neck of the bottle and looking hot while doing it. He’s the ULTIMATE bad boy, but he’s a god with a capital O.G. And he’s an OG = literally. He is the oldest thing in this reality, first being belched forth by the maelstrom, a sort of god-making vortex, so confused by his existence he begins to tear himself apart and make the universe.

My second favorite is Sieh – a godling, or child of the gods. His mother was Enefa, the only one of the gods who seems to remain one gender (if I remember correctly), female, and he refers to both Itempas and Nahadoth as his father. I recognized him immediately – the Trickster. I didn’t do much research but I did Google the names of the Gods, and only this book came up, so she must have made up their names. They felt like characters from folklore or myth, I felt like I should know who they were, but I didn’t… other than Sieh. He looks like a child, and it is his nature. He’s full of mischief but he’s also pretty dangerous. I loved the relationship between he and Yeine.

Danger is the name of the game with the gods. You have to be really careful. Only the fullblood Arameri can command them, but even they have to watch it. If you don’t phrase your commands carefully, they will find loopholes and circumvent your order. And they will gladly kill you or let you be killed. The Arameri are such bastards, they’ve gotten good at ‘handling’ them – whether brutally abusing them for finding ways around their commands or using them as sex slaves (even Sieh, who is in the form of a child – ugh!). That was icky, but this felt real, and wrong – I mean no one thought this was ok except the assholes doing it. It wasn’t normalized by anyone but the Arameri.

Anyway – I loved this book and the whole series. I really want to move on to the next two series she wrote…. but…boooks. I own so many booooks……

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