Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms CoverThe Nebula Review Series continues with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.  For such an amazing book, I don’t have much to say about it, except – WOW.

The Hundred is about a world in which Gods are trapped in mortal form and forced to serve humans, frequently in horrifying ways.  The leading group of humans, the Arameri, rule from their city of Sky.  The book is narrated by Yeine Darr, who is half Arameri, half Darre.  Yeine is ordered to Sky to be named as heir to the throne – news which comes a shock to her.  It quickly become evident that she is supposed to serve as a sacrificial pawn in a power struggle between Arameri elite, but Yeine has other plans.

Every thing about this book is remarkable but I’m not sure how to describe it.  I love the world building and how it expects the reader to be smart enough to figure out what’s going on without a lot of exposition.  I loved the relationships, whether tender, bizarre, or loaded with malice.  I loved Yeine’s struggle to assert some kind of personal power and autonomy over a situation that she knows she can’t survive.  I loved the racial diversity in the world – it’s not all about a group of blond people.  Yeine describes herself thusly:

I have Amn eyes:  faded green in color, more unnerving than pretty.  Otherwise I am short and flat and brown as forestwood, and my hair is a curled mess.  Because I find it unmanageable otherwise, I wear it short.  I am sometimes mistaken for a boy.

This book is full of text and subtext about the corruption and cruelty of colonialism, racial and class inequities, and slavery.  Above all, it’s about power, and how to be “empowered” without becoming vicious.  A question Yeine is constantly asked is whether or not she is a true Arameri, and although she is adamant that she is not a true Arameri, with the callous disregard for life and suffering that being Arameri implies, she is shocked at how far she will go to protect herself and her people.

This book is a must-read for fantasy fans.  For fans of fantasy romance, there is a love story.  In fact the whole book revolves around several love stories – Yeine’s mother left the Arameri to be with Yeine’s father, the Gods have all kinds of tortured love stories amongst themselves, and Yeine has a love story that is…different.  However, I would say this book is much more about questions of power and identity than about love – even though it’s made clear that love, in all its forms, is part of what forms identity.  I’m not entirely sure about everything that happens in this book, but I’m Team Yeine, all the way.

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