The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is another off the list of books I promised myself I'd read this year. When I signed up for the challenge, I had no idea how much of a favor I was doing myself. I have no idea why I'd put off reading this book, and I'm so glad I motivated myself to finally pick it up. I enjoyed it immensely.
N.K. Jemisin's debut is a fantasy novel with gods and political intrigue, told in first person. The teller is Yeine, a young woman raised in the Northern tribes to be a leader. Because of her father's "savage" blood and her dark skin, she finds little acceptance in her grandfather's court, though she quickly captures the interest of the royal family's "weapons." There are four gods in residence in Sky, all of whom are enslaved to the will of the royal family. The most dangerous of these is Nahadoth, the Nightlord who's human by day, sensual and powerful by night. Yeine is warned early that none of his human lovers have lived through the experience, but she's drawn to him despite—or perhaps because of—the danger.
Jemisin set out a large task for herself in this book. She has a fantasy world to build and establish, a mythology to work into the story without slamming the reader over the head with it, powerful characters to build as vulnerable and flawed, and a large cast of characters to develop. She proves equal to all of the above tasks. This world is full and lush, without a second of infodumping. There are confusing moments, but I trusted the author to make everything clear by the end, and she does.
I loved the style the book was written in, too. Yeine doubles back on her story, sprinkles pertinent mythology into the narrative, and even argues with herself in some sections. A lesser writer might've made the narrative seem fractured with such techniques, but, in this book, it made it flow even better. I felt more like I was in Yeine's head as the story unfolded.
The romance could've felt contrived, or Jemisin could've gone with the alpha male shortcut. She did no such thing. The development of the relationships are as key to the story as Yeine's quest to find out who killed her mother. I understood why the characters felt the way they did for one another, even if I wouldn't have felt the same way. For all his scary sensuality and potential to be an alpha male, I liked Nahadoth. Even the antagonists had reasons for their choices, though Yeine found those reasons distasteful and self-serving.
This book didn't read like a debut. There was no clumsy exposition, no dragging passages that didn't serve the story in any way. The story sucked me in from the start, and carried me through a fascinating, tension-filled ride. This book didn't need to be this good, but I'm glad it was.
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