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N. K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

September 5, 2011

108. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin (2010)
The Inheritance Trilogy, Book 1

Read By: Casaundra Freeman
Length: 11h 52m (432 pages)

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 14 August 2011
Finished: 23 August 2011

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I’d seen it talked up all over the place by people who know from good fantasy.

Hard to say who is
causing Yeine more trouble:
the gods or mortals.

Summary: Yeine is the granddaughter of the current Arameri emperor, but she’s lived her entire life out in the barbarian lands of her father after her mother was disinherited before she was born. So it comes as quite a surprise when she is summoned to the Arameri palace of Sky in order to become one of the potential heirs of her grandfather’s rule. Suddenly forced to deal with not only scheming cousins (her rivals for power) as well as the deposed gods who are forced to use their powers to maintain Arameri supremacy, Yena must think on her feet if she is to stay alive, let alone unravel the mystery surrounding her mother’s death.

Review: When it first came out, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms got a lot of positive buzz, and it certainly has a number of elements that show a great deal of promise. Disappointingly, though, I never felt like those elements came together in a cohesive novel that really grabbed my attention.

The number one point in its favor was definitely its originality. The set-up of Jemisin’s world, both political and metaphysical, was very creative and unique. The underlying plot structure of “gods interacting with and occasionally needing help from mortals” did have some shades of Tamora Pierce to it, but it’s not something I’ve come across often in adult literature. (And adult it is; I don’t remember Tamora Pierce’s novels having quite a whole lot of on-screen sex.) It’s a world rife with possibilities, and the glimpses we get into various bits of worldbuilding backstory are fascinating.

Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of those glimpses, nor are they particularly cohesive, because there is just so much else going on. There’s the succession, and the mystery of Yeine’s parents, and the God’s War, and Yeine’s relationships with each of the gods, and their relationships to each other, and her scheming cousins, and the situation in Yeine’s homeland, and navigating around Sky, and its servants, etc., etc.; by the time I figured out which pieces were most relevant to the plot, they’d already passed. There are also a huge number of characters, both divine and mortal, and there were a number of them that I couldn’t keep straight, not only in terms of names but even in terms of motivation and actions.

My main problem, though, was that I never really found the story that absorbing. It held my interest well enough while I was listening to it, and I was never tempted to abandon it, but neither was I ever in a big hurry to go back and listen to more. I never really connected with Yeine, whose characterization doesn’t extend particularly far beyond “feistily stubborn heroine.” And again, while individual scenes or pieces of the story were interesting, by the time they’d caught my attention, the book had already moved on to something else.

As I said, Jemisin’s got potential: the idea was creative and the prose was smooth and unobtrusive. I just think she tried to do too much within a single book, without making sure that all of her pieces were well-developed and cohesive. I’m interested enough in seeing how Jemisin develops her world that I’ll probably still read the second book, but it’s not going to be at the top of my list. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: For fans of unique secondary-world fantasy and stories that involve interactions between gods and mortal, this first book is probably at least worth checking out; others may find the multitude of characters and plot threads more satisfying and less distracting than I did.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog, Good Books and Good Wine, Jenny’s Books, The Literary Omnivore, Mervi’s Book Reviews, My Friend Amy, Stella Matutina, and many others at the Book Blog Search Engine.
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First Line: I am not as I once was.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2011 7:53 am

    I think I liked this book a lot more than you did, but I’ve definitely seen reactions similar to yours around the blogosphere. I’m really looking forward to seeing where Jemisin goes next, although I haven’t really prioritized the second book myself!

    • September 8, 2011 9:58 am

      Meghan – From what I understand, the second book is set in the same universe but with a different set of characters and an independent story? If that’s right, that actually makes me more interested in reading it, since I really don’t see where she could possibly take the characters from this one in a sequel.

  2. September 5, 2011 3:05 pm

    I didn’t really care for this book, but I figured it was because I’m not a fan of fantasy. I’m kind of glad to see it’s not just me.

    • September 8, 2011 9:59 am

      Kathy – Nope, not just you! Although by-and-large the fantasy elements were the parts I had the least problem with.

  3. September 5, 2011 6:43 pm

    I read it because it was nominated for the Hugo this year and I wanted to read all of those to make an informed decision. I was disappointed. The rather unique writing style aside I failed to see what all the buzz was about.

    • September 8, 2011 10:02 am

      Elfy – The only other one I’ve read is Cryoburn, although I’ve got Feed on my TBR pile and I like the Connie Willis books I’ve read, so I’d eventually like to get to Blackout as well…

      What’s your thought on which one should have won?

  4. September 5, 2011 6:53 pm

    I enjoyed this book for the most part. I am looking forward to reading the sequel one of these days.

    • September 8, 2011 10:03 am

      Kailana – “one of these days” sounds about right…

  5. September 5, 2011 8:47 pm

    I really felt like all the elements didn’t work together too—it felt disjointed and was ultimately disappointed, although I quite liked the style.

    • September 8, 2011 10:05 am

      Omni – Books like that are so frustrating, where I look at them and go “I like that part and that part and that part; I don’t understand why they don’t work together better.”

      Have you read / are you planning to read the sequel?

      • September 8, 2011 10:56 am

        Exactly! I think this would have been an interesting fantasy romance, but she bit off more than she could chew.

        Nope. The ending really decimated any impact any other story in that universe could have for me; it’s the sort of thing that should be the climax of the third book in the trilogy, you know?

      • September 8, 2011 11:03 am

        I see what you’re saying, but the fact that the ending did seem so final actually left me kind of curious about where she could possibly go from there… and if it’s an in-universe second book rather than a direct continuation, I’m holding out hope that I’ll connect better with an entirely new set of characters.

  6. September 6, 2011 7:24 am

    One day I should reread this book and maybe the reread’ll give me some more objectivity towards it. Do you think you’d feel very differently about the book if you’d read it yourself instead of listened to an audiobook? (I am not happy with the phrasing there. :/) But I’m curious how you think audiobooks affect your enjoyment of a book. It’s such a difference.

    I hope you’ll like the second book better, even if you’re not in a hurry to read it. ^-^

    • September 8, 2011 10:12 am

      Shanra – That’s a tough call, as to whether I’d enjoy it more in audio vs. print. I do think that if I’d read it in print I’d have had an easier time keeping some of the characters straight; T’vril and Viraine have enough similar sounds that I could never keep straight which name went with which person, but they’re different enough visually that I think it would have helped.

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