I’ve been wanting to read some N.K. Jemisin fiction for a while, having heard that she wrote excellent fantasy with lots of diversity. I was finally able to get my hands on a copy of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, her debut and the first book in her Inheritance trilogy. I must say, it was quite an experience! I sat down to read a chapter or two before bed one night and my sleep schedule was borked for a week afterwards! I mean, I’m no stranger to reading a book in one sitting, but it’s been a while since a new book has so completely pulled me in as this one did. There are some rough spots in her execution, the sorts of things common in any debut, but they barely impinged on my single-minded focus in following Yeine Darr through her adventures with powerful magic and even more powerful angry gods.
The book starts out with Yeine traveling to a strange city. She has been summoned by the ruler of the known world, who is also her grandfather. Though the two have never met, there is no love lost between them, and he essentially sentences her to death by naming her heir, along with two more powerful cousins. She is forced to remain in the ruling city, inhabited only by the extensive ruling family, and their weapons of choice: a collection of vanquished and rebellious gods. Yeine’s brief (the story takes place over the course of a few days) stay among the Arameri family is frought with tension and conflict as her co-heirs scheme to defeat her at the ceremony and the enslaved gods scheme to gain her help in escaping their imprisonment.
Yeine’s story is complicated by the fact that she was not raised among the Arameri, her mother’s people, but among her father’s people, the Darr. The Darr are considered more savage than the Arameri (at least by the Arameri), but Yeine was their leader until she abdicated in order to obey her grandfather’s summons. She mourns the loss of her home and the people who actually care for her, and does her best to provide for them even though she is handicapped by politics. Her status as a half-breed and the fact that she takes after her father’s people who are much darker than the Arameri makes her stand out. She is by no means the only half-breed, just one of the highest-ranked within the city.
There is also a romance-thread, of sorts. Yeine is courted by the god of Death and Chaos and Darkness, one of the ones held in bondage to the Arameri. For her part, she begins to love the Dark God back, which is a sort of allegory for the fatalistic way she accepts her own inevitable death. She does not believe she can save herself, she fights only to protect her people after she is gone, and later to help free the gods who she had come to love.
Without giving anything away, the ending was entirely satisfactory and gives a smooth tie into the next book without leaving you hanging too much. I’m excited to read The Broken Kingdoms, but I’m not beating my head against the wall because I couldn’t check it out at the same time. That can be a bit of a two-edged sword for an author, but in this case I’m a little glad. I’ve honestly been a bit scared to read another Jemisin novel until I can get a solid 6 hour break during day-time to read it!