01/07/2012. Contributed by Vinca Russell
pub: Orbit. 410 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-817-1) .
check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net and www.nkjemisin.com
Yeine Darr has been summoned to the city of Sky by her grandfather, the ruler of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and head of the Arameri family. Not expecting to be acknowledged even as family after her mother was disowned for her unsuitable marriage to Yeine's father, Yeine is astonished to be named one of the heirs to the throne. Competing for this position are Yeine's two ruthless and slightly deranged cousins and, in all likelihood, only one of the three will survive until the ceremony of succession. In order to stay alive, Yeine must quickly learn the politics of the Arameri clan while dealing with the many gods and demi-gods that walk the halls in mortal form. Everyone has an agenda of their own and Yeine's actions could unbalance the whole kingdom if she's not careful.
'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' by N.K. Jemisin is, in essence, a novel of political intrigue set in a world where the gods are part of everyday life. It is quite narrow in focus, looking primarily at the Arameri family and their home in the floating palace of Sky. Having said that, there is certainly plenty to entertain, even within this narrow scope.
The story focuses on Yeine and her dealings with the gods and the other members of her new clan in her attempts to stay alive until the ceremony of succession. She also wants to protect her father's Darr clan, who were her family until she rejoined her mother's Arameri clan and could now be in danger from her political rivals. Much scheming and politicking ensues.
Jemisin has created a rich mythology in which one of the original three gods, the Skyfather, has defeated his siblings and now reigns as the supreme being in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The lower godlings and the Skyfather's surviving brother, Nahadoth, are enslaved to the Arameri family and must obey all their orders to the letter. Of course, with loosely worded orders, this leaves much scope for mischief and mayhem, although this potential wasn't really fully exploited in this book.
I found the detail of the mythology and history to be really satisfying in 'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' and thought that the structure of the political system and Arameri clan was well-defined and novel. However, with the exception of a few adult scenes, I did rather feel like I was reading a book aimed at teen-agers. That's not really a criticism, as many of the best fantasy books are aimed at the YA market, but I think, that in places, Jemisin could have made it darker and it felt like that was the direction in which she wanted to take it. The gods and godlings, for example, could have been really sinister and unnerving but I never quite got to be more than slightly suspicious of them. I'd have liked their different powers and personalities to be more fully explored.
'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' is the first in a trilogy but, unlike many fantasy series, it does reach a conclusion at the end of the first book meaning that you don't need to have all three books to hand before tackling this one. It will be interesting to see in which direction Jemisin takes the second book as she has left plenty of scope to either continue the story where it ends here or follow a completely different thread based in the same fantasy world.
Overall, this was a satisfying beginning to a new trilogy and I'm looking forward to continuing the story in book two.
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