Themes Explored: court intrigue, mythology, family drama, celestial magics, slavery, immortality, mortality, romantic tension, angst, narcissism, death, creation, ostracism, chauvinism, politics, succession, mortals enslaving gods, fall of gods, folklore, racial tension, revenge, power, corruption, manipulation, murder
Synopsis: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle. (From Goodreads)
Review: This book is weird. Once, when I was still a naïve fantasy reader, I stumbled upon a book that sounded interesting and soon discovered it was little more than homosexual erotica set in a fantasy world. Sadly, I read three chapters before discovering that and promptly slammed the book shut. Read those jacket covers closely or you will be truly shocked by the unexpected contents. I bring up this experience to point out that I have read some odd pieces of literature. When I say weird, I really mean weird. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in the Inheritance Trilogy. This trilogy has garnered a lot of critical and popular praise. However, I did not enjoy the first book and decided against reading the other two. One of the main critical praises is that the trilogy features a mixed race female protagonist who considers men to be the weaker gender. Reverse chauvinism is hardly a reason to heap praise upon a novel. But, hey, that is just my opinion.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was once ruled by three gods. One day, Itempas decided to depose his siblings, Nahadoth the Nightlord and Enefa, the creator of mortal life. Nahadoth and the godlings, their offspring, are now enslaved by the ruling Arameri family in the City of Sky. Dekarta picked his only daughter, Kinneth, to be his sole heir. However, she scandalized the family by falling in love with a dark-skinned “barbarian” and running of with him. Since Kinneth ran away, Dekarta was forced to choose two other potential heirs: the insipid Relad and the narcissistic Scimina. So Dekarta summons his barbarian raised mixed race granddaughter, Yeine. However, Yeine does not think her grandfather means for her to be his sole heir. Hence, she spends most of her time figuring out who killed her mother and trying to evade the machinations of the enslaved gods. Political machinations and late night love scenes soon occur. Because every naïve young woman really just wants to fall in love with a dark and brooding god of darkness.
Personality wise, Yeine is a typical empowered female protagonist. She is fierce but naïve, tough as nails but actually deeply sentimental, and a good hearted person who is thrown into a dangerous situation. She befriends her subordinates by treating them humanely. The main characteristic that sets her apart from everyone else is her skin tone. While the rest of the ruling family possess lily-white complexions, Yeine is dark skinned and unconventionally attractive. Otherwise, she is a run-of-the mill protagonist. And then there is her relationship with Nahadoth the Nightlord/god of chaos/darkness/change. Of all the other characters, he is the only one with any semblance of a complex personality. He is deeply angered by his enslavement and inability to wreck total destruction across the universe. However, Jemisin depicts Nahadoth as a stereotypical damaged bad-boy/forbidden lover who happens to possess world shattering powers. Yeine struggles to accept that this is one “man” she will never be able to rescue or rehabilitate. Because all healthy relationships involve one member rescuing the other. Good luck with that one Yeine. Anyways, Nahadoth is intriguing because no one is able to discern his true intentions. And his personality constantly changes: he is human during the day and the personification of pure destruction by night. His relationship with Yeine is supposedly deeper than just sexual attraction, but Jemisin chooses to only emphasize the sexual. There is one sequence that involves flying through the universe amongst the stars and then literally crashing back into the bed like meteors. We get it, Yeine enjoys having personal relations with a “god”.
All the other characters are severely under developed. Scimina, whose names sounds like scimitar, is depicted as the personification of narcissism. While she is an interesting study in how power corrupts, her over-the-top wickedness becomes quite tiresome. All she needs is a maniacal laugh and she would fight right in with all the Disney villains. Then there is Sieh, a godling who decided to remain a perpetual child. However, he is also a trickster and spends most of the book making life miserable for everyone. Enefa and Nahadoth have a contentious relationship. In this story, Itempas is the sun god/the all merciful and Enefa and Nahadoth are the evil gods. Enefa has supposedly vanished but her presence is still felt by her mortal creations. Nahadoth is tortured by her memory but this relationship is not explored. Most of the characters are either purely evil or mostly good with some tendencies towards darkness.
While the novel is complex and distinctly unique, the world building is severely lacking. Take out the City of Sky and this story could occur in almost any fantasy realm. Sky is a floating city located in the sky, shocker. This is an intriguing concept but is not explored. The titular Hundred Thousand Kingdoms are barely mentioned. There are some tantalizing glimpses into the cultures of these kingdoms, but they are brief and scantily developed. The plot has been described as a political intrigue spanning several continents but the action never strays away from Sky. And the political aspects of the story boil down to little more than a passive aggressive battle of wills between Yeine and Scimina. The original title of the book was The Sky God’s Lover and is a more accurate representation of the plot. Jemisin emphasizes Yeine relationship with Nahadoth to the detriment of the plot. The most fascinating aspect of the novel was exploring what happened to Yeine’s mother. Also, there is a plot twist in the third act that seems to come out of left field because there was no buildup. Jemisin could not decide if the book was a political thriller, a fantasy mystery, or a darkly twisted fantasy romance. The writing is good and Jemisin excels at the first person narrative. However, the narrative is all over the place and suffers from a lack of direction.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Orbit, ISBN 9780316043915