Monday, February 15, 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin

Posted by Simcha 4:01 PM, under | 7 comments

After finishing a book, I often like to see what other book reviews have to say about it and how their impressions compare to my own. I usually end up finding a mix of reviews, some of whose opinions agree with my own and some of which don’t. And so I was surprised to find nothing but rave reviews for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a book that I had rather enjoyed but I didn't think was particularly remarkable.

Shortly after the mysterious death of her mother, Yeine is summoned by her grandfather to his palace in the city of Sky, where Yeine is informed that she has been selected as her grandfather’s heir. Considering that Yeine’s mother had been disinherited after she ran off with Yeine's father, Yeine is understandably surprised by the news, especially since her grandfather already has two other heirs. But soon Yeine learns the real reason that she has been brought to the palace and she realizes that her chances of ever getting out of this situation alive, are slim.

But Yeine is more interested in discovering the circumstances behind her mother’s disinheritance, and solving the mystery of her death, then pursuing the throne. As she goes about investigating her mother’s past, Yeine becomes acquainted with some of the palace’s residents, along with the captive deities who live among them.

There is also a rich back-story of religion and treachery, which is slowly relayed to the reader in pieces, throughout the book. In short, there had originally been three ruling gods, but two of them had rebelled against the third and were both defeated. The victor, Itempas, went on to enslave the two gods and all of their children, and he gave them to his human priests, as their slaves. Those priests became the most powerful family, unofficially ruling over the world as royalty. Yeine’s grandfather is the head of that family and it is his throne that Yeine is in contention for.

In my opinion,
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a book that will provide a few enjoyable hours of reading, but doesn’t really add anything new to the genre that makes it stand out, or even particularly memorable.

The world building is minimal, with most of the action taking place within the palace, and the concept of gods living among humans, although well conceived, wasn’t particularly original. I was actually reminded of Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker, which had some similar concepts, though Jemisin’s version seemed more watered down.

The book does begin with a strong start, with a powerful introduction followed by a fairytale-like narration. But the narrator’s tendency to frequently interrupt herself with information about the history and religion, soon began to irritate me. It also ruined the flow of the otherwise smooth narration.

There was also this mysterious, detached conversation that appears both before and in the middle of some of the chapters, that really got on my nerves. It doesn’t take long before you figure out who is participating in the dialogue, but I never figured what the purpose of it was. I think it was supposed to add mystery and depth to the story but instead it just seemed melodramatic, and often left me baffled.

    Once upon a time there was a
    Once upon a time there was a
    Once upon a time there was a
    Stop this. It's undignified

Nope, this doesn't make any more sense within the context of the story then it does here.

There were some interesting characters in
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, including Yein’s devious cousin, Scimina, the childlike deity, Sieh and the dark and dangerous god Nahadoth (who fans of Anne Bishop’s Daemon are sure to love). But unfortunately, Yeine herself wasn’t developed as fully as I would have liked. While we know very little about Yein at the start of the story, we soon find out that she was raised in a culture of women warriors, where the women are the hunters and protectors. This should have added an interesting dimensions to Yein’s personality, but for some reason, Yeins’s behavior was disappointingly mild, not at all reflecting the kind of background she was supposed to have. There was also very little information about Yein’s life prior to her arrival at Sky, which would have helped in fleshing out her character.

There were some other aspects of the story that I thought were strange, including Yein's choice to spend her limited time learning about her mother rather then finding a way to defeat her cousins, as well as the actual ending, of which I will say no more.

Despite my many criticisms of
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I actually did enjoy reading it. It was a well written book that, for the most part, had me hooked. I just felt that it had the potential to be a much better book and therefore I was left feeling disappointed.



7 comments:

the cover of this book is AMAZING, and in and of itself it is enough to make me want to read it.
Your review gives me less desire to read it. THat whole "once upon a time, there was a" thing is just weird.
Still, I'm so in love with the cover that I'm going to add it to my goodreads tbr list now.

I haven't yet got my hands on this one, but I'm eager to. Still, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it as much as you hoped. :(

I am very curious to get into this book now after reading you review. I look forward to hopefully discussing the book with you next month. I think I may enjoy this book. Thanks for the honest review.

This is one of those books I'm wanted to read for a while. I appreciate your review as it will allow me to go in without any expectations.

i know what you mean about books with rave reviews and then you read it and while you like it it's not the great book everyone thinks it is. i always wonder if i'm not reading it right (if that makes any sense) when that happens to me and i feel weird writing that less than stellar review. but honesty is always best. great review :)

Melissa: Thanks for letting me know about the B&N discussion next month. While reviewing books gives me the opportunity to express my opinions, I'm still limited in what I can say so I love the chance to really discuss books that I've read more thoroughly.

chelleyreads: I know what you mean. I was tempted to reread this book to see if I somehow skipped over these wondrous aspects that everyone else is going on about. But I don't think I will.

Brizmus, TJ & Ryan: I think this is definitely a book you have to read yourselves and form your own opinions on, especially since everyone else really loves it.

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