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Hugo Week: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms coverYeine Darr is a barbarian from a backwater kingdom.  She is also the daughter of an outcast Arameri, the all-powerful rulers in the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  When her mother dies suspiciously, Yeine is summoned back to her family’s seat of power, the city of Sky. In Sky she hopes to discover the truth of her mother’s death, but her investigation is complicated when she is named heir to the king, setting off a power struggle with her vicious cousins.

About now you are thinking that you have read this book before.  Orphaned child: check.  Royal heritage: check.  Courtly intrigue: check.  Fallen gods who function as weapons and sadomasochistic lovers: wait..what?  Sorry, I forgot to mention those.  You see, the Arameri are able to rule the world, because they have gods to smite their enemies whenever their enemies need smiting and the populace needs to be kept in check.  Or simply because the Arameri are bored.  They also have sex with these gods.  Kinky sex.  This took me by surprise, because the book has a fast plot that feels like a YA novel that I expected to fall into normal cliches.  Just when you expect the heroine to fulfill her destiny, whammo, sex with deities.

Deity sex isn’t this book’s only distinguishing characteristic.  N.K. Jemisin injects types of story elements into her novel that don’t often mix.  There is court intrigue, paranormal romance, a young adult fulfilling her destiny, and even murder mystery.  Jemisin also uses a trick I identify with Zelazny, where the narrator and the reader are plunged into a foreign world with a mystery to solve, but the nature of the mystery isn’t entirely clear.  In fact, I was not entirely sure I was reading a fantasy novel or a science fiction novel at times, also reminiscent of Zelazny’s Lord of Light and The Amber Chronicles.  And while I am discussing Nemisin’s likely influences, I should also mention that she must have read Scalzi’s superb tale of enslaved gods, The God Engines.

The real question is, does N.K. Jemisin pull it off?  I say yes.  I enjoyed the book a lot more than I expected and would recommend it to others with reservations.  For example, young adults just coming off Harry Potter, probably not.  Adult fans of young adult literature, definitely.   Young adults with black eye-liner and lots of silver jewelry.  Giddy-up.  In closing, get this book, take it to a beach and enjoy.  Strike that, get this book, buy a pack of cloves, take it to a dark coffee shop, and enjoy.
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Comments

I have read this book as well, and was very impressed by it. I'm wondering if you would explain why you would classify this as YA lit? (This question isn't meant as a slam on YA, which I read, I enjoy, and is certainly, as history has shown, Hugo-worthy.) My impression was that this was definitely not YA, though as with all literature for adults, obviously accessible to some teen readers.

I also think credit should be given to Jemisin for a great feat of world-building. She makes a society that is politically and religiously complex, and very much not the faux-Medieval-Europe-lite that many epic fantasies are set it. And Yeine is a great character.

(And as an aside, publishing schedules being what they are, it is unlikely to impossible that Jemisin read The God Engines while writing this book.) 

I guess the book's brevity, linear plot, and young female protagonist who is thrown into events beyond her control and a world she doesn't understand that I thought gave it a YA feel. The book does have some interesting concepts, but I don't think Nemisin has the real estate to really develop them. One chapter describing a matriarchical society doesn't put this book in the same class as something like, I don't know, Mists of Avalon. The one idea she really describes is the concept of submission and domination, but I don't think that makes her Flaubert or de Sade. That said, I did like the book and do think it was thought provoking. Maybe I would esteem it higher had I not read the God Engines previously.

I think my reading experience was vastly different from yours. I found the plot suitably complex, and while I absolutely agree with you that one of the themes Jemisin is dealing with here is that of power, I found that she explored the meaning of power in the dynastic, political, and religious struggles just as capably as she did in the politics of the bedroom. I also feel that the complexity of the world, and its roots in areas other than just the European past goes far beyond the matriarchal society that Yeine is born into.

Rather than just teenage goths, I feel that the audience for this book can be found among readers who enjoy George RR Martin's brand of political epic fantasy.