‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ by N. K. Jemisin

Overall Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)

Personal Rating: Re-read. As good as I remember

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Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Inheritance Trilogy

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Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

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This book is a solid start to a good series. At moments this book is among the best I’ve ever read; the author is clearly highly skilled on both a technical craftsmanship level as well as worldbuilding level. The characters are all either excellent or average. They are never bad. Unfortunately I felt that the plotting and pacing needed a little work. And the audiobook was really well done.

Spoilers below!

To start, I liked all the characters. The Ayameri antagonists are almost all compelling. Dekarta is one of the most complex and brutal characters I’ve ever read, willing to sacrifice anything and anyone for the greater good, even killing his own loved ones. And yet even after a lifetime of emotional scarring caused by killing his own loved ones, Dekarta still has a heart… which is why he hates himself so much. Dekarta’s two understudies were less complex: his niece was a generically despicable villain in the mustache twirling vein, while his nephew was a drunken lout who can’t be bothered to give a hoot about the rest of the world. Together, they were chosen by God to rule the world.

Yeina, the protagonist, is the unloved daughter of Dekarta’s exiled daughter. Between Yeina, the neice and nephew, there is a competition for the next person to be chosen by the God Itempas to rule the world. The two losers of this competition will die, in horrifically painful ways. And Yeina is seemingly destined to lose.

Now for criticisms. Yeina didn’t have much agency: she made almost no choices to influence the plot, instead going along with everyone else’s plans. The niece never displayed any positive emotions like love or tenderness, instead seeming to be solely motivated by spite, ambition and malice. The nephew got a little more development by the end, but it wasn’t much. If anything, Yeina’s mother (a character who dies before the book starts) seemed like the most well-rounded character of all, with multiple different characters seeing her differently. By the end of the book we-the-reader saw her as a very nuanced and complex character.

While some of my complements are halfhearted, I still enjoyed all the characters. I wish the author added more nuance to some of the characters… buuut the author’s sheer writing chops did an excellent job of making the mustache twirlers compelling anyway.

The worldbuilding was wonderful. A thousand years ago there was a God’s War, when the gods fought and killed one another. Itempas, the god of light and order, was triumphant. Nahadoth, the god of chaos and shadow, was enslaved. Enefa, the goddess of twilight and liminal spaces, died. Her death nearly destroyed the universe, but Itempas managed to salvage enough of Enefa’s power to keep the universe alive. Itempas’s chief supplicants, the Ayameri clan ruled by Dakarta, have ruled the world ever since.

The Ayameri use enslaved Nahadoth as the tool to control the world, to create a beautiful and peaceful worldwide empire. To be sure this is NOT a tyranny in the vein of the ‘Dark Lord of Doom.’ The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms follow the Ayameri, working together in an international council a la the UN. The Ayameri rule a world of peace, order and harmony… even if that harmony demands the occasional assassination and tariff war and cultural imperialism.

The Ayameri are racist, classist assholes who seek to impose their values and culture upon the world by writ of divine authority (and the occasional murder). They seek power for power’s sake, using every weapon in their arsenal from swords, to magic, to miracles, to disease, to culture, all in the name of maintaining Ayameri power. I like how the author was willing to take a grim look at the real world and write a fantastical version of it. The Ayameri is the prototypical example of how to write an international empire right.

I like how the gods are characters in this book. Nahadoth is a seductively powerful god of dark, chthonic things; while Itempas was simultaneously noble and jealous; while the minor gods are variously powerful and immature. Of the minor gods I only liked Sieh, the god of childhood, because he had nuance. The others were a bit meh.

I have a problem with the plotting and pacing. Nothing really happened throughout the book besides political chicanery. If you don’t like political chicanery (aka one character metaphorically backstabbing another), this isn’t the book for you. This book’s plot consisted of the protagonist learning things. Yeina didn’t act (so no combat/thievery/adventuring), the plot progressed by her gathering information. If you’re not interested in just learning political secrets and godly backstory, this book will be boring. I thought it was fun, but I can easily imagine that a ton of people won’t like it.

And finally, I liked the prose. Her meta-textual structure of Yeina telling her story to Enefa as Yeina dies was just cool. Also her language was gorgeous. ‘nuf said.

Overall, this was a good book which was never disappointing on a style-level. The author’s style is just artful. I suggest you check this book out, if you’re willing to tolerate a talk-y, worldbuilding heavy book. If you’re in the mood for a sword and sorcery, look elsewhere. This is the exact opposite from anything epic or sword-and-sorcery.

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