N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

I’ve never read “high” fantasy. I know Tolkien is considered high fantasy, but his writing is so heavily influenced by medieval texts and culture so it’s easy to understand the rules of the world he has created, much like George R.R. Martin. I purchased the ebook of N.K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy (not to be confused with The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini) on a whim before traveling to Europe for 2 weeks. I always assume I’m going to read a lot more than I actually do when I’m traveling. However, I didn’t actually start the first book till this year… March 1st, to be precise. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a little difficult to get into because it was so unlike the other fantasy books I’ve read (namely Tolkien, Martin, and Rowling). It took a while to understand the world Jemisin created. By the end, I could say that I really enjoyed this book, but am not in a rush to finish the trilogy.


Source: Goodreads

It was a slow start for me and I was never in a rush to get home and pop open the book. I can’t pinpoint why — maybe because while it was really interesting, it wasn’t captivating. The story follows Yienne Darr, a young woman from a warrior tribe. She is the child of a high-born heir to the throne of the Arameri kingdom (the highest of all) and a Darre man. Summoned by her grandfather, Yienne learns that she is a pawn in his game to determine which of Yienne’s two cousins will be the next heir. Besides dealing with a psychotic (I think it’s very fair to use this term here) cousin, Yienne also has to deal with four gods — or beings that were gods, but were imprisoned by another god. The backstory of the gods (there are three main ones) unfolds slowly and is very interesting. Yienne is an outsider not just by race (her skin is darker, implying the difference is racial and not only ethnic) but also culturally. In her tribe, women are the rulers and politics are a lot more clear cut. At Arameri, however, there are multiple alliances to consider.

Like I said, the story is interesting once you get into it. The world Jemisin created is unique, though I still would have liked to see more world-building. On the whole, I enjoyed Jemisin’s writing, but I could do without one thing she did pretty frequently: character’s eyes did a lot more than I thought eyes were capable of doing. Yienne was always able to see the true feelings of a character through that character’s eyes, something akin to “I could see in X’s eyes that he was doing his best to stay calm.” I don’t mind this once or twice, but it happened enough for me to notice and, eventually, get a tad annoyed. I learned later that this was Jemisin’s debut novel, so I could see an editor calling her out a bit on these in the later novels.

I go back and forth on Jemisin’s main character. It was understandable that Yienne feels and is helpless when she first arrives to Arameri. She’s been isolated from this part of her heritage and she’s only heard about this kingdom for her mother. It becomes clear she is a pawn and while we see some instances of the warrior queen she is supposed to be, on the whole, she seemed lacking in agency. Ultimately, Yienne comes to her own by playing by some of their and some of her rules, asserting some agency in a situation in which she isn’t allowed any. The entrapped gods have also taken away her agency in a way I can’t explain without spoilers. When Yienne does take control it almost seems accidental. That being said, I really liked the conclusion to Yienne’s story. I was concerned about how Jemisin was going to end the novel and I was pleasantly surprised.

On Goodreads, I gave this book 4/5 stars. I am curious about the 2nd and 3rd books, because I do like the world Jemisin created, but I’m thinking of reading The Fifth Season first. Anyone have their own suggestions on whether to finish this series before checking out The Fifth Season?