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The hundred thousand kingdoms is the debut novel by American author NK Jemisin, it is the first part of a trilogy and tells the story of Yeine Darr in the kingdom of Sky. Yeine is a barbarian from the north whose mother was murdered in mysterious circumstances two years earlier, she is asked by her Grandfather the ruler of Sky to visit him. Yeine is astonished when he gives the throne to her, with one small catch, he has also given the throne to two of the cousins.
This book is firmly set in a fantasy world but the world of fantasy of the human imagination rather than that of elves, dwarves and dragons. This is fantasy in which the differences are in the approach to life rather than a physical setting, the novel appears to be a normal setting with internal strife, battles and conflict but the author immediately moves from the normal to the abnormal. This book contains gods, their malign influences and the dual approach of love and hatred for the omnipresent beings. Yeine soon learns hard truths about her family, her character and the fate of the kingdom through her actions. She becomes a plaything for the gods and their aims and ambitions are played out through her, this is both in the physical and the mental.
The book is in the voice of Yeine, it is peripheral and engaging and the reader never gets a comfortable feeling. She is a complex and awkward character and her actions are hard to follow, when the presence of a god is added to the mix then the potential for world bending fantasy is present. The biggest issue with any first person novel is the first person, if the reader likes and believes in the first person than the book tends to flow better, if the reader dislikes the person speaking throughout than the book becomes a harder read.
Does this make the book any the better or worse? I guess the answer is reader specific, in my opinion the difficult character of the first person perspective wasn't a problem. Indeed, it was enjoyable to read about a character in which the reader would instinctively dislike. The addition of a range of gods, all with very different and challenging characters makes the reading all the more difficult. The book however does have moment of pure genius, the interactions between Yeine and the principal God character Nahadoth are scary, intimate, frustrating, funny, and poignant and the reader wishes for more on that front.
One issue is the use of forward and backward text, it's clear from the beginning that the central moment in Yeine's life is the death of her mother. This moment is referred to and played out throughout the novel but answers to the question of who and why are only touched upon and are presumably for the two sequels.
All in all, a book which has once again ignited the fantasy field thankfully the genre appears to be re-awakening after a decade or so of terrible Tolkien clones and with this novel and a couple of other authors gives this reader a hope for the future of the genre. I'm looking forward to the sequel; certainly the ending of this novel was one which I had to read more than once before getting some kind of idea of what's going on but as a first in a trilogy a strong ending is a good thing.
So a challenging thoughtful book full of difficult questions and responses but as a start of a trilogy it feels like a series to look forward too rather than one to avoid. The next book in the series is called The Broken Kingdom and I have just started the novel so expect a review in about 3-4 days, my wife is in denial about the fact that the third book in the trilogy has yet to be released and introduced me to the books. That's saying a lot as she normally hates fantasy novels; her fantasy involves teenage wolves and insipid heroines pining in the forest. So this complex difficult book managed to keep her interested for two books out of three so must be good.