The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy)
by N.K. Jemisin
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen
Review by Cathy Green
Orbit Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316043915
Date: 25 February 2010 List Price $13.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
When I heard N.K. Jemisin read from the first chapter of her forthcoming novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms at the 2009 World Fantasy Convention, I knew I would have to buy the book (which is a testament as much to Ms. Jemisin's skill in reading aloud as it is to the text itself). When I found out that SFRevu had an advance reading copy and that I was the first to request it, I was delighted. Not only was I getting a free copy, but I would not have to wait until the February 2010 release date to find out what happened next. (Hopefully that statement should satisfy the FTC.) Now having read the book, I can assure people that it will be worth the wait.
As The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms opens, Yeine is nineteen years old and an ennu (chieftain) of the Darre people of the High North Continent. Her father was a minor Darre noble and her mother was a highborn member of the Arameri, the ruling tribe of the world, who was exiled from the capital, Sky, for having married not just beneath her but outside the Arameri. Her mother having recently died, Yeine is called to Sky by her grandfather Dekarta Arameri, ruler of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
As we learn from Yeine, there were once three powerful gods – the god of night, the god of day, and the goddess of twilight and dawn, as well as a number of minor deities. Now one god rules supreme: Bright Itempas, the Skyfather, the god of day, and the Arameri are his most devote priests and draw their power from him. And, as Yeine learns to her terror, the Arameri also draw power from the other gods whom Itempas defeated, who are now slaves of the Arameri and controlled by magic.
When Yeine arrives in Sky, Dekarta acknowledges her before everyone and welcomes her back into the Arameri. Unfortunately, he also names her one of his three heirs. The two other heirs are Dekarta's twin niece and nephew Scimina and Relad, and as Dekarta casually informs her, the one left alive will be the one to replace him. So not only must Yeine learn to be Arameri and adjust to high court life, she must figure out how to avoid being killed by her relatives. Given that the first thing Scimina does upon meeting Yeine is to order one of the enslaved monstrous defeated gods to go after Yeine, who was unprotected at that time, Yeine's chances of survival do not look good. However, Yeine is saved from mad Nahadoth by Sieh, one of the other captive gods, and soon thereafter is given the protective tattoo of a full-blooded Arameri by Scrivener Veraine, the court wizard.
Since Yeine has lived most of her life in exile amongst the Darre, she needs to learn as much as she can about the Arameri, the gods, Sky, and the succession ceremony, all without revealing just how ignorant and vulnerable she is and without being able to trust any of the information she is given, since everyone has their own agenda. Before long, Yeine is fielding alliance proposals from other nobles, her rival cousins, and even the captive gods. And the more she learns, the less she likes, especially what she learns about her late mother. As Yeine struggles to survive, she also does her best to make things better for the kingdom of Darre and to protect it from harm, since as an only child of two dead parents, Darre is her point of vulnerability.
N.K. Jemisin has written a fascinating epic fantasy where the stakes are not just the fate of kingdoms but of the world and the universe. Because the story is told from Yeine's viewpoint, we learn the history and the legends of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms along with her in a way that is organic to the story, flowing from the plot and action within the tale rather than as infodumps. While the book does come with three appendices consisting of a glossary of terms, a clarification of terms and an historical records from the Arameri family notes, these brief appendices in no way resemble the monster infodumps of the appendices at the end of The Return of the King (and that's a good thing).
W hile Jemisin has written an epic fantasy which is billed as "Book One of the Inheritance Trilogy", the story in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms reaches a satisfying conclusion and does so in a moderate, non-phonebook length. Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the cover art – Cliff Nielsen's gorgeous cover with its depiction of Sky is a perfect match for the text.
In Yeine, Jemisin has created a fully developed but imperfect heroine. And this is not a negative. Hero's who are all virtue and no vice can be boring. Yeine can be selfish and occasionally willfully blind about things, and as she adjusts life in Sky becomes more arrogant and demanding as she becomes more Arameri. Although she has the grace to be disconcerted by this development when it is pointed out to her. It's an interesting mix, because Yeine is likable and you want her to succeed, yet she has some quite unlikable traits.
If you enjoy epic fantasy, and if you are in the market for a fantasy novel where the world, society and culture are not based on Medieval Europe, then this is definitely the book for you. I just hope there is not too long a wait until book two comes out.