N K Jemisin (Orbit, 2010) ISBN 0316075973
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first of N K Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. The trilogy is set over several centuries, beginning here with the story of Yeine Darre, the young ruler of a poor and vulnerable region. She is brought to Sky, the glittering capital of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, upon being named heir to the Arameri family and thus to world leadership, by her estranged grandfather. The Arameri have become masters of their world because they have as their slaves an assortment of powerful gods, the Enefadeh. Yeine quickly learns she is not the only heir, but has competition in the form of psychopathic Scimina and her brother Relad. Meanwhile Yeine investigates her mother’s murder, aligns with the Enefadeh in their quest for freedom, and struggles to defend her home kingdom from annihilation. She is especially drawn to the most powerful of the Enefadeh, Nahadoth.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms achieved something few books I read do: it drew me completely into its world and its narrative. It was, to use a review cliché I’ve never much identified with, impossible to put down. Jemisin has an enviable ability to write tension and to create a sense of high-stakes adventure, packaged within an original, exciting world of chaotic magic and unbridled cruelty.
Yeine is a fierce, well-developed character who nonetheless proves vulnerable as a newcomer to Sky to the political machinations around her. Though she allies with the Enefadeh, she is aware of their inhuman nature and that she is a mere tool for them to achieve freedom. She is haunted by nightmares, a very common fantasy trope which can grate in the wrong hands—but not here.
In other reviews I have seen complaints about the book’s ending and the characterisation of Nahadoth, who does evoke the stereotypical dark, brooding anime anti-hero with his appearance and mannerisms. However, I believe Jemisin intentionally invoked Deus ex Machina and deliberately built Nahadoth around anime tropes. An attentive reader will also pick up the clues scattered through the narrative of the ending. My issue is rather with the amount of time Yeine seems to spend unconscious and ill, which appears to serve mostly as an avenue to speeding up the plot. I am conflicted on this point though, as the pacing is otherwise excellent.
I recommend The Inheritance Trilogy frequently. I recommend it to you. It is a quality, original body of fiction which defies oft-seen fantasy tropes with its diverse cast, unruly magic and new twist on the ‘city of adventure’. I will review the other two books in the trilogy soon.