Where Gods walk amongst us.
Publisher: Orbit Books
First Published: 1st January 2010
Date Reviewed: 4th February 2014
Yeine, happily living in Darr, was commanded to ‘return’ to her maternal family’s palace in Sky to become one of three heirs to the kingdom and the world. As she learns what her role is to be, she’s given a proposition by the earth-bound gods that may not save her but will save her homeland.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a book that sports a different sort of fantasy but is unfortunately rather confusing, static, and badly written.
The world itself, or, rather, the possibilities for it, are wonderful and promising but Jemisin only goes so far in the building of it, and albeit that detailing the palace is understandable (the story is almost exclusively located there) it does make it hard for the reader to really see Yeine’s plight and her reasons for her actions.
The writing is often confusing. There is a constant switch between Yeine’s usual narration and her inner thoughts and torment, and there are times when she looks back at the day just passed in order to tell you something she forgot to tell you earlier. Whilst the style lends the book an individuality and Yeine a distinct voice, it also hints at a lack of planning, or, at least, the look of such. And at the end of the day the look of poor planning has the same result as an actual lack of planning.
The constant ‘switch’ in narration is a pity because it becomes apparent later on in the book that there was a real reason for it. The problem is, of course, that it is too little too late. What could have been an interesting exploration of Yeine’s sense of self is simply left to hindsight. It means that the switch may indeed work for the remainder of the book but that this doesn’t atone for the confusion of what came before.
The book lacks a true focus – is Yeine concerned about the gods, her homeland, or does she simply want to find out the truth of her mother? Yeine’s mother’s life may be intriguing but it is no match, story-wise, for what is happening at that present moment, to what is happening to the world and the gods, and Jemisin’s increasing focus on it moves away from the fantastical possibilities brought forth by the premise. Nor would Yeine’s mother’s life have a true bearing on Yeine in the future as Jemisin’s focus changes once again towards the very end.
Where the book does shine is in the variation of fantasy it employs. This is no high-fantasy travelling-the-world tale of dragons and witches, and whilst those are not bad elements and whilst the book could have spent more time away from the palace, it is good to have this difference. The city of Sky is at once realistic and utterly imagined. In Yeine’s land women rule (even if Yeine is not written convincingly in that way). There is a lot of unnecessary violence and bizarre thoughts but this does fit the genre. The problem is that Jemisin does not provide any reasons for the reader to care about anyone.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms had potential but much of that is lost. It’s possible Jemisin may detail more of the world in later books but without having much of an idea about anything beyond the palace already, not least the knowledge of what the hundred thousand kingdoms are, you may decide it’s not worth finding out.
February 7, 2014, 1:00 pm
Aw, too bad this didn’t work for you — I thought it was great, and I loved the worldbuilding. Maybe Jemisin’s newer series would be better for you. I haven’t read it yet but I hear good things.
February 7, 2014, 1:52 pm
I was interested to see you’d read this, Charlie – I spotted it on a friend’s bookshelf a couple of years ago and homed in on it, but she warned me that she’d been very disappointed in it. Reading your thoughts here brought back her comments, so since neither of you have enjoyed it, I think it’s a good call for me to steer clear. :-)
February 7, 2014, 5:44 pm
I keep meaning to reread this so I can finally read the rest of the trilogy, but I haven’t got there yet!
February 7, 2014, 8:53 pm
I’m sorry to hear this didn’t work for you I’ve been tempted to read it myself.
February 7, 2014, 10:19 pm
I’ve heard so many good things about this series – it’s good to get a balanced view, though. Perhaps the author fixes some of these issues in her later novels.
February 8, 2014, 5:26 pm
I enjoyed this more than you did, but maybe I was swayed by positive reviews I had seen or maybe I just took it more lightly. I read it for A More Diverse Universe a year ago. I never did go on to read the next book, though, now that you mention it…
February 10, 2014, 11:19 am
I also couldn’t get into it and actually gave up about 1/3 in. It was probably the fault of expectations – this book was not exactly what I thought it was going to be: big, thick, multi-volume plot, with lots of courtly intrigue, cliffhangers and huge multicast families. The book starts like that, it sounds like that from the blurb, but is not that.
February 27, 2014, 4:55 pm
Jenny: That’s The Killing Moon, isn’t it? I want to give it a go, definitely.
Leander: There’s good in it, but from what I know of your tastes, I’d agree with your friend.
Kailana: That situation sounds familiar ;)
Jessica: Same, I heard a lot of good about it beforehand. There are some interesting concepts, that’s for sure, but when I delved deeper I found the overall response to be mixed.
Anbolyn: Yes, that was why I picked it up, the reviews were good. From what I’ve read the later series is better.
Laurie: I do make many many notes. I found it through that event, too, and I’m glad I read it overall.
Alex: I was tempted to give up, I have to admit. Yes, I thought there would be a lot more to it as well, and I thought the story would be continued in the later books but that doesn’t seem to be the case.