Travel Reads: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Have you ever read a book that had an ending so satisfying that you just sat there and basked in it? Well, now that I’ve finished reading N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I have.

Jemisin’s debut novel is an epic fantasy set in a world that is both refreshingly new and comfortably familiar. Whether she intended it or not, Jemisin plays homage to a host of literature and myth in this first book of the Inheritance Trilogy, and yet puts her own unique spin on them all.

Although part of a trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms stands on its own.

Yeine Darr, granddaughter of the King of the Kingdoms has been cast out of her home land in the barbarian north and summoned to the capital city of Sky, where she learns that she is being named heir to the throne.

That sounds, cool, right? Not really. There are two other heirs and she’s pretty much been named so she can be sacrificed during the crowning ceremony.

Not used to dealing with Arameri politics (the Arameri are the ruling race of the land), Yeine finds herself forging dubious alliances with captive gods, a secretive scrivener (a cross between a scholar and a sorcerer) and the head servant of Sky. Nothing is quite what it seems to be and her barbarian ways both get her into trouble and save her life. She is a woman without a people living in a strange society she doesn’t fully understand. Also, she is driven by the desire to uncover the secret behind her mother’s death … and life. And, as it turns out, Yeine herself is the key to much of the mysteries in her life.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a well-written tale of deceit, betrayal and, believe it or not, love. Not necessarily romantic or filial love, but the kind of dark, true and twisted love that can lead you to foolish and vengeful acts you’ll regret later on. Obsessive love.

It is also the story of a woman who holds onto her own strength and makes her own rules work in a world that won’t recognize them. Yeine Darr reminds me of Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies … she is strong and vulnerable at the same time. And, she makes good of a very bad situation.

What Worked for Me:
Jemisin used classical mythology informed by Jung’s collective unconscious to create the back story and mythical underpinning of the novel. I believe this is what gave the story it’s feeling of familiarity. The characters all had archetypal qualities that made them comprehensible, even in the unfamiliar environment of Sky. Given that I’m a big fan of mythology, this really worked for me.

There were many passages in the book that reminded me of experiences I’d had reading other novels. For example, as Yeine was arriving at Sky, I was reminded of Jonathon Harker riding the carriage to Castle Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel. Later, descriptions of the Nightlord reminded me of The Hunter (Gerald Tarrant) from C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy.

There was something about how the plot, characters and writing style flowed together that gave me the sensation of reading an old favorite while discovering an entirely new world. It was like wearing a old pair of jeans with a new pair of shoes … I new what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by how it all played out.

What Didn’t Work for Me:
The story is primarily told from Yeine’s point of view and occasionally she jumps back and forth in the time-line, which confused me at times. But, when all was said and done, that really wasn’t much of an issue.

Would I recommend the book?
Most certainly. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a pleasure to read, drawing me in with things both familiar and strange. The characters were intriguing, reminding me of old friends and yet introducing me to a totally new set of characters to love. I also appreciate that this book can stand alone, so if you don’t want to get caught up in another trilogy, you’ll still enjoy this novel and leave it feeling satisfied.

SCORE: 5 out of 5 Palm Trees Possible

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NOTE: Although I received this book free to review, that did not affect my opinion of the book. Read past reviews of books I’ve received for free and you’ll know I don’t hold my punches.

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About the author

As The Genre Traveler, Carma Spence loves to view the world through Genre-Coloured glasses. In other words, she sees the world through a lens of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, where trash cans can be Daleks in disguise and neighborhood forests can harbor faeries and sprites. Magic realism is real! Or at least you can choose to see the world that way to add to the fun and awe of life.