You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a fantasy novel by N. K. Jemisin. The author builds a complex and fascinating mythology and then explores it through the interactions between the characters. The title refers to the vast world which the ruling class, the Arameri, rules over from their palace suspended over a city by a column of stone. In this mythology, a war between the three gods was fought thousands of years earlier, leaving one god dead and another imprisoned by the winner, Itempas. Itempas forces his brother-god Nahadoth, and Nahadoth's three children, to be enslaved to the Arameri elite, who use the gods' powers to control their kingdoms and maintain power.

This background comes out in the course of the story. The main character is Yeine, granddaughter of Dekarta, the ruler of the Arameri and king in all but name. Yeine arrives at Sky, the palace suspended by a column, summoned by Dekarta after her mother is murdered. She learns that she is designated one of her grandfather's heirs, but she and the other two heirs, her cousins, must contend against each other for the title. Her cousin Scimina is a ruthless woman who sends Nahadoth against her as a kind of initiation and schemes to have Yeine's kingdom attacked by its neighbors simply so she can have a bargaining chip. Scimina's brother Relad is a lazy hedonist who can't be bothered to take the ascension seriously, even though his life depends on it.

The most intriguing character is Nahadoth, also known as Naha. By day he has a human shape, but at night his form becomes darker and more ethereal as his dark powers grow. As his brother is eternally constant, Naha is the essence of change. Shadows coalesce around him. Part of his power is his sexuality, and he invokes in the young Yeine a strong attraction. Yet she knows that even though she is attracted to him he would be dangerous to take to bed. She may be able to command him, but his powers would overwhelm her as his nature overcomes them both.

Another interesting character is the godling Sieh, Naha's son. Sieh appears in the form of a young child despite being thousands of years old. Likewise he is playful and endearing, though his more wise and cynical side comes out at times. Yeine feels an attachment to him though she tries to keep in mind his true nature.

Yet she struggles to understand the gods at all. Dangerous characters, they are referred to as weapons because the Arameri use them against other to maintain power. Yeine receives a magical mark on her forehead when she arrives at the palace to signify her high rank and enable her to order the gods. Yet this power is itself tentative and paradoxical: she quickly learns that she must be very careful in how she phrases her requests and even her comments to the gods. If she makes a mistake in her wording then the god may find a loophole that enables him or her to leave the palace and wreak havoc on the world.

Yeine must find a way to survive the coronation, where one of the heirs will assume the throne and the rest will die. She also wants to find out about her mother, who had a very different reputation at the palace that in Yeine's memory. She has a hard time believing that her loving mother could be like the hard-hearted Arameri. As she learns about her mother and the Arameri, we learn more about Nahadoth and the other gods and the Gods War of ancient times. The myth builds and expands.

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. The world feels real and the myth is more than a background story, it's an integral part of the plot. The gods are interesting. Seeing powerful beings interact with humans is a good story. The gods themselves are very human, showing human emotions like greed, despair, and lust. We can feel Yeine's helplessness and uncertainty as she tries to navigate this strange world. The novel leaves the reader with the sense of having read a real life myth. A

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