Thursday, May 22, 2014

REVIEW: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1)The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2010
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: The Inheritance Trilogy #1
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Casaundra Freeman

I was really prepared to love this book. First of all it (and the whole series it begins) received so much love from readers and critics alike. Just check out the award nominations! Second, I used to be a religious listener of the Podcastle Podcast which Jemisin was often associated with; i.e. they featured her short stories and she even narrated a couple I think. When this novel came out, the podcast featured the book trailer etc… Basically I was aware of her as an author and wished her well.

It’s probably obvious at this point where this is leading. Basically, I was so disappointed to be pretty meh about the book. I hate when I don’t love books everybody else does! It took me two months to get through the 11 hours of audio just because I took big breaks from it and just wasn’t that interested. Worse yet I’m not entirely sure why I couldn’t engage with it. Maybe this is a case of “it’s not you it’s me” syndrome; i.e. I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate it.

As I said I don’t have any really major things I can point to and say “Look at how poorly this was done!” Jemisin has created, at least in my reading experience, a very unique world, culture and theological system. The pantheon of Gods play a huge role in the narrative and reminded me a bit of the deities of Greek mythology. A handful of them have been enslaved to serve a human family, the Arameris by the will and power of their brother god Itempas, lord of light. But even before their enslavement, they interacted with people and they have both a more human and godlier mien. They can also be killed and it is the death of one of them hundreds of years ago that has resulted in the enslavement of Itempas’ brother Nahadoth, lord of dark and some of his children.

While this story of the gods, and their fight for freedom, is a big part of the narrative, the main protagonist and crux of things is Yeine Darr. Yeine is half Arameri which is the most powerful family in the world because of their control over Nahadoth and his children called the Enefadah. After her mother is killed, her Grandfather, head of the Arameri family, invites her to the great floating city of Sky to become one of his three heirs. Yeine is contemptuous of the Arameri’s, having grown up as a “barbarian” in the kingdom of Darr, but she accepts her grandfather’s invitation because she wants to figure out the truth of her mother’s death. It turns out to be a very dangerous game she is playing not least of all because everyone in Sky seems to have plans for her.

Sounds kind of awesome doesn’t it? Political intrigue, a complicated and well developed theology, lots of magic and plot twists. There is even some romance. Nahadoth is a fascinating and seductive character while being very dark and dangerous. There is much to love here objectively speaking and because of that I would urge anybody interested to give it shot.

I think my lackluster response was perhaps in part my mood not being aligned properly for this but I did have some legitimate issues that bothered me a bit while reading. The main one is that I never really felt like I understood any of the characters motivations, even Yeine’s. We are inside her head but I felt like I was cut off from some of her key connectors or thought processes so that half the time when she acted or reacted I was a little baffled. As a result it often felt choppy and disconnected. *Spoiler Alert* For example, she ends up falling in love with Nahadoth and I have NO idea why because he is a complete enigma. At one point it is posited that his whole identity is wrapped up in how other people see him – that his reactions are governed by how others are reacting to him. If you feel lust towards him, he’ll feel lust back, if you feel ragey, he’ll feel and act ragey. How can you fall in love with that – something that is so far out of our grasp and which has no real feelings of their own? There is perhaps one logical explanation for Yeine’s love related to another spoiler but even that felt sort of vague. I just felt confused by the characters and particularly by Yeine who should have been my anchor for the story. I liked her fine but needed to have a less confusing or more explained entry point into the story.

I think that’s the best I can do at explaining my impressions of this book. The narration by Cassaundra Freeman was fine though nothing extraordinary.

Final Verdict: A creative and complex fantasy novel that left me feeling a little blah.I haven't decided if I'll continue with the series. But don’t listen to me – go check it out!

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