Monday, 4 November 2013

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

This is politics and power on a grand scale, and for much of the book, I was left in suspense as to what was really going on. A good kind of suspense, though, as I could tell that although I didn't know, Jemisin did, and the writing was such that I had confidence that all would be revealed in due course. I don't mind not knowing, as long as it feels like the book isn't floundering, unsure of what it is.

It's funny, though. For a good while at the start of the book, I was convinced that this fantasy might suddenly turn out to be science fiction, based on the old adage that sufficiently advanced technology, etc. I think it was the way the gods were written about, particularly when they were referred to as "weapons." It felt like maybe they were the remnant of the technology of a previous civilization.

Well, by the end of this entry into the trilogy, anyway, that appears not to be case. And the answers were even more satisfying than that would have been.

In a world that had been riven by the Gods' War, one caste, the Arameri, wields the power of the remaining enslaved gods and godlings, allowing worship only of the god of light, Itempas. His siblings/lovers/enemies, the other two of the Three, he cast down, and killed one and enslaved the other. Why will take quite a long time to come out.

Centuries on, one young Darre woman, Yeine, daughter of the former Arameri heir and her Darre husband, is called back to Sky, the mystical castle that balances in the air through unknown forces (see what I mean about thinking it might be SF?). She is named a possible heir as well, even though her mixed blood makes her an unlikely choice. There, she is cast into a battle between the two other heirs, but that pales next to the plan the enslaved gods, the Enefadeh, have put into motion.

Their plan started before her birth, and might end with her death. This is world-shaking stuff, and it's a credit to the storytelling that when all is revealed it was, not so much earthshattering, as deeply satisfying.

Yeine's story is not just the fantasy of these power struggles. It's about love, even when love is unwise. It's about pain, and power, and corruption. It's about loneliness and penance and cruelty. And it's about the dangerous possibilities of working with those who can understand humans only in fragments.

And at the end, it is about mythmaking and legendtelling on a grand scale. But not past myths - creating new ones, moment by moment. These are the events that will live on past human memory, told and retold, polished smooth by the telling.

I look forward to where it goes from here! This is a fantasy well worth reading, even if it did fool me into thinking it was SF for a while. (And if there is a switch pulled in one of the next two books, don't tell me.)


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

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