The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (book, NK Jemisin, 2010)
A review from SFX 193.
Enslaved gods and pompous mortals mix it up in fantasy courtly intrigue.
Inflation is a fact of life, but we never expected it to hit the worldlets of fantasy that cluster in our Earth’s creative ideosphere. One secret fate is simply not enough now for a potboy or hedgewitch to be the chosen one. No, your average 21st century fantasy heroine (they’re mostly heroines these days) need TWO (see Naamah’s Kiss, last month if you don’t believe us). Yeine Darr is such, a minor noblewoman elevated to the status of ‘heir to everything’ just in time for a murderous succession contest.
Jemisin imagines a place where, after a Luciferian style battle in heaven, the chief god has exiled his brother and his children and made them slaves to the ruling class of a world-spanning kingdom. This ruling class – the Amarantin – lives vainglorious lives in the floating palace of Sky. (In that there are echoes of Geraldine Harris’ Godborn, Ricardo Pinto’s Masters and even a soupcon of Moorcockian Melnibonean). As Darr is an honest half-breed she’s the only one with morals, pretty much, a trope we’re stumbling across frequently at the moment.
Darr finds herself immediately pulled into the intrigues of the bound godlings, who behave like the djinni of mythology, ie, they’re bound to do what their captors say, but they’re annoyingly, and fatally, literal about it.
Jemisin’s gods are the excellently portrayed, and it’s they who give the book its glamour, but Darr is too goody two-shoes to be believable, and there’s too much of the Mary Sues about her. Jemisin’s world, at least, is enjoyably, fantasically odd, not the Medieval Europe-lite of so much US high fantasy, so it’s more original a book than many contemporaneous fantasies, but not that original in what is now a venerable genre.
Overall it somehow manages to be more than the sum of its parts, and though we’d hesitate to recommend this as an absolute must-buy , Jemisin is well worth keeping an eye on.
Did you know…?
Jemisin started writing when she was ten years old, but this is her first published work.