The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


N. K. Jemisin


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

June 3rd, 2011

he title of this book: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, implied to me that it would tell a story on an epic scale. But despite the title, the book I read had a disappointingly narrow scope. All of the action takes place in Sky City (though there is one minor side trip to the small kingdom of Darr). Despite the fact that the majority of the story takes place in Sky City, the city seems mostly untouched by the novel's end. What starts as a great idea is never developed into a great novel.

The novel starts off in promising fashion: Yeine Darr has been summoned to Sky City by the ruling emperor, Dekarta, who is her grandfather. Dekarta has surprisingly named Yeine his heir, meaning she would rule all the world if she succeeded him. However, Dekarta already has two existing heirs - the ruthless scheming Scimina and the ineffectual Relad. I liked this setup - I expected twisting plots and duplicity and shifting alliances. Perhaps this novel would be similar to Kay's Sarantium stories, which are excellent. But despite the potential of backstabbing and ambition, in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms the court intrigue fails to materialize. What of T'vril and the host of servants - I thought something might come of that tangent, but that does not get developed. Scimina and Relad play only minor roles in the story.

An excellent part of this story is the captured gods that the Arameri use as the source of their power. Nahadoth is the god of chaos, darkness and shadows. There are also three lesser gods Zhakkarn, Sieh and Kurue, controlled by the Arameri, but only Sieh becomes a fully formed character (I could never remember the difference between Zhakkarn and Kurue -one was a soldier goddess and one was a librarian?). This idea of mortals controlling more powerful beings reminded me a LOT of Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet, where poets create and control supernatural beings of incredible power.

Unfortunately, the second half of the novel devolves into a romance story between Yeine and the dark god Nahadoth. I felt this was the least interesting direction for the story to go. Romance stories don't have suspense, surprise or drama. Yeine, our beloved heroine, is so wonderful that Nahadoth, a god of chaos and destruction, is going to change his ways? Don't forget Nahadoth is an immortal being with the power to create and destroy - assuming human form doesn't mean that he is human. Suppose you had the power to change yourself into an insect. Do you suppose that when you met another insect that you would be so astonished by its intelligence and beauty that you would fall in love? Of course not - it is still just a bug! Yet humans are mere insects to a god. Yet onward the story goes - the powerful, dark bad-boy is so enamored by the wonderful Yeine that he is going to change, but how original is that? Couldn't there have been more about the plots by Yeine's mother? A clever revolution by T'vril? A desperate strike by Relad? I expected at the climax, when it looked like the bad guys had manuevered Yeine into a no-win situation, that she would reveal a clever counter move and emerge triumphant. But alas, Yeine has no such plan.

This novel is full of unfulfilled promise. An epic setting: one hundred thousand kingdoms! - but the reader visits none of them. Sky City: an incredible edifice built upon an impossible spire - but this city feels unexplored, the reader is offered only the merest glimpse of its wonders. A story promises a desperate struggle between rivals - but Relad and Scimina are just side stories. Gods of incredible power controlled by flawed mortals - but all that intriguing plot point devolves into a mere love story. I recognize that this is Jemison's first novel, so she shows a lot of promise as a writer; I will probably read the rest of this trilogy. I just wish this first book had been a home run (like The Name of the Wind, an amazing book by a first time author), rather than a vehicle that only hints at Jemison's potential.