Top positive review
Highly Original Theology and Dynamic and Engaging Plot
Reviewed in the United States on October 9, 2018
Yeine is summoned to the majestic palace of Sky by her ailing grandfather, Lord Dekarta, as one of the potential heirs to the throne of the world's mightiest family, the Arameri. However, with an outcast mother, a barbarian father and her half-caste lineage frowned upon in the court, Yeine suspects this only to be a pretext for a much more sinister agenda.
She is soon proven right: the Arameri plan to only use her as cannon-fodder in the succession ceremony, a sacrifice she is prepared to make if it will mean the survival or her simple, yet immensely brave people, the matriarchal Darre. As she starts a precarious relationship with unpredictable captive god Nahadoth, sentenced to serve the Arameri after losing a war against his brother, Itempas, and as she gradually learns her way around the Machiavellian politics of the palace, Yeine may, after all, turn out to have a couple of tricks up her sleeve as well as a fleeting chance to survive the dynastic struggle.
Being Nora Jemisin's debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms does have some teething trouble, yet also shows more than just an inkling of her immense potential. The biggest strengths of the novel are its tightly-woven, involving plot and an immensely original theology and cosmology.
The origin of the world and the depiction of its deities are a good enough reason to read the book alone. Gone is the clichéd Abrahamic dualism of good and evil, of God and Satan. The opposition here is between light and darkness: Itempas is the god of day and order, Nahadoth of night and chaos. Neither of them is immanently good or evil (both of them demonstrate to be quite capable of both throughout the novel actually), they are quite simply different. The third major deity, Enefa, is, in turn, a goddess of all transitional states between the two, i.e. dawn and twilight, creation and destruction, life, but also death. Also of note is that the first god to come to being was Nahadoth, i.e. night and chaos predate day and order (which is also very logical when you think of it).
The world-building and writing are several notches down from the standards set by The Broken Earth, but are still extraordinarily good for a debut novel. The style is straightforward and unadorned, while the plot is a breathless roller coaster of twists and turns, with strong sexual undertones and cut-throat politics that can make House of Cards pale in comparison. The characters and, in particular, Yeine are extremely full-blooded and engaging, and the deities themselves are immensely interesting, even if not necessarily likeable. There are plenty of sexual allusions and scenes throughout the book, which are all rather explicit, but this ties in very well with the characters and the idiosyncratic theology. I am convinced the book would have suffered in their absence.
Finally a word about the other two instalments: Even if The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is part of a trilogy, all three instalments are rather self-contained, have different main characters, lack immediate connection and common conclusion and can be read more or less on their own. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the ‘gem’ in the trilogy, the sequels are readable, but hardly as involving or interesting.