Friday, 12 February 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky - a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin is listed across the blogosphere as one of the most hotly-anticipated debuts of 2010, and, as a consequence, I bumped it to the top of my reading list. Well, I tried to. I actually started this book a couple of times before, but put it down to deal with other books that I felt more interested in. It took an effort to finish the book, which I felt very surprised by considering the almost-universally warm reviews it has been receiving.

Now that I have finally finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, my overwhelming impression is that this book is well-written, with some memorable characters, but I am not left yearning to read any more in the world created by N. K. Jemisin.

I am not sure whether the unbelievable hype that this book is garnering left me unable to read it without thinking that it *should* be the best book ever. If so, then that is a fault of mine rather than the book - I do know that it didn't grip me in the same way that other reviewers have indicated. I did like it. I just didn't love it. I didn't feel that this novel would be going straight onto my 'keeper' shelf.

The parts of the book that I did enjoy included the warm manner in which Jemisin wrote about the characters - her prose was smooth and delicious, with truly lovely descriptive passages (particularly about Nahadoth - with whom I think most female readers will be just a little in love).

I felt that the gods were written in a compelling manner - in fact, the whole mythology was handled in a skilful way that left it feeling very 'real'. All three major gods - and all minor gods - had extremely distinct characters and roles that leapt from the page.

What I didn't enjoy was the jumping around of the narrative. I hate this type of foreshadowing (used extensively in The Book Thief as well, a book I also enjoyed but didn't love); it really doesn't agree with me. Give me anytime a coherent and linear timeline without a character self-consciously telling me that she's forgotten something and really needs to interject it NOW.

And that brings me, finally, to my other big issue. I didn't actually like Yeine, which is always going to make loving the book written in first person perspective a big ask. I cannot even clearly tell you why I didn't like her, which indicates to me that, once again, this is more a fault of mine than the book itself. I know that other reviewers have adored Yeine's rather scattershot approach to narrating the story - it just wasn't for me.

In conclusion: I'm pleased to have read this book and consider it a very solid debut, but I suspect it will not be my personal favourite of 2010.


  1. "I know that other reviewers have adored Yeine's rather scattershot approach to narrating the story" - I'm getting keener on reading this book from your description, certainly!

  2. I know my review was not as favourable as others, but I would still encourage people to pick up the book! I still enjoyed many aspects of the book - and certainly other people have said it is their favourite book so far of 2010 - so it is worth trying just to make up your own mind :-)

  3. I agree..I'm only halfway through with it, but thinking about putting it down for a bit. The writing is good, but I'm just not compelled enough to keep reading.