Some months after her mother’s death,Yeine Darr is summoned to Sky, the capital of the sprawling empire known as the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by her grandfather, who is head of the Arameri clan, and the realm’s undisputed ruler. Yeine the only daughter of his beloved daughter and former heir, who he disowned when she chose to marry Yeine’s “barbarian” father. To Yeine’s shock and the surprise of the court, he names her one of his heirs, and expects her to fight for the position as the next Arameri ruler with her cousins, his ruthless niece and nephew.
Brought up far far from Sky, in the simple northern province of Darre, a formerly matriarchal society of which Yeine was supposed to become the next chieftain, she is completely unprepared for the vicious machinations and power games at her grandfather’s court. She also discovers that no one expects her to emerge victorious in her cousin’s inheritance struggle, but has no choice but to adapt quickly. The Arameri have terrifying resources at their disposal, among them four of the realm’s former gods trapped in human form.
In a world where there were once three main gods, two male, one female (the God of Day, the God of Night, and the Goddess of Dusk and Twilight – or light, dark and all the shades in between). The priests would have it that Enefa, the goddess, rebelled against the god of Light, and was aided by the god of Night and various minor godlings. She was killed for her betrayal, and Nahadoth, the god of Night, and three of their children, were condemned to live forever chained and controlled by the Arameri, who can use them as weapons of mass destruction. Yeine is forced into an uneasy alliance with the four gods after it’s clear that her fate is closely tied up with theirs, and their aid may be the only hope she has of coming through the bitter struggle for the throne without her home and life being completely destroyed.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel, and a very impressive book, in that regard. The world she’s created is fascinating, and I especially enjoyed the theology and mythology with the three gods and their conflict. The concept of gods trapped and forced to do ruthless rulers’ bidding was also an intriguing one. In flashbacks the reader clearly sees what terrible power this bestows on the Arameri rulers, and how a slightly mis-spoken command can give them free reign to level whole civilisations.
Anyone expecting an epic and convoluted power struggle like that shown in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire or similar fantasy epics will be disappointed. While there is political intrigue and difficult choices to be made, the book has a relatively small cast of significant characters, and the whole story is really about Yeine trying to figure out who killed her mother, why her grandfather has suddenly decided to use her as a pawn in his power games, and ow her fate is connected with that of the trapped gods. While there are hints about the wider world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the main story is set in the capital, Sky, and the closer details of even that society are not explored.
The story is told from Yeine’s POV, in a sort of flashback, and she frequently interrupts herself, to go off on apparent digressions, and occasionally even seems to be arguing herself. This narrative device may annoy some readers, but I found that it made Yeine more relatable, and the somewhat disjointed style of narration becomes clear towards the end of the novel, when the full story is revealed. I enjoyed the book, and will absolutely be picking up the rest of the trilogy at some later date.