Yeine, the hereditary chief of a small, poor country is called to meet the world emperor, her grandfather. Despite his disinheritance of her murdered mother, he makes Yeine one of his heirs. She quickly learns that this is less of an honor than it seems, as she gets drawn into struggles both political and divine.
I first encountered N.K. Jemisin’s work via an online writing workshop (called, strangely enough, the Online Writing Workshop), in a post-apocalyptic story about an octopus. I thought it was good, and was pleased when she soon after announced she was publishing a book. I admit that it’s taken me some time to get around to actually reading it, but I did so with great enthusiasm.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms gets off to a bit of a bumpy start, with prose that’s not as polished as I expected, or as one might hope. Things settle down after a bit, though there remains quite of bit of affected “wait, first this happened” to stop you in your tracks. Occasionally, there’s an unexplained “I felt drawn to…”, and there’s definitely a ‘first novel’ feel to the story. The political machinations are mostly well constructed, but some elements are under-played or just not credible. Generally, though, the writing and construction are good.
The main difficulty with the book is that the premise (despite what it says in the included gushing post-book interview) is not particularly original. Distant relative unexpectedly elevated – check. Struggle for inherited power – check. God who is/acts like a child – check. To her credit, Jemisin appears to recognize that we’ve seen all this before; she doesn’t hit us over the head with details, but practices a decent level of subtlety. Sadly, despite that recognition, she never takes the story anywhere new. Given what little I’ve seen of her short work, I expected something fairly original, and this story never really offers that. Instead, it’s a well told standard fantasy, updated to match current sensibilities.
If you haven’t read a lot of SFF, and you’re looking for a well written fantasy that ranges from personal to temporal to divine, this is it. If you’ve read more deeply, you’ll recognize much of what’s here. It’s still enjoyable, but perhaps not something to go out of your way for.