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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Faren Miller reviews N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin is a highly promising debut. It's the first of a trilogy set in a world whose three major gods went to war eons ago. That conflict almost fatally weakened the Nightlord who emerged first from chaos, when his sibling the Bright Lord (Skyfather) came to ascendance and crushed all opponents except for some forgotten minor gods. These godlings still exist as prisoners, slaves, or weapons capable of the occasional horrific act, and not just plagues: "Occasionally the population of an entire city will vanish overnight. Once, jagged steaming pits appeared where there had been mountains."

Between Darkness and Light lie the transitional states of dawn and dusk, various wise/trickster demigods who only pay lip service to Light, and the ostensibly pious mortal world. Over the centuries, they all have interacted to the point where no divinity is free from human traits, none stands aloof from the world. Even though the time of mortal/divine couplings is over, its "demon" offspring extinct, in this place atheism would be blind optimism — for the interplay goes on.

If this sounds complicated, it is, and so is the human politics of kingdoms and ruling families, but it can also be a lot of fun. Jemisin's heroine Yeine has been drawn from her "barbarian" homeland (whose female rule and respect for the land actually sound appealing) to the political heart of the kingdoms, the extraordinary city known as Sky. Though her mother had been a runaway princess from the ruling family, Yeine is shocked to be named the third heir of Sky's ailing king. Inheritance traditionally passes to the only survivor among the nominees, and she wants neither the fight (with a pair of nasty, if very different, opponents) nor the prize. But her mother died under mysterious circumstances, and this seems a likely place to track down the villain(s). Though she doesn't know it, the gods also have reason to take interest in her.

Blunt, smart, and socially inept, Yeine doesn't much resemble standard fantasy heroines who are just coming into their powers or busy kicking asses. After she learns just what part the gods played in her background, she tells it her own way, beginning with a struggle for words:
Once upon a time there was a
Once upon a time there was a
Once upon a time there was a
Stop this. It's undignified.

When she finds the tone she wants, it's irreverent and observant, a clear eye focused on the family life of immortal siblings.

A similar blend of inventiveness, irreverence, and sophistication — along with sensuality — brings vivid life to the setting and other characters: human or otherwise, "good" or "bad." In an interview Extra, Jemisin notes that the main thing missing from this royal drama is ordinary people, and they'll show up in Book Two of the Inheritance Trilogy. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms definitely leaves me wanting more of this delightful new writer.


Read more! This is one of many reviews from the March issue of Locus Magazine. To read more, go here to subscribe.













The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

N.K. Jemisin


(Orbit 978-0-316-04391-5, $13.99, 422pp, tp) February 2010





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