The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Here goes my favorite sentence of the book:
"There's truth even in tainted knowledge, if one reads carefully."
"Only if one knows the knowledge is tainted in the first place."
How true. How relevant to every aspect of our modern society, be it school, religion, mass media. Especially religion. But this has nothing to do with my review of the book.
This is a great fantasy/mystery book. Oddly enough, that's what it is. Yeine, our heroine, is ennu (chieftain, priestess) of the Darren people, a population living in a far off, poor province of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. She is summoned to Sky, the capital, by the king (her grandfather from her -recently assassinated - mother's side) where she shockingly discovers that she has been named heir to the throne, in competition with two other cousins that she never knew she had. Thrust in a vicious game of politics, lies and violence, Yeine fights for her life and for the truth behind her mother's abdication and murder.
My rating of this book fluctuated between 4 and 5 stars until about the final scene.
What struck me as exceptionally well done is the world building. As I found myself walking with Yeine along the corridors of the Sky palace I realized her descriptions are very precise, meticulous and visual, from the language of the people of the Kingdoms, to races, to local food and lore. I loved the gods' presence, especially Sieh, and I found myself increasingly drawn to the story as pieces of the puzzle finally clicked into place and characters became familiar.
The plot is quite complicated though, and the way in which the author chooses to structure the chapters doesn't make it any easier to understand what is going on. Yeine is the narrator but you're never sure of that until almost the end and that makes it a bit confusing, you're constantly asking yourself what is going on, who is telling what, what did I miss... Furthermore, flashbacks randomly placed in a stream of consciousness style result quite distracting, more than once I had to go back a few pages to pick up the ends of what was being said before.
This could all have been easily overlooked, if not for the final scene of the succession, which has this "The Matrix"-ish flavour I did not like. Too superhero, too Hollywood, it kind of clashed with the general tone of the book. This sentence, in particular, struck me as oddly alien to the Yeine's character and more suited to a rockstar kind of character:
My gown swirled about my ankles, an annoyance. A flick of my will and it became a Darren warrior's garments, tight-laced sleeveless tunic and practical calf-lenght pants. They were an impractical shining silver but - well, I WAS a goddess, after all.
The last little problem I had with this book, which I anyway recommend reading because it's good fantasy, is the title. An explanation about the meaning of why this world is called The Hundred Thousands Kingdoms is never given, much to my dismay. I'd have liked more info about the origin of why it is called like that. Or did I maybe miss something? Also, a bit of mapping would have been helpful, if not fundamental.
Even though this is a stand-alone (no cliffhangers!), I know this book is part of a trilogy. I'm not going to run to the shop right this moment to get the sequel, but I will most probably read it.
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