From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Book One of the Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

Review by Cynthia Ward

Noting the title of N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Book One of the Inheritance Trilogy, readers might assume they know exactly what it’s going to be: the first volume of an epic fantasy series in which some misplaced prince wanders around an imaginary world vaster than J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, fulfilling the gods’ will by collecting enough “plot coupons” (magic sword, magic goblet, etc.) to redeem for his royal birthright.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is almost nothing like that. True, there’s impressive world-building and a lost heir: the nineteen-year-old Baroness Yeine Darr, daughter of the disinherited daughter of the ruler of the world. But instead of knocking around the titular kingdoms for three or twenty books before reclaiming her inheritance, Yeine is summoned at the novel’s opening to her grandfather’s city/palace—the fabulous Sky—where she is swiftly named co-heir. She rarely leaves Sky thereafter. And while Yeine does have a quest, it’s to uncover the identity of her mother’s murderer.

As for the gods, Yeine doesn’t serve them so much as she is manipulated by them. She also falls in love with one of them: the sinister, sexy, and sometimes-psychotic Nightlord, Nahadoth. The gods aren’t fantasy’s usual uber-powerful movers and shakers. More accurately, only one of the gods, Itempas, is near-omnipotent. The rest of the gods, Itempas has either killed or turned into slaves of Yeine’s royal kin.

Readers seeking grand sword-slinging adventures, blood-drenched epic battles, and a travelogue of exotic imaginary lands will be frustrated by N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. However, readers seeking unpredictable, stimulating fiction should snap the novel up. It’s not just an uncommonly well-written fantasy that upends expectations and offers fascinating explorations of the nature of power (political, familial, cultural, national, racial, divine). The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is an award-worthy novel and Jemisin’s a new writer to take note of.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Book 1 (The Inheritance Trilogy)
N.K. Jemisin
Orbit Books
ISBN: 978-0-316-04391-5
432 pages | Trade Paperback | $13.99 US
February 2010

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