It’s always intimidating to have a favorite author and then go back to their earlier works. That was me and N.K. Jemisin. I adored The Broken Earth trilogy and The City We Became. So when I decided to go back and read her debut trilogy I was already nervous. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a book I enjoyed, but was somehow expecting a bit more from. Keep reading this book review to read my full thoughts.
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a fantasy that explores the nature of power. A world of gods and commands. Power and alliances. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms tells the story of Yeine who is thrown into a world with no experience or preparation. Thrust in the middle of this power competition, Yeine has to unravel not only the mystery of her mother’s death, but also her own survival. Everything is so much more than it appears as secrets and revelations are revealed set in motion before her birth.
While I enjoyed Yeine’s character, I felt like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms lacked some dimension in the side characters. There were other gods involved and I felt like I completely missed their significance until later on. I don’t mind the book being focused on Yeine, I just felt like getting more depth to the side characters would also give more depth into the world and the people who are shaped by it. But Yeine is a character who I admired. She very much does not want to repeat the cycles of command, emotional blackmail, and secrets.
Everything in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has almost a horrific sheen to it. To the sheer amount of manipulation, of senseless cruelty, and the ways people cannot get too close. Throughout the book, I wondered if Yeine would survive, but also survive without being fundamentally changed. And the answer I came upon, from the very beginning is no. Because as soon as we step outside of what we know, are shoved into positions of power and politics, how can we?
Some other elements I enjoyed in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was that Jemisin gives us a brief taste of the world. Did I have tons of questions? Yes, but somehow at the end I wasn’t as frustrated. I also appreciated the ways Jemisin tackles being disillusioned with a parent. How we start to see them as people, fallible and with the potential for cruelty. Yeine, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, asks what will she do for power? For the magic and commands and sacrifices people ask of her.