The Story of my good friend Hype [Note: you can skip this and scroll below to the Review Proper]
Let me tell you something about this guy I know. His name is Hype. He's a funny bloke. He's also very special. I'm not being obsequious, because he knows he's special too. In fact he flaunts it at my face most of the time, the idiot.
How's he special, you may ask? Well, he has this amazing ability to sway people into picking up anything – books, weird mind-pornography, movies, music, TV, even African American dudes. Isn't that extraordinary? I wish I could do that. I really, really wish I could do that.
Yesterday, after lunch, I asked him to let me in on his secret. What's the source of your power, I said. He looked at me, smiled and told me his power didn't work the way I thought it did. I figured the only reason he said that was he didn't want me learning how to use his power to get that chick we met at the club last Wednesday. Lord in heaven. That white girl was fire on the dance floor.
Anyway, Hype elucidated that his power had a maddening drawback: free will. You see, his special ability is of a persuasive kind. He gets people to give products a long, second look, and if he spins his magic wheels right, sprinkles the right amount of fairy dust, he can blind a person's common sense and get them to buy anything out of inexplicable devotion and misguided trust.
The infuriating quandary that is free will tries to reinstate the common sense of Hype's victims by presenting a series of stupid questions, such as: "Doesn't this Justin Bieber guy suck?" "Am I listening to his music cos I want to or cos everyone's doing it, and if I don't my friends and family will call me a giant bag of Justin douche?" "Am I giving this book a good review cos, you know, if I don't the author will hate me, and I don't want that, cos I'm a closeted lesbian and I love her very much, and I have a secret crush on all her blogger friends?" "Did I just waste my money on this piece of horse sh*t?"
Hype said that after free will posits these annoying questions it urges "hyped" victims to choose an answer – yes or no. Their answers will decide whether they sink further into Hype's seductive warmth or break out of the trance he has bestowed on them. Overcoming his influence is very bad, Hype claimed. Those who do it take to the internet and spread their dissatisfaction, pain and sheer idiocy, which can contaminate other prospective victims. It's a lot worse if those who trounce Hype's control are bloggers. Bloggers are evil beings. They're demons from hell, Hype told me. They're soulless bitches. But when they give in to him they're filled with unparalleled awesomeness.
Now why the hell did I bother writing all this? How does it relate to N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms? Well, turns out my good friend, Hype, sprinkled his gay fairy dust on me and made me buy this book. There I was in my bedroom, writing my book, and Hype appeared. He told me to visit the book smugglers. I was surprised. Hype hates the smugglers. They're the worst of all bloggers, he said. They always tend to shake off his influence and badmouth his hard work. Last night I overheard him praying that after Ana and Thea have lived their lives to the fullest and died, God should stick them in purgatory forever. Purgatory is worse than hell. It has women-eating unicorns, serenading imps, and babies that never stop crying. Plus, Rush Limbaugh is going there pretty soon.
(Satan doesn't want Rush anywhere near hell. He's worried Rush might oust him and become the new Prince of Darkness. God, who is responsible for all of creation, good and bad, maintains he has no idea who or what created Rush Limbaugh, and so cannot allow him into heaven. Xenu has only one free room in his spaceship and hasn't decided who he loves best: Rush Limbaugh, Tom Cruise or Philip Pullman).
I went to the smugglers' site and I read this about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: "It says a lot about me, as a reader, that I read those first few lines and am immediately hooked". The second I finished that sentence I was filled with a baffling desire to buy N.K. Jemisin's debut. I knew Hype was responsible, and I hated him for it. Yet, what could I do? He made me read Hush, Hush and my eyes bled (I use glasses now). He made me read The Forest of Hands and Teeth and now I can't stop thinking of the ocean. I have this insane urge to just run to any ocean and stay there, probably drown in it. He made me read Breaking Dawn and I never want to have babies. Ever.
He did all those things to me and I couldn't resist him. How could I now when smuggler Ana said she was hooked after reading the first few lines of Kingdoms?
I bought the book. Common sense commenced protocol 1039: "Are you sure you want to read this book? Are you sure you're not reading it cos Ana said it's really good?"
I read the book.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Review Proper
In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Yeine is a barbarian from the kingdom, Darr. She has been summoned by her grandfather to Sky, a magnificent floating mass of a palace and home to the almighty Arameri. Yeine's grandfather, Dekarta, is the head of the Arameri clan and thus uncrowned emperor of all one hundred thousand kingdoms in existence. The power bestowed on this old man to command and conquer as he pleases comes directly from Bright Itempas, the last remaining of the original three gods. Grandfather Dekarta chooses Yeine as an heir to his throne, along with her cousins, Scimina and Relad. All three candidates must battle to become the next head of the family and ruler of the world, and we accompany Yeine as she struggles through political machinations, unfolds secrets pertaining to her mother's mysterious death, befriends gods and goddesses, unravels hidden agendas, and wrestles with overwhelming feelings for the enigma, the blackest of darkness, the Nightlord himself – Nahadoth.
And what a ride it is.
Yeine is more passive than proactive. And you know what? It's OK. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone wants to use her to accomplish something. The only viable way for Yeine to understand what's really going on, to differentiate friend from foe, is to give into the wishes of others, to an extent, of course. You can't blame her. She's been yanked from her home and thrust into an alien world of madmen, madwomen and vengeful gods, and has no idea who or what to trust.
What N.K. Jemisin has crafted here is a world teeming with cultures at odds, clashing principles, and flawed, multidimensional characters. The Arameri family is the quintessence of absolute power corrupts absolutely. Their morals are imperfect: they hold the world to ransom, forcing their philosophy and religion on everyone. It's the only way global stability and prosperity can be achieved, they feel. Can you blame them? After all, eons ago there were three mighty gods: Itempas, Enefa and Nahadoth; many religions; and barbaric customs. The gods and their god children (godlings) fought, the world almost died, and in the end one god emerged victorious – Itempas, the god of the Arameri. Itempas granted the Arameri the power to reshape the world, and so they did, crushing anyone who stood in their way. Order must prevail, they believed. No more unnecessary conflicts. No more religions that promote chaos. No more customs that invoke barbarism and hinder human evolution.
A one world order.
The problem is in trying to accomplish such a momentous feat they lost their humanity along the way. This is most evident in Yeine's cousin, Scimina. Scimina is the prime example of what a person must become to rule over all. She's manipulative, intelligent, ruthless, and unlikable.
I've heard people accuse Scimina of being two-dimensional, arguing that her masochism has no reason attached to it. I honestly don't know where you lot got the crazy idea that three-dimensionality in a villainous character is only achievable when that character can explain away their actions: "I'm bad, cos Mummy didn't read me bedtime stories. Boohoo."
I disagree. Consider the scale of things. Scimina is royalty, the product of an environment that encourages callousness and shuns weakness and compassion. One day she might lord over a hundred thousand kingdoms. One hundred thousand kingdoms. That's billions of people, a hundred million (or more) of which would seize the slightest opportunity to kill her. She needs to be intelligent. She needs to be ruthless. She needs to be manipulative. And why the bloody hell should she care if anyone likes her? This isn't American Idol. This isn't democracy. Her approval ratings are so down they're in the negative. This is a dictatorship. She only cares about one thing: unyielding submission from others.
I enjoyed Scimina. She was competitive, she understood what needed to be done and how to do it, even though she had lost her mind, and she loved kinky sex – another criticism of her character.
Yeine isn't without her issues as well. She berates the Arameri for being dehumanised when her mother, an Arameri, was the same. She considers the Arameri culture as strange when funny enough, in her culture teenage girls have to be raped as part of a festival celebrating their coming of age. She hates her cousins and despises the gods for their scheming nature, yet she's just as scheming. She fails to see that had she grown up in Sky she might have been no different from Scimina.
These aren't annoying traits. Yeine is not an infuriating character. Her voice is a blessing – beautiful, engaging and poetic. It reels you in, takes hold of you, and charms you until the very last page.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has a lot of exposition. It's not tedious. The characters are so larger than life, their agendas so shrouded in mystery, that you want to know more. You want to know what started the gods' war, why Dekarta brought Yeine to Sky when it's obvious she lacks the fortitude and time to conspire her way to the throne, why the gods and godlings have a special interest in Yeine, what Yeine's mother was like, who killed her and for what purpose.
So much to unravel in this book – my God, it's amazing! It's fantasy soap opera. It's beautiful fiction. It's the kind of book I want YA authors to write, not love-triangle drivel!
The Hundred Thousand Kingdom is simply thus: a book with a graceful plot, a concrete mythology, a cadre of supreme characters, and a remarkable romance that doesn't get in the way. Get it. Go to your local bookstore, online, wherever, and buy this book now. I'd give you a hundred thousand reasons why you should, but I'd be revealing way too much.
World Building: 10/10
Final Score: 10/10