The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and find a book that broke through my funk and jump-started my reading back into first gear.
Following the murder of her mother, Yeine Darr is summoned to the city of Sky by her grandfather and told that she is now in contention for the throne. Sky is the seat of the powerful Arameri family who rule The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms with the power of captive Gods at their disposal. Following the Gods' war the Arameri became the chosen people of Itempas, currently the most powerful of the Gods. They also gained custody of the imprisoned Nightlord (Nahadoth), the God who lost the war and has been imprisoned in a human shell for thousands of years. Barely sane, Nahadoth is chained to the Arameri family and has destroyed entire nations at their command.
Yeine knows little of the world she is forced into. Her mother gave up the throne before Yeine was born and Dekarta, Yeine's grandfather, never forgave her for leaving. Yeine not only walks into the usual palace intrigues and debauchery, but has to navigate a world of mad gods and jealous magicians while trying to find out who murdered her mother.
I've read some reviews that say "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" is fairly standard fantasy due to the well trod storyline of powerful families and living Gods. But I think to say that is to miss what the book is about entirely. "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" is a book about how people connect and the needs that tie us together; and ultimately the main character, Yeine, is the heart of "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms"-- everything flows through her. Early on we're introduced to Nahadoth and a couple other minor gods (known as "godlings") who are tied to and live in the Sky castle. My favorite thing about "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" has to be the various Gods and the prominent place they have in the story. Rarely have I read a fantasy that allows the Gods to be main characters without humanizing them too much, but here they are alternatively intriguing, alien and frightening in the way that Gods should be.
One critique that is valid of "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" is that the villains are rather boilerplate. They possess the kind of cruelty and indifference that are common to most 'bad-guy' characters. We're given enough background to understand that they have become that way thanks to unlimited power and no consequences. And the narrative does falter when Yeine comes to Sky and has the potential to upend the status quo and offer an alternative to generations of abuse-- and no one really seizes the opportunity. But there is a soulfulness to "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" that kind of transcends most of these considerations because, again, it's the feelings the characters evoke and the relationships that develop that mattered to me more than anything else. It's not the e-vil-ness of the villainy that we should be focusing on, but how it affects those it touches.
I really connected to "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms." It may not be for everyone due to its unusual style. Jemisin opens each chapter with a a kind of stream-of-consciousness narration that doesn't make a whole lot of sense at first, but becomes clear as the story progresses. But I liked it because it's a nice change between that and the first person recounting of events by Yeine. I loved the feel of "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms." Jemisin captures raw emotion in a way that worked for me and had many small moments that I thought were genuinely touching. There are times when the story can seem a bit convoluted but it never really strays into overly-complicated territory. It has it's fair share of suspense and mystery, but ultimately I'd recommend it for its soul.
4 out of 5 stars.