Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin)

So I usually read a series before I review, but this book (as much as it is labelled as a #1), stands alone really, really well.  I heard it (audiobook) rather than read it, so I misspell some names:

Synopsis: 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.

Overall: I listened to almost 12 hours of audio over 2 days. I was in my car ~4 hours on Saturday and was so engrossed it’s all I wanted to do on Sunday.  Listen to my book. I found the prose to be almost lyrical in places without actually turning into poetry or song. The plot moved in largely standard points of action and down spots – and not in a bad way. The pace was enough to keep me engrossed without leaving me exhausted.

World building: The world was both very loosely defined and yet very real.  Most of the story happens in a single setting, so that setting’s definition being clear and beautiful helped. The rest of the world was a little more vague, but it didn’t interfere.  The universe was very well defined (and interesting) but the world (when you are writing about gods, this all matters) was a little fuzzy in places.

Characters: I would compliment N. K. Jemisin on keeping her cast of characters large enough to feel like the world is inhabited, but small enough to become more intimate with most of the important people.  Jemisin did a great job of revolving around the central ~4 characters, but there were about 3 more I wish she had spent more time on/with. One of them turned out to be quite a central figure and yet through most of the story, the heir-in-competition Relad, is dismissed as “useless” by the narrator.  Granted, in a first-person perspective book this isn’t always unreasonable, but there are multiple times Jemisin dropped “I had no idea how much I would regret/wish/hope/blah blah telling the story from a past-perspective interjection.”  It’s really my only complaint on characters, one foreshadow that Relad would turn into a more-important character.

Review: This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The narrator did a fantastic job with voices & accents without turning it into an overblown production. I loved the theology that was woven throughout the story, building the world/universe and the characters at the same time. Occasionally, I felt a bit of confusion as a new term (or worse, a character name) would be introduced before they were connected to their concept (e.g. the god of night/darkness was not named & then was brought in without telling us he was a god…) but generally, she did the “I knew I had heard X before…” and explain.

Even with the imperfections, some of which help to create the sense that someone is actually telling the story, I would highly recommend this book. I have been seeking stories from non-white-male perspective in the fantasy realm for awhile and I have definitely found an author I am going to read (or listen) to more of. (I may also see what else Casaundra Freeman has read!)