Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin

I hate reviewing sequels. Once I have reviewed the original volume in a series, I have a hard time motivating myself to review the subsequent ones, even if I really, really liked them. Patrick Ness was an exception to this, probably because his books were so insanely good and rich and full of themes to see and tell, and because I so desperately wanted you all to trot out and read them tomorrow. Which some of you did, so goody, mission accomplished. I will not gush quite that much about the first two books in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, but I may gush a little.

The premise of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is that there was a war between the three original gods of the world, culminating in the imprisonment of all gods but one, Itempas, by the ruling Arameri family. Yeine, estranged half-blood granddaughter of the current Arameri king, is summoned to the Arameri ruling place, called Sky, to be named as a potential heir to the throne. She becomes unwillingly enmeshed in the plans of frightened mortals and imprisoned gods, and there is all sorts of plot-thickening and god-on-mortal sexy time.

(Sometimes I start a plot synopsis sentence with really good intentions, where I am all “unwillingly enmeshed” and “imprisoned gods”. But then I don’t know where to go with it because I’m afraid of giving too much away to the spoiler-hating crowd, whom I try to respect but whose parameters for spoilers are never quite clear to me, so it all falls apart in the second half of the sentence. Hereafter I shall call this phenomenon a duned sentence. This is clever on several levels, which I will enumerate for you so that you can praise me in the comments. First, it is a reference to Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, which is awesome until about halfway through and then becomes desperately lame (I decided on a camping trip a few years ago, and then I read Sunshine instead). Second, the analogy to Dune continues to work even if you push at it a little bit, which my analogies don’t always do (like, if I continued to press on after my plot synopsis sentences had already fallen apart, things would just get worse and worse but I’d be committed by then and unable to stop and neither would my heirs) (shut up, it works). Third, it is a pun because it sounds like “doomed”. Fourth, I thought of it on the spot without giving it any thought at all. That doesn’t make it funnier, but it makes me feel good about myself. I like it when my immediate response is exactly what I would want my measured response to be.)

I can’t describe the plot of The Broken Kingdoms very well without getting into spoilers for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, so I will just say that it is set in the same world, but has a very different setting and protagonist. Blind artist Oree Shoth is scraping a living in a touristy area of the Kingdoms, until she takes in a dying man with strange abilities. Meanwhile someone has begun killing gods, and the powers that be are none too happy about it.

The narrative voice in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was the first thing I liked about it, lo these many years ago (or, like, maybe a year and a half ago) when its first chapter was promotionally published online. Yeine is brave and angry and muddled, and she keeps interrupting herself to explain things that need explaining. The reason this works instead of becoming annoying is that she also interrupts herself with seeming non sequitors. My toes? I was kept on them. I feared that Jemisin would not be able to recreate the feat in The Broken Kingdoms — that Oree would be too much like Yeine — but I shouldn’t have worried. The narratives are structurally similar, with the asides, but the narrators are such different people, with different perspectives and backgrounds, that it doesn’t matter.

As the world-building goes, I was very impressed. Not because we saw a wide variety of the eponymous kingdoms — we didn’t, really, in either book — but because Jemisin wove world-building and character-building together so seamlessly. Yeine is an outsider, and the strangeness of Sky contributes to her feelings of being an exile and outcast. When Jemisin describes Sky, she describes how it touches Yeine, makes her life easier or harder. The same goes for the backstory about the gods: it’s relevant because the gods are all up in Yeine’s business, untrustworthy and wanting things from her. You won’t find out what their behavior means for Yeine until you know a bit more about the world of the book, so you have an emotional stake in finding out the backstory.

Plus, I liked the gods. It’s always fun when the gods and the mortals start interacting all over the place.

The plot of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was, I felt, stronger than the plot of The Broken Kingdoms. With the latter, I started feeling a bit the way people seemed to feel about the seventh Harry Potter book: she’s in jeopardy, she’s been saved, she’s back with the bad guys, she figures out a way to get free, the gods are doing this, the gods are doing that. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms knew all the steps between Point A (Yeine’s arrival in Sky) and Point B (not telling), whereas The Broken Kingdoms sometimes felt like it was killing time and pages until we could hit the conclusion. The plot of The Broken Kingdoms was more interesting to me in theory, but not paid out nearly as well. Minor gripe. I am interested to see how the third book compares.

I have another minor gripe, but it’s mad spoilery, so I will spare you. Instead I’ll tell you that in the first draft of this post, far from inventing the world’s most ever brilliant word that works on so many levels, I made a joke about waiting a hundred thousand years for my hold on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to come in at the library, and then mysteriously The Broken Kingdoms was just checked in at the library with no problem, leading me to believe the hold system was broken. Don’t judge.

Search here and here for other people’s reviews.

  • Not enough people use Dune as a reference. I kept reading the books until Frank finally died because the ideas in the first half of that one book were worth pursuing. Jack McDevitt doesn’t even pretend to follow up on some of the most fascinating stuff because he knows it would be a letdown; maybe he learned that from Herbert.

    • I didn’t even read the whole first book. It’s embarrassing. I shouldn’t be criticizing the book when I haven’t even read it. But nobody’s ever said anything that made the subsequent books sound appealing.

      • um, they’re not that appealing. But I fell in love with Paul Atreides when I was 15 and had to see what all happened to him.

  • This is high praise. This is a nod for the Dune reference because I have been seriously considering reading it again. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has just been nominated for a Nebula. You have convinced me to move it up on my TBR list. More high praise.

    • Oh, I wonder if it’ll win! It’s a pretty good book but I don’t think I’ve read any of the other Nebula nominees. Interesting…I now officially have a dog in this race. :p

      • Or dog in this fight. I don’t know which it is.

  • I agree, it’s just impossible to review follow up books! Or do it the way one wants to, at any rate.

    This series sounds good, although it might require more brain cells than I’m willing to devote!

    • No, no, no, it doesn’t require any brain cells at all! Wait, that sounds wrong. It doesn’t require an inordinate amount of brain cells. Just the normal reading amount! Promise. And the books stand alone, so it’s not like you have to commit to the series after you read one.

  • I am really curious about these books. I have the first one, actually, but haven’t managed to actually read them yet!

    • They’re good! Worth a read, although I’m not sure yet if I want to own them.

  • I really think that the climax of the first book decimated any impact another book in the series could possibly have; it didn’t work for me.

    • Yeah, I remember you saying that you didn’t feel like the first book left anywhere for the second book to go. I can see that point, but the second book changed my mind pretty quickly. It fast-forwarded ten years and showed us the aftermath of the first book, so that was cool.

      My small gripe with the sequel had to do with the way the carry-over characters were portrayed in the sequel, which I didn’t feel was totally consistent with the first book.

  • Your posts always make me laugh and laugh. I’m not sure about this series (I might be more interested if I knew more – the no-spoiler thing is such a tough one sometimes; I fear we are all going to end up saying there’s a good book I read and it’s got a blue cover – try it!). But, I do have the first book in the Patrick Ness trilogy. And will read it soon.

    • I do worry about saying things like that, but with a book like this, the spoilers are fairly key. I hope you like the Patrick Ness books when you read them! I love them so!

  • I have The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms checked out from the library and really want to read it! I’ve heard good things but have yet to pick it up myself. And I believe it was the choice for the Women’s Fantasy Book Club that I keep trying to read along with to no success. I have a hard time reviewing books in series as well but since I’m such a series fan I can’t help but try. Great review!

    • I am always on the prowl for a new awesome series, and then when I have it I don’t know what to do with it, blogwise. Sigh.

  • justbookreading

    These are on my list but for some reason I keep passing them over. Maybe it’s time to reconsider. I haven’t read Dune but I’ve seen the movie which maybe the reason I haven’t read the book. I didn’t like the movie that much but did buy it for my husband who has a strange sort of love for it which is completely out of character for him.

    • Reconsider! They are very interesting and worth reading, although they do have some really weird sex scenes. But that’s how it goes when gods and mortals do it. :p

  • Shanra

    Reviewing sequels is evil. It’s a little easier with these books because they do work perfectly fine as stand-alone offerings. Glad you’ve enjoyed them! ^-^

    • Yes, they do! Except that I didn’t know how to review the second one without spoiling the first one. Or even do a plot synopsis. :p

  • You are the fourth blogger who’s reviewed this book in the past two weeks! I definitely need to read this soon. After I read it, you can tell me about your major gripe about the book. 🙂

    • Am I? Wow. I felt like the reviews of the first book were petering out since it’s been out forever and I started to feel like I was the last person ever to read it.

      I keep forgetting what my other gripe was! Reminder to future me: It’s about how some of the characters carried over from the first book to the second one.

  • I think it’s just about the time in my life where I need a book filled with god-on-mortal sexy time. I love your posts, Jenny, and can only imagine that meeting you in real life would be a total trip and a half. I also love your new word. I also have a problem with reviewing books in a series, and so far, have not really attempted it. It can be maddening to have to avoid spoilers and have to recap in that way without being repetitive and boring.

    • You are always so sweet and make me feel good about myself even when I am being a total dork. But I appreciate your praise for my new word. :p

  • I still need to read The Broken Kingdoms. I’m waiting until it’s either MMPB or slightly cheaper on Kindle. Isn’t it weird how library holds work or don’t work?!

    Anyways, I totally agree about the first chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms being engrossing, I know it completely hooked me.

    • Yes! What is their system? Sometimes they’re so speedy and sometimes so, so slow, and it’s not even related to who’s reading them. Even if I’m just ordering a book from one branch to another, the time of the hold varies wildly. I miss my home library.

  • I LOVE when gods and mortals interact in stories, too- it’s just so much more fun that way 🙂 I’m glad you talked about the narrative voices being distinct here, too. I think sometimes that is much harder to do than people think.

    • I think it is very hard to do indeed. I am always so pleased with authors who can manage it, like Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible.

  • I just went to look up Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on Amazon because I wanted to get a look at the book’s cover, which would tell me how epic its publisher thinks it’s supposed to be, and the very first words of the Publisher’s Weekly review were “Convoluted without being dense.” Which is an *exact* expression of the *opposite* of what I would look for in a fantasy: density without being convoluted. Do you think the publisher’s weekly reviewer was just stringing words together, or do you think that phrase was descriptive of the book?

    What you said: “I like it when my immediate response is exactly what I would want my measured response to be.” Too true!

    • I cannot imagine to what the reviewer was referring when s/he wrote “convoluted without being dense”. Unless possibly they were talking about that thing with high fantasy where the author is just working way too hard to establish the worldbuilding, and it gets in the way of the plot.

      • I’m glad to know you didn’t perceive excessive convolution; this author is officially on my list. The weird part of the “convoluted and not dense” thing is the way the Publisher’s weekly person thought they were giving the book highest praise. After thinking about it some more, I wondered if they simply failed to remember that the word “convoluted” is usually understood as a criticism. I can imagine someone pounding away at their keyboard on one review after another, scouring their brain for adjectives they haven’t already used a thousand times. What they really meant was “complicated,” but then they happened to hit on “convoluted,” and that sounded better. And maybe by “dense” they meant, “impenetrable.” I’m over-sensitive to sloppy communication lately.

  • Hi Jenny,
    I feel like saying, “long time listener, first time caller” or something to that effect (long time lurker, first time commenter?). Anyways, just finished this book last night at your recommendation and LOVED it! I’m going to have to ILL the next one as our library doesn’t have it yet, but am intrigued. Do we find out what happens to Itempas in the next book?

    Anyways, thanks for all the great suggestions you send out there into the blogosphere.

    • I’m so pleased you delurked! And pleased that you read the Jemisin book on my recommendation and enjoyed it! Yes, we find out what happens to Itempas in the next book. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of it also! 🙂

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