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I really liked this. It's one of those books that I turned around and re-read immediately.

Prickly, tough 19-year-old Yeine Darr is summoned from her northerly home to Sky, the capitol city of her entire world, by its ruler: her grandfather, who means to make her his heir. Or, more accurately, one of his heirs, because there are already two others. Only one of them will ascend to rule the world, and Yeine, a young woman from a "barbarian" kingdom, isn't considered to have much of a chance against the other two in the vicious political games played in Sky. She discovers layers within layers of plots, involving deities that walk the earth, ancient magics, secrets about her own parents, and consequences that reach far beyond her own life.

The writing style alternates between beautifully mythic and wryly personal, as Yeine recounts her own actions along with the histories, literature, and myths she has read and heard. Yeine is very human, cool and determined on the outside, vulnerable and self-deprecating on the inside, with a core of passion that breaks through in both anger and love.

The horrors of what is considered entertainment among the decadents of Sky played very well against my own view of what's awful but might well be triggering for some. Also, some of the criticisms I've read of this seemed to be from people who take a more coldly logical view of things than I do, so a reader of the sort who is rarely overwhelmed by feelings might be exasperated by some aspects of this story.

 

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (review)

Cover of the book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

I'm not going to claim, BTW, that all the ideas in this book are unique. I've run into a number of them before - but I love what Jemisin has done with them. The imprisoned gods remind me of Peter Dickinson's The Blue Hawk, for example - although the situation in Kingdoms is much more vicious and personal. And the use of the divine magic to do horrible things to living flesh harks back to one of my most terrifying reading experiences ever: the Harlan Ellison short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." There's a whiff of Tanith Lee in the decadence of Sky and the depictions of Nahadoth and Sieh, too, I think, and in the general concept of the gods' being what the worshippers expect - and how that would be perceived by the gods themselves. (And Jemisin mentions Lee as an influence ... along with Fumi Yoshinaga!)

A certain number of readers have complained that Yeine wastes precious moments of what she believes is going to be a very shortened lifespan on things like the mysteries of her parents' story and growing a (pretty understandable) crush on Nahadoth (if you liked Tanith Lee's Flat Earth series: he has aspects of both Azhrarn and Ulume). Folks, Yeine is 19. That's one year older than my teenager. I'm not going to expect total logic in the face of such a bizarre situation. Yes, the sex is over the top. He's a god, right?

I did feel very sad about Sieh, and Enefa, at the end. But I'm not sure that Kurue's betrayal made a terrible amount of sense in retrospect. She is called the Wise, though, and coupled with her being trapped in a limited human-type body for so long, that might have brought about that change in loyalty - divine Stockholm Syndrome, basically, and a bit of the problem of a person who overthinks everything. There's also the interesting question of what Kurue's death means to the world in general, since she was a godling.

Finally, I loved the divine fallout of Yeine's first exercise of her new powers: "I have a feeling that somewhere in the universe an unaccountable number of new species burst into existence, on millions of planets."

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
chomiji
Jun. 6th, 2010 03:22 am (UTC)

Aww, crappity-crap!

Fixed! Thanks for noticing and telling me before I posted the short version on the comm!

estara
Jun. 6th, 2010 10:28 am (UTC)
Well, as a long time manga reader and anime viewer, I thought that Nahadoth and Sieh made perfect sense, as did the tentacle scene ^^
chomiji
Jun. 7th, 2010 03:00 am (UTC)

I quite liked the Enefadeh in general, and yes, if you're a god of chaos and the mutability of all matter, it makes sense that those characteristics would be put into play in lovemaking!

Sieh as the eternal motherless child and yet also as the Loki/Coyote figure is something very dear to me, for some reason. I love that to help restore him after he's tortured, Yeine plays with him - simple children's games.

I have a feeling that all the Enefadeh had the same issue as Nahadoth with human expectations and worship, but that his evil reputation exaggerated the feedback loop. Something similar happens with No-Face in Spirited Away - when people accepted his gold, their greed and lust for the moment rebounded on No-Face, making him rapacious. Only Sen, who refused his money and gave him things instead, was able to bring him back to himself.

estara
Jun. 7th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
That's a very good point! I hadn't looked at it from that background experience and that makes a lot of sense!
smillaraaq
Jun. 6th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm...I've skipped past the spoiler text just in case -- you know my pet narrative/character/etc. kinks and peeves pretty well, do you think I might like this? I haven't been paying much attention to the hype here because of my lousy track record with bouncing off modern non-YA epic fantasy, but seeing that one snarky hater using a scan of the merman lead from Evyione to bash the book has piqued my interest -- I know Nora's an old-school manga fan and if this reads less like a conventional Western fantasy and more like a novelized manga, that would be a GOOD thing for my tastes...
estara
Jun. 6th, 2010 08:27 pm (UTC)
I would say it does, myself. Maybe drawn by Kaori Yuki or Clamp.
smillaraaq
Jun. 6th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
Heh, and of course those are a couple of the bigger-name mangaka/circles that I *haven't really gotten around to yet...still, I've picked up enough about both via fandom osmosis to consider the comparison shows rather promising potential. XD
estara
Jun. 6th, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
Have you read meganbmoore's cracktastic posts on Kaori Yuki?
http://meganbmoore.livejournal.com/tag/a:%20kaori%20yuki

It has a flavour of that since this is basically the history of the family of gods and a family of rulers - and their current interactions. With all the messiness that implies.
smillaraaq
Jun. 6th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
Yep, Megan and Oyce are my main sources of osmosis here!

(as for CLAMP, I did see the RG Veda OVA back in the day, although it was pretty obviously one of those "long manga series condensed down to the point of near-incoherence" sort of anime adaptations: pretty and evocative but simply no time for depth, or plot resolution.)
estara
Jun. 7th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
Interesting you should pick RG Veda as the CLAMP example, because the end of that series has a taste of the darkness of what has happened in this family of gods.
chomiji
Jun. 7th, 2010 02:39 am (UTC)

I think you might like it. Yeine's Mom issues - not quite as those we've discussed, but there all the same - will, I think, strike a chord, for one thing. It wears its heart on its sleeve, like many of the manga we both like. Also, the part you had to skip included the non-spoilery info that she says Fumi Yoshinaga was a big influence (in general, I think, rather than for this). The hateration has left me bemusedly melancholy. I knew I was taking a chance to mention the biz about how this is not a book for the very logical, and that reaction ironically played out why I wanted to include it. It feels to me as though the commenter had heard all sorts of good things about the book, then read it, and behold! It wasn't her sort of thing at all! And I was trying to present someone else from having a similar experience.

Different people like different things in their books. For example, I wish I had never read Perdido Street Station: too many coldly horrible things happened to characters in there, and most of them weren't redeemed by the ending. It was disturbing and unpleasant. But I know many other people are enchanted by Mieville's world building.

De gustibus non disputandum est, said the Romans, all those years ago, and it's still true today. I never said that the book was a crowning achievement of speculative literature: I said I really liked it. My reward for this was to be recommended those Anne Bishop books with which rachelmanija had so much fun on her LJ. >sigh<

Even the same author can be appreciated differently by different readers. The hater person likes Tanith Lee - so does Ms. Jemisin. And so do I, for that matter.

smillaraaq
Jun. 7th, 2010 03:59 am (UTC)
It's funny, but underneath the sneering contempt and self-congratulatory I'm-so-much-cooler-because-I-don't-fall-for-this-shallow-girly-crap preening, I think that commenter may be on to something without entirely realizing it. A lot of cracktastic manga and fanfiction premises work intensely well for some readers, despite falling apart if examined with too close of a logical eye, because they're written straight from and to the id; and the Bishop books sound like they are very likely to push those same sorts of buttons for some readers. I actually have a twenty-five-cent booksale omnibus copy of her first trilogy floating somewhere in the middle of my TBR pile, because Rachel's review and a few others I've seen were pretty hysterical, but Red was fond of them as shameless id-candy, and I'm curious to see where my reaction will fall between those poles. I suspect I'll have a problem getting past the naming scheme and the lack of kinesthetic grounding, but I've had similar problems with folks who are more widely acclaimed as pretty good writers, too! But that's probably a huge part of why I'm so much more satisfied with manga than a lot of modern fantasy writers; there's less written narrative, so I don't get tripped up over prose that's closer to Poughkeepsie than Elfland; the art helps engage the more emotional side of my brain directly, and makes the physicality of the characters and their world grounded for me in a way a lot of prose writers aren't always good at; the pacing and art combine to make it more strongly immersive for me than weak prose, and if I'm caught up and compulsively turning pages I'm less likely to get sidetracked with logical nitpicks; subtleties of facial expression and body language convey a lot of subtleties of emotion and characterization in show-not-tell mode, etc.; and even a manga with somewhat mediocre art gives me more pure aesthetic pleasure, page for page, than a novel with similarly competent-but-unexceptional writing.

How would you rate the prose? That's one of the biggest sticking points for me with epic high fantasy. I can grudgingly tolerate flat modern airport-novel prose, or non-modern/Western/human/etc. characters who talk and think like modern Westerners in cosplay, in mysteries, or comic/low fantasy, but it is an immediate kiss-of-death turnoff for me in high fantasy. The Mary Renault books, despite being pure non-genre historicals, gave me more of the tone and feel and sort of characterization that I want in a high fantasy than anything I've read since, yikes, I don't even remember when! (Not that I didn't love the Old Kingdom books, but those are YA and as such I think I approach them with the more forgiving mindset I bring to children's fantasy; grownup epics I'm much, much pickier about.)
chomiji
Jun. 7th, 2010 12:17 pm (UTC)

Probably the best bet for the language would be for you to read the extracts on her site - the first chapter, anyway. The more historic bits are very good examples, IMO, of how to write in a "mythic" fashion without resorting to truly archaic language. When you get to Yeine's narration of actual events in the second half of the chapter, you'll get to the more typical language of the rest of the book. I think it works - it's the sort of tough/casual talk that Sutcliff uses when she has soldier characters talking among themselves.

The problem with stuff like the Bishop is typically the language use and naming (yes, that can almost be a deal-breaker in itself) and also what the characters that are supposedly the good guys do, especially to other people, and how they feel about things. I liked Yeine - I could see why she felt the way she did, so it was easy to identify with her, and that pulled me into the story.

I find it amusing and sad that I'm apparently being labeled the sort of person who reads girlish romances.



Edited at 2010-06-07 12:20 pm (UTC)
smillaraaq
Jun. 8th, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
Hmmm, yes, that could be promising -- not as showily dizzy-drunk on language as something like Chabon or Minister Faust, but definitely not the competently flat stuff that bores me stiff. Understated but graceful, the tone's reminding me of something I can't quite place...Le Guin, maybe? Haven't reread any of her stuff in far too long.

And the thing is, id-fic IMO isn't necessarily badly-written -- I can think of quite a few examples of stuff that's hit me in that sort of way that was perfectly competent. It's more a matter of...a certain lack of self-consciousness or shame, perhaps; the author not self-censoring anything that they're really invested in writing just because it's a bit cliched or Sueish or silly. If it doesn't line up with your bulletproof kinks (be they of the narrative or literal sort), it'll leave you unimpressed, or wishing the author had left out some of the cliched or over-the-top elements that don't speak to you. But if it does connect, you get caught up in the author's enthusiasm to the point where you may be perfectly well aware of the story's flaws yet just don't care while you're in it. Perhaps you've felt something in that vein while reading fic? I've sometimes seen younger or less-polished writers whose prose was really not very good, but they *get* the characterization and emotional connection between our boys well enough that I can still find a lot of satisfaction reading their fic, even though I'd love it more aesthetically if it went in for massive editing and polishing. And judging from what I've heard from Red or seen from some of the folks commenting on Rachel's review, that seems to be exactly how the Bishop hits some readers.

The thing that really gets to me about the haters there is how several of them don't just express personal dislike for the book, or particular genres -- there's just this sort of sneering undertone that those genres are intrinsically silly and inferior and anyone who likes them must automatically be too shallow and stupid to appreciate anything better. And when the genres being sneered at are "girly" ones like shojo manga and romances, that can start to look suspiciously like a bit of internalized misogyny coming into play -- look how smart and logical and special I am, compared to all those ditzy bimbos sighing over their stupid love stories! I'm not one of THOSE girls, oh no, I'm better than them...
chomiji
Jun. 7th, 2010 12:28 pm (UTC)

Oh - and most of the time, it doesn't read like an epic. Yeine has been raised as a normal human with an upbringing that was privileged for what the modern West would view as a rather primitive society, but certainly not as a player on the fate-of-the-universe level. Although on one level she's conscious of the amount of power that's being bandied about, and the degree to which it might affect the world, on another level she's a 19-yr-old who's recently lost her mother and has been thrust into an uncomfortable and dangerous situation.

I think that I personally have a kink for grounded viewpoints of highly abnormal situations. A comparison of Yeine's situation with that of Jamie in Homeward Bounders is probably not out of place - likewise Jame's sardonic, self-deprecating takes on what's happening around her - and to her, and because of her - in the Hodgell.



Edited at 2010-06-07 12:28 pm (UTC)
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