It doesn’t really surprise me that N.K. Jemisin’s debut fantasy novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, has been nominated/shortlisted for just about every SF award possible, including the Hugo and Nebula.
It’s a beautifully written tale not in the common style; in fact, the author breaks a few taboo rules and gets away with it. Yeine, a young woman dragged into a political battle for her life, is clearly telling her story to ‘someone’ and backtracks when she forgets things, addresses her audience, inserts backstory and setting info dumps at whim, and even lapses into dialogue with some unknown listener at times. The result is a darkly romantic first-person narrative that jumps around, but the writing is sparse and elegant and I found the whole construction intriguing and lyrical.
The story itself doesn’t try to get too complicated: Yeine first has to figure out the society into which she’s been injected (the amazing floating palace of Sky) and then survive it. At the heart of the story is a god (and three godlings) imprisoned in mortal flesh, and as Yeine becomes entwined in his/their battle for freedom, her life is irrevocably changed.
The setting is interesting too. While I would definitely classify it fantasy, it almost strays into science fiction at times: the palace of Sky, where 95% of the novel takes place, has almost a SF feel with its ‘ladies rooms’, running water, glowing walls, massive panes of glass, and its location on the top of a narrow column. All of this is explained vaguely as ‘magic’ but it works.
About my only complaint is that the climax and denouement fell away for me. Somehow the last few chapters seemed a little rushed and the ends too neatly tied, which is a shame considering the meticulous build-up.
But this is by no means a deal-breaker. It’s a lovely, darkly atmospheric novel, with a memorable and unique heroine in Yeine, and the supporting cast is well drawn too. Moreover, the romance between Yeine and the god Nahadoth is far from cliched and doesn’t dominate. I’m now looking forward to reading the second in the Inheritance Trilogy, The Broken Kingdoms, which evidently goes in quite a different direction . . .