My people tell stories of the night I was born. They say my mother crossed her legs in the middle of labor and fought with all her strength not to release me into the world. I was born anyhow, of course; nature cannot be denied. Yet it does not surprise me that she tried.
My mother was an heiress of the Arameri. There was a ball for the lesser nobility — the sort of thing that happens once a decade as a backhanded sop to their self-esteem. My father dared ask my mother to dance; she deigned to consent. I have often wondered what he said and did that night to make her fall in love with him so powerfully, for she eventually abdicated her position to be with him. It is the stuff of great tales, yes? Very romantic. In the tales, such a couple lives happily ever after. The tales do not say what happens when the most powerful family in the world is offended in the process.
But I forget myself. Who was I, again? Ah, yes.
My name is Yeine.
Yeine is summoned to the city of Sky by her estranged grandfather, as he approaches the end of his life. She wasn’t expecting to be named as his heir, but she’s not the only one: two of her cousins are also in line, and the fight for power is sure to be ugly. They expect her to capitulate but Yeine has grown up a warrior, becoming ennu of her people while she’s still in her teens, and giving in is not in her nature, even when the odds appear impossible.
To survive in Sky society, there is a lot that Yeine must quickly learn, but she has an enviable strength of character and refuses to be pushed into playing the violent political games her relatives all seem to embrace. When she meets the imprisoned gods whom the Arameri hold as slaves, she refuses to command them, attempting instead to build a relationship of mutual respect. I was impressed by her efforts to remain a good person despite the shocking circumstances in which she finds herself, and her refusal to sink to the level of her rivals.
I loved the gods, who each had their own very distinct personalities, and really enjoyed the way they are characterised with their own immortal concerns and non-human social structures. At the start of the story they are enslaved in human form and forced to serve the Arameri — all aside from Itempas, god of the daylight and of order, who now rules alone. The history of literature gives us plenty of narrative warnings about evil lords of darkness and unbridled chaos, but a god of order left to rule unopposed can be equally disastrous; Jemisin shows us the tyranny of stasis.
Meanwhile, the lord of darkness proves to be an amiable companion, once Yeine begins to work her way inside his defences. Nahadoth is hardly a typical romantic hero, but he does have something of the brooding bad-boy aesthetic simply by his association with darkness and night. In person, though, he’s one of the most thoughtful characters in the story — and although Yeine is warned that to court him is to court death, I was keen to see them defy convention to come together.
Overall, I was gripped by this story from beginning to end, and found it very difficult to put the book down. The seeming impossibility of Yeine’s position made for compelling reading, and I loved the weaving threads of the human and the divine.
Although The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms begins a trilogy, it also stands alone as a complete work. Sample chapters are available to read for free on the author’s website.