50 Books By Authors of Color: Book 6
Title: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Author: N.K. Jemisin
I feel like I need to preface this review with stating that I don’t ordinarily like fantasy. I love science fiction but since I was a teenager actual fantasy turned me off. In retrospect, I think this is likely because of the combination of the lack of being able to draw parallels to reality as well as a lack of characters of color. In The Hundred Thousand N.K. Jemisin avoids both of these pitfalls. The story is complex so I will do my best to summarize without giving away the plot.
First some religious background: There are, or rather were three gods. Nahadoth, the god of night, Enefa the goddess of twilight, and Bright Itempas, the god of day. During the god’s war, Nahadoth and Enefa tried to overthrow Bright Itempas, but Bright Itempas, being the strongest of the three, with the help of an ancient family known as the Arameri, won the battle. Killing Enefa and enslaving Nahadoth to the Arameri family. Enslaved along side Nahadoth are he and his sister Enefa’s children, Seih, Kurue and Zhakkarn – known as the Enefadeh, “those who remember Enefa”. The Enefadeh are require to do anything they are commanded by the Arameri family, including sexual acts and torture.
The story itself surrounds the character of Yeine, a woman of color from a place called Darr. Yeine is young, only nineteen years old but serves as a leader for her people, the Darre. She is isolated, both because of her position and because her mother, Kinneth was a member of the Arameri. The story begins with Yeine being sommoned to the palace Sky by Kinneth’s grandfather, Dekarta, who is ruler of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Dekarta has summoned her because he intends as naming her as a contender for his heir. Pitting her against her twin cousins, Relad and Scimina.
While in Sky, Yeine discovers that all of the people within the palace are relatives, everyone including the servants. This is because anyone who doesn’t have Arameri blood would be killed by the Nightlord Nahadoth. Even members of the Arameri family would be killed without the protection of a blood sigil that is placed on the forehead. Once at the palace, Yeine discovers that she is not a real contender for the throne, instead she is meant to be a sacrifice and decide who will rule, Relad or Scimina.
The plot itself is gripping, but Jemisin does something that I think is really amazing within the story itself: She manages to parallel the modern black woman living in the larger “white”/Arameri world. The Darre are a matriarchal warrior society in which men are simply there to sire daughters. To me, the way that Jemisin described the Darre women reminded me of the plight and phenomenon of strong black mothers and grandmothers who raise families and are breadwinners in the absence of men.
By removing Yeine from the Darre people and placing her with the Arameri, it’s reminiscent of taking a young black woman out of the traditional home she knows and placing her into the bigger, whiter world and having to learn to cope with it. With gods thrown in. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy, however, the next book I’m reading is by a local Indiana author named Joe Wesley Cooper and is non-fiction.
Overall Rating: Read this book!