I don’t remember when I first heard about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (henceforth 100K), but it was a few months ago — long enough ago that the book wasn’t out yet the first time I looked for it in a store. It definitely has a buzz online; a bunch of review blogs I lurk at had praised it. And I eventually put together that Jemisin is one of the contributers to Alas, A Blog (linked in the sidebar) which I’ve been reading for years; and I began lurking around her site for very smart commentary on race in writing and sf/f. So pretty much the day it came out, I grabbed a copy and stuck it in my TBR pile. And finally got around to reading it, huzzah!
100k is epic fantasy — ish. It is certainly epic in scope, and hits plenty of traditional epic fantasy tropes. The protagonist, Yeine, is a reluctant chosen one. The plot has two major pieces to it; one is a war between the gods, which obviously has spanned eons and is now coming to a head; the other is her own family history, which, in some ways, is how the gods are acting out their war. So it’s a story that’s got generations of backstory going in, and its outcome affects the whole world. Pretty freaking epic.
But it’s also missing a lot of tropes: there isn’t really a quest, or a lot of walking around. There’s no Scooby gang assembled, though it also isn’t exactly Yeine Vs. Everyone, either. So: it’s definitely fantasy, it’s definitely epic. But is it epic fantasy?
Another point worth discussing: one of the ways this didn’t feel like traditional epic fantasy to me is that Yeine is female, and the romance in the book is a huge part of the plot. I feel like a lot of epics tend to have romances, but they don’t get a lot of focus. But then again, I also feel like a lot of traditional epic fantasies have female characters, but they don’t get a lot of focus, and since Yeine — the first-person narrator — is female, that isn’t the case here either. This was a book where the writing felt very woman-centric to me. Actually, it brought me back to something I’d vaguely pondered a few years ago:
With that said, as I read the book I kind of felt like it was written by a woman. I think that’s because I’ve spent a lot of time in fandom, a largely female-dominated space, and there are a few things fandoms tend to latch on to … This book has all of those in spades. It didn’t read like something that came out of fandom, but because of those associations, despite being a series that’s heavily weighted towards male characters, it read to me as though it had been written by a woman.
… I kind of feel like fandom/the internet (the combined force) is creating new tropes for genre fiction, based more heavily on female desire and female readership. For me, the disconnect between a guy writing the sort of stuff I associate with female readers was pretty big.
Obviously, not all of that is accurate to 100k (a very female character-centric story) but it had that same sort of feel. I think this is a great example of what I described as “broadening the genre.” So my vote is yes, it’s epic fantasy; but it’s a broader take on the genre.
(Incidentally, that question first occurred to me because Jemisin herself raised it. Interesting stuff.)
Okay, so beyond that, I really loved this book. If completely blew my “would I rather read this or play Bejeweled on the subway?” litmus test away — I read it on the way to and from work, during my lunch break, and in the evening sitting on my couch. I loved the not-quite-linear, non-traditional narrative style. I loved the scope, and the world building, and all the backstory. While the romance in and of itself didn’t do it for me (broody badboy isn’t my preferred romantic archetype) it was a strong plot and piece of the story.
I had one… hm, qualm isn’t the right word, and neither is disappointment, but I had one sort of note about the ending, which I wanted to talk about enough that I installed a spoiler-tag plug-in just for this. (Unless you’re reading via RSS, in which case I don’t think it’ll work). Basically…:
And after all of that, I’m really curious to know what the next book in the series will be about, and whose POV it will be from. (Okay, there are hints in the “extras” section of the book, but I want mooooore. Basically, I want the sequel. Rightnowplease.) This is an instant favorite for me, and one I know I’ll reread, and I’ll be waiting for other novels from Jemisin, too.
(HEY! Did you notice I skipped a number in my book reading list? That’s because it turns out I had two #5s! Whoops.)