A Hidden Gem

Jemisin took on a fascinating concept for this book. The exploration of creation stories, questioning how religion and faith influence society, and what the nature of the universe is are topics more commonly brought up in the college classroom. They are very appropriately and effectively taken on here in a fantasy novel, however. She ups the ante by adding another facet of these once oh-so-academic ruminations by making the divinities of her world present within the setting, allowing mortals to interact with them, begging the question: What is the difference between the power and influence of a god who is physically present and one who is remote? How would their mortal children react? Is human society more or less successful? What effect is there on the human soul? Again, all very academic when put into these terms. Jemisin's creativity took these near-titanic theories on and molded a story which is at once entertaining and illuminating.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not a perfect story. While there is untold depth to the underlying plot, many of the characters more resemble caricatures -- one-dimensional and seeming to embody one over-arching human quality or motivation. The best example of this is Scimina, one of Yeine's rivals for inheritance. Scimina is all cruel ambition, lacking any moral compass and willing to destroy all in her path to victory. While this is the core of some of the best villains out there, she possesses no tempering qualities which would make her human. She lacks balance. All but Yeine, Nahadoth and Sieh seem to suffer from this problem. While they are the personalities we spend the most time with and come to feel the most for, it hurts the credibility of the world. Another issue I had with Jemisin's writing is that she seemed to rely a bit too much on sexuality and carnal tension to maintain interest. I don't mind the presence of these themes in my fantasy -- I'm always up for romance! -- it became a crutch that wasn't really needed, though.

A decent story with a thought-provoking basis, this book is a great read for your spare time. Don't be turned off by the theological questions as you can ignore them and just focus on Yeine's story if you wish. They are there, however, for those who like to chew on these philosophical answer-less questions. I look forward to seeing where Jemisin goes with this world next and how she grows as an author. Bravo!