I’ve been forcing myself to read reeeeeeally sloooooowly lately. Normally I’d be reading a book every couple of days, but since we’ve moved out into the Twilight Zone of NorCal and the bookstore’s forever away I’ve been forced to chew my food more carefully. It’s torture. Geographically-imposed torture. Anyway, a couple of books ago I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. I heard about it in an interview with Patrick Rothfuss and then, serendipitously, the next time I was in civilization I found a copy so it jumped to the front of the to-read list.
This is the part where I would normally put a disclaimer about how I don’t usually get into books without robots or spaceships, but I’m thinking we’ve covered all that ground already (see post: Long-winded thoughts on nomenclature). Furthermore, in an effort to choose my words more carefully, I’m trying to consciously be less label-y. I’ve been told that this is not one of my strong points. Someone with no social skills also having no tact? Shocker, right? I will at least try to be more expansive in my habitual (obsessive, need-based, frequent, insensitive) categorization of, well, everything. All of which is a (very) roundabout way of saying that this is a fantasy novel which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I rarely read fantasy.
I really, really liked this book. Frankly, I’m hard-pressed to find something to compare it to. (Also, I hate that expression, “hard-pressed.” Feels very Spanish Inquisition.) A few things that I particularly enjoyed:
- It falls into the “weird shit happening to normal people” category. My favorite.
- It tackles the wackiness of organized religion without being didactic or heavy-handed.
- The language doesn’t feel forced like that in a lot of fantasy books does. When she does take the time to explain something to the reader, it blends well, doesn’t take you out of the story at all.
- Super strong female lead character.
The others are fairly self-explanatory so let me just tackle that last one because it’s a point that could bear some emphasis. Fantasy is largely written by men. Science fiction, as well (probably more so, actually). Which is not, in and of itself, remarkable. Most heavy metal is made by men, too. It is what it is. Doesn’t mean women don’t write good fantasy or rock out, they’re just the rarer beast. (On both of those points, since I’ve been living under a rock, if I’ve missed something awesome lately please please please leave me a comment because I like things that are awesome.) The obvious exception here is that weird hybrid stuff that’s flooded the market. It’s like really action-packed scifi/fantasy romance? Some of it’s more romance-novel-feeling than others, but it seems to be pretty much just freaky creatures getting it on with humans, couched in some sort of running-for-our-lives scenario. Those pieces of shit? Mostly written by women. (I really can’t say that. I haven’t read any of those pieces of shit. Why not? Because they’re probably horrible romance novel pieces of shit, and why take the chance?) Thanks for that, Twilight.
Put simply, dudes just write dudes better than they do ladies. And sticking with the laws of math and percentages and all your calculator whatnot, the number of female leads in scifi/fantasy is pretty small due to the proportionally small number of either female writers or male writes who can turn that difficult trick. And mad props to those who can. Follow my logic down this weird and twisty path to the point where I say that it’s a breath of fresh air to find a great female lead who is in no way a stereotype. N.K. Jemisin (have I made it clear that she’s a woman? Those initials-for-first-name people can throw off one’s perception – she’s also got fucking great hair, just FYI) has written a pretty fantastic leading lady here. Yeine. She’s completely out of her element, but not bumbling. She falls in love, but she’s not sappy about it. She kicks ass and takes names and gets to wield some impressively tricksy political power. A well-rounded woman in a book full of characters that could come off as cartoonish one-note jokes (but don’t). They just seem to all be very focused. Single-minded, maybe? Obsessive? I mean, the fucking throne of the family that rules the world and keeps gods chained up for toys is at stake here! (I’m trying to give you enough so you’ll be intrigued but not so much that you’ll feel like you don’t even need to read the book. Is it working?)
Besides having a feminist moment, I liked a lot about this book. The worldbuilding was great. There’s an awesome supernatural element that I quite liked (that whole gods in chains thing? Cool, right?). Also, there’s some royal family relations, political scheming kind of stuff going on, which makes the tone seem rather like a ticking time bomb caper. Love that. Hard to do without being cheesy. So yeah. I enjoyed the shit out of this book. I’m stoked to read the second one. It’s part of a trilogy (The Inheritance Trilogy – no relation), so I guess I should say I’m stoked to read them all. And she’s got another book coming out in May, so keep an eye out. Good stuff.