In the first chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Yeine Darr is beckoned to the “capital” of the world, only to discover that she cannot escape her family’s destiny. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
OH MY GOD, A NEW SERIES ON MARK READS BLESS THE DAY. Before I get properly started with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I wanted to address a few things for the new folks who will most certainly be coming to my site for the first time!
1) Please read the Site Rules and the FAQ before posting a commenting. We have a very active and lively community here, and my moderators help me to make this place inclusive and safe. We do not allow use of slurs of marginalized groups except when quoting (even then, please be careful and consider censoring the slur partially) or if you are reclaiming them as said marginalized group. You will undoubtedly get warned for breaking a rule, but that doesn’t mean you are a terrible person or that you are unwelcome. We here try to make the comments an exception to the rule that all Internet comment threads are an awful place, so please do your part to live up to this standard!
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3) I alternate books on Mark Reads to mix things up, so reviews for this will go up every other weekday. I am currently working through Tamora Pierce’s entire bibliography, essentially, so you’re welcome to follow along with those, too!
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Oh god, LET’S DO THIS.
Chapter One: Grandfather
I come into The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms with very limited knowledge of N.K. Jemisin’s work outside of my live reading of her short story, “Valedictorian,” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) and my familiarity with quite a few of her blogs that have drifted across my Twitter feed and my Tumblr dash. I know absolutely nothing about this trilogy. Seriously. I don’t even know what genre this counts as. THIS IS TERRIBLY EXCITING. It’s nice to be able to start something without any preconceived notions as to what it’s about. Even with John Dies at the End, which I just finished, I had heard it was super messed up. Aside from a few close friends saying they loved this trilogy, I don’t even know what to expect!
That can also be pretty intimidating, and starting a series that is as dense as this first chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms can be scary in a sense. I think that’s even more the case for me because I’m not just reading this on my own. I’m crafting these little essays after ever chapter, and I’m always a tad worried I’m just going to get everything wrong forever. Yes, that’s part of the fun for a lot of y’all, since I suffer for your entertainment. But I really do want to respect and cherish every book I’m reading for y’all because I love books so much. So I don’t want to pronounce names wrong, or slip up on terminology, or misunderstand the world that I’m entering.
N.K. Jemisin explains her world through Yeine as she introduces us to the complicated, vast, and detailed world that is the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I’m guess that this is a fantasy of sorts, given that we’re dealing with royal bloodlines, vicious political games, a set of gods, and the destiny that Yeine Darr is forced into. Of course, I could be wrong about that, and it could be a mish-mash of a handful of various genres, but I was able to pick out a few significant details as I learned about Yeine Darr’s journey to Sky.
Yeine dau she Kinneth tai wer Somem kanna Darre, known as Yeine Darre in shorthand, is ending her teenage years as the ruler of the ennu, a role she was cast into without any sort of say. And that’s one of the most striking things about her character: She is well aware that she hasn’t had much choice in terms of what she is expected to do. She’s chieftain because of her parents, in particular her mother, who betrayed her heiress destiny to be with a man from Darre. So, clearly there’s some sort of political and social hierarchy to these kingdoms, and what little I do learn here tells me that this is based on things like wealth, physical appearance, and inheritance. Jemisin conveys what a terrible thing it is in this world for Yeine’s mother to betray the lines of inheritance, but of course, I had no idea just how bad this was going to get. DO I EVER KNOW? DO I EVER.
But there are things I know! And caught on to! Like the fact that Yeine is a woman of color protagonist which is REAL EXCITING because there aren’t enough of them MAKE ALL OF THEM WOMEN OF COLOR. THANKS. Okay, I’m being ridiculous, but at the same time, it is thrilling to me as a person of color to get to read a trilogy with a person of color writing a PoC main character becauseâ€¦ well, I know it may seem silly to some of you that this even matters to me, but despite being nearly 30, I still yearn for representation of some sort in the things that I consume. And I can already see shit here that I’m going to like. I love that the representation of wealth and power manifests in literal height. I brought that up in the first commission video below, but that’s a very common motif you see in affluent communities. Not that there aren’t any exceptions in the United States, but I can’t think of any poorer urban communities that are on hills or mountains. Los Angeles, Oakland, Berkeley, Riversideâ€¦ all the most expensive house in these places are up high. Height implies wealth and power, and the fact that Sky was built to sit upon a column so that it looks like it’s floating in the clouds is deliberate. It is a message of grandeur.
Once Yeine is inside of Sky, I was able to pick up on a few subtle details that helped me understand this fictional world. Obviously, despite being a noble, Yeine is a “lesser” one, and it was clear to me that her tiny kingdom was one of mostly poverty. I didn’t get the sense that Yeine had much wealth, either. She certainly doesn’t have much power, either, and that was clear from her treatment in the Consortium gathering, where her spot on the floor is taken up by an “excess delegate.” She’s not even worthy of the seat, though it’s written off as being rude. Rudeness seems to be a big part of what’s considered socially acceptable, too. I was definitely shocked at how civil the Consortium appeared, though I’d like to call their bluff at the end of this. Then I learned that the gods are very much real in this world, that there used to be only three of them, that they can breed, and that the last remaining god of the original trio, the Skyfather, gave the Darre a weapon? WAIT, WHAT WEAPON. TELL ME.
If I can loop back around to a previous topic, I also managed to notice that Jemisin pays particular attention to the physical features that Yeine has and how they’re not “acceptable” in the context of Amn culture. This stuck out to me because, as far as I can tell, it’s Yeine’s darker and “savage” features that put her at a disadvantage.Â But then there’s that comment earlier where Yeine saw that the “pale and endlessly poised” Amn are “like statues of human beings rather than real flesh and blood.” Okay, I am so into this. This is not the first time I’ve spoken about this on Mark Reads, but fantasy characters and narratives tend to skew as unbelievably white, and it was one of the reasons I stayed away from the genre. Even though I am happy to have finally gotten into Tolkien and George R.R. Martin because of this site, both authors still narrate through mostly white bodies, and people of color are either nonexistent, clearly made the other, or are thrust into monstrous caricatures. So, just one chapter in, we have two moments where Jemisin is pointing out the inherent vileness in glorifying “white” features over others, and YES. YES PLEASE. I WOULD LIKE MORE OF THIS.
But I wanted to close this out by addressing the concept of civility in the Consortium, specifically as it relates to Grandfather. Obviously, the reveal of Yeine’s purpose in Sky is one hell of a plot twist (IN THE FIRST FUCKING CHAPTER!!!!), but it also typifies something that is hard for marginalized folks to get other people to understand: You can be civilized in tone and still do absolutely horrific things. For all the order, kindness, and politeness in tone that we see in the Consortium, we have to then watch as Grandfather damns Yeine to a hellish future: She must battle her cousins, Scimina and Relad, to be his heir. Battle as in battle to the death. Why?
“Your mother deprived me of an heir when she left our family. You will pay her debt.”
Grandfather then claims that this isn’t out of a desire for revenge, but bullshit. Duty? This is duty? Oh, fuck you. And just like this, I am also thrust into this world, confused, frightened, and anticipating a whole lot of nightmarish things in the future.
Thus ended my first meeting with my grandfather, and thus began my first day as an Arameri. It was not the worst of the days to come.
WELL, THAT’S ONE WAY TO START A NOVEL. What the fuck have I gotten myself into???
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