In the sixteenth chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Yeine enlists Nahadoth in a trip home, where her grandmother and Nahadoth reveal more of the difficult past. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Chapter Sixteen: Sar-enna-nem
THIS IS SUCH A GOOD CHAPTER AND I LOVE THIS AND I fully expect this book to ruin me. This is seriously a detective novel in the fantasy genre, and I’m loving the way that N.K. seamlessly weaves the two genres into one another. Truthfully, I didn’t expect that Yeine’s quest to learn what happened to her and her family many years before would take up so much of the narrative, but it just works. Jemisin builds the world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms through the glimpses at the past while Yeine tries to navigate the complexity of the present, and I have to repeat myself again: I love this. Truthfully, this book is absolutely unlike anything I’ve read, and not just for Mark Reads! I spoke about my previous aversion to fantasy while I was reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings last year, but I think it’s appropriate to bring this up here. Fantasy felt (quite literally) like it couldn’t be inclusive of me. And I don’t necessarily mean that I couldn’t find representations of myself in what little fantasy I did read. It was like the literature and the fandom didn’t want me at all. Of course, it would be easy to blame this on all the elitist dudes who I happened to know over the years. And we should blame them! They wouldn’t help me get started with fantasy. The simple fact that I didn’t already know everything about something I had never read was enough for them to treat me terribly.
A bit of a tangent: As much fun as I had with the Lord of the Rings canon, I ended up having a remarkably similar experience with the LotR fandom. My moderators can attest to the fact that large portions of the fandom outright refused to accept that I did not know what happened in Lord of the Rings. They also thought it was pure folly that I wasn’t trying to spoil myself, and SO THEY CONSTANTLY ANSWERED ALL MY RHETORICAL QUESTIONS. Then there was the whole King of Rohan debacle, and then the Eówyn drama, and then I was apparently the worst human being alive for suggesting that it was uncomfortable as a person of color to know that at one point, Tolkien created the orcs with a racist caricature in mind. Free tip for the day: It is much more offensive to talk about racism than to be a racist!
I suppose that really isn’t a tangent, though, because it’s related to why I am so drawn to the world that N.K. Jemisin has created. First of all, this story is just so endlessly entertaining. I love the mystery. I love the analysis of power, privilege, and the way that the government or religions can wield such things. I love that I am deeply unprepared for everything. But then I think about how this is a tale of a woman of color who uses her anger as motivation, who comes from a matriarchal society where men are the last line of defense, and I AM JUST SCRATCHING THE SURFACE OF ALL THE AMAZING THINGS THIS BOOK COVERS. I don’t need my books to be analogies or metaphors for real-world issues (though I will eat them up in a heartbeat, FYI.) No, I just want something different. I want stories of people I can’t be or understand. I want stories where I can believe that there is a future for me. (Ever notice how many apocalyptic/dystopian worlds have very few people of color? That shit scares the hell out of me.) Yes, there are times when I want to see myself in the stories I read, and I can only imagine how many women of color find empowerment in Yeine. I just did a huge re-read of The House on Mango Street, and it reminded me of how it was the first book I had ever read in school that made it feel like books were written about me. And all of this is directly informing how I create my own world in my first novel. (WHICH IS ALMOST DONE OH MY GOD. Well, the first draft, but still.)
Yeah, I felt like this chapter deserved a massive intro that just amounts to me saying that I love this. You can’t stop me.
So let’s get into this. Chapter sixteen is surprising on multiple levels, the least of which is that Yeine goes home. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BOOK. I assumed that we’d be in Sky for the remainder of the novel, but that’s clearly not the case. But it fits here because Yeine has begun to realize how complicit everyone in her past has been in setting her on this path to destruction. (I don’t see this ending nicely at all; this book has to end in destruction in some way at this point.) So Yeine has an epiphany, one that brilliantly ties all the disparate plots and character motivations together: The past informs the present. What was done to Yeine before she was born is affecting the complicated life she has now, and it’s why she needs to find out more about her mother, the deal Kinneth made with the Enefadeh, and what her father’s role in this has been. Obviously, the past is part of who we are, but this is an interesting justification for why Yeine is spending so much time going after her dead mother instead of finding a way to defeat Relad or Scimina. (My guess, though, is that in seeking out the past, Yeine will find a way to get ahead of the other potential heirs.)
I also want to take the chance to use this separate paragraph to state that as uncomfortable as it would be, I would use Nahadoth Travel if I could. All you have to do is look into the visually arresting and disturbing eyes of a shadow god and contemplate your imminent demise, and you can arrive anywhere in a heartbeat? Sign me the fuck up.
“Y-you are welcome in my family’s home,” I said. I was still shivering from our mode of travel.
“I know.” He strode up the steps. Caught off guard, I stared at his back for ten steps before remembering myself and trotting to follow.
HAHDSLFJAHSD I KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS NOW help me.
I loved this chance to get to see Darr in more detail, to meet Yeine’s grandmother, and to see what it might have been like in Darr before the Gods’ War. I wasn’t surprised that Yeine wasn’t greeted with open arms, not just because her friend Imyan didn’t recognize her, but because… well, she’s essentially considered an Arameri, you know? Yeine’s grandmother, though, is a different case. Despite that she’s only in about 10 pages of this chapter, her characterization is so full. We learn that she doesn’t have much affection for Yeine, especially given that her son married Kinneth and caused such complication for the Darre people. Beba is cold at times with Yeine because of this, though I suspect that’s not the only reason why. At one point, Yeine explains:
We had never been close, she and I. She had been too old to become ennu when her own mother finally died, and none of her children had been girls. Though my father had managed against all odds to succeed her, becoming one of only three male ennu ever in our history, I was the closest thing to a daughter she would ever have. I, the half-Amn embodiment of her son’s greatest mistake. I had given up on trying to earn her love years before.
I appreciate that there’s so much depth to Beba’s character in so little time because it makes her interactions with Yeine a million times more fascinating. I thought about how Yeine just showed up unannounced to ask about Kinneth. To Beba, this must be utter foolishness! WHAT IS SHE DOING? Seriously, Beba even outright states this:
“Why does this concern you, Yeine? It’s now that matters, not twenty years ago.”
To Beba, this makes total sense. But Yeine puts together all the pieces she’s collected up to this point, and it’s the bizarre greeting Imyan gives Nahadoth that triggers the answer. Nahadoth had been to Darr before. So Yeine, in a moment of unreal tension and terror, just confronts Beba about what happened twenty years ago. Nahadoth clearly came to Darr the night that Yeine’s father recovered from the Walking Death, and she knows that was the night her fate was sealed. But holy shit, I STILL WASN’T PREPARED.
“Mother tried to kill me when I was born.” I knew why, now, but there was more truth here, something I hadn’t discovered yet. I could feel it.
This is the first sign that Kinneth regretted the deal she made with the Enefadeh. Up until this point, I’d just assumed that Kinneth had treated her deal with Arameri practicality and detachment, but this wasn’t the case at all. (CAN I JUST SAY THAT I LOVE HOW N.K. JEMISIN CONSTANTLY TOYS WITH OUR PERCEPTIONS OF KINNETH? Goddamn, this is such good writing.) She tried to kill her own daughter because she hated what Yeine could turn out to be. So why did she change? Why does Yeine have so many memories of her mother being lovely and wonderful? UGH THERE ARE STILL SO MANY MYSTERIES! But Nahadoth shows up to confirm that he was there to cure Yeine’s father. AND MURDER EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO WITNESSED HIM BEING THERE. WHAT THE FUCK, Y’ALL. But this is child’s play to the moment when Beba threatens Nahadoth and he steps into the temple that used to be the place where the Darre people worshipped him. THIS SHIT IS TOO MUCH. Seeing Nahadoth’s original form, which blurred the lines between gender and species, was incredible and terrifying. But it’s the weird vision that Yeine has from the perspective of the Nightlord that fucking ruins me. Jemisin doesn’t let us forget that as heinous and brutal as the Nightlord is, he had to look upon the dead body of Enefa. I don’t think this is a conscious effort to excuse what he has done, but it does wonders to make him a much more complicated character than I expected. He imagined the hell he had created where “everything remained the same forever because [he] could imagine nothing more horrific,” and then he realized that seeing his dead sister before him is that hell. And then:
I lay her body down but my hands are covered in her blood, our blood, sister lover pupil teacher friend otherself, and when I lift my head to scream out my fury, a million stars turn black and die. No one can see them, but they are my tears.
Yeah, Jemisin takes that brief aside from Yeine earlier in the chapter about Nahadoth’s inability to cry, and she SMASHES OUR HEART TO PIECES. WHY. WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME.
But let’s talk about anger. Yeine’s anger is always present, and while she may get in trouble for it, I kind of adore that Jemisin has made her main character in touch with her own rage. There’s something to it that I find entrancing because it informs so much of Yeine’s characterization, especially as she learns about how she’s been manipulated her entire life. It’s empowering because I kind of despise the notion that people who have been marginalized and mistreated aren’t supposed to be angry. Yeah, fuck that. Why shouldn’t Yeine be angry? She gets shit done when she’s mad! She stands up to people who should be treated with derision or contempt for the way they treat her! Seriously, can you imagine the nerve of someone putting another literal soul in your body before you were born and then saying they don’t understand what’s happening to you? Yeah, this is what you did to Yeine. You don’t get to say you don’t understand! (Which does scare me, for the record. What is Enefa’s soul doing???)
I really do think that Yeine’s father knew what had happened to her, but I’m not sure he was okay with it or that he supported Kinneth’s decision. Again, Jemisin has deepened the mystery in a new, surprising way, and I’m curious to see how this will appear later in the book. Plus, Yeine has to also worry about the potential Mencheyev invasion in Darr, despite that Beba insists that it’s not Yeine’s problem. Given that Yeine despises her Arameri heritage, it makes sense that she’d still be defensive about her homeland. But what else can she do from Sky?
I DON’T KNOW, Y’ALL. So viciously unprepared, I swear.
Please note that the second video contains various of the word “mad” or “madness” in case that triggers you.
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