In the seventeenth chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, T’vril, concerned that Yeine has given up fighting, shows her a secret. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Chapter Seventeen: Relief
I love everything that this chapter chooses to be.
The title of chapter 17 ends up being a hint towards something Yeine will find in herself and in both Sieh and T’vril. In a story that is often violent, brutal, and cynical, it was surprising to find hope, joy, and a temporary respite from the awfulness of the world of Sky.
But it’s the way that Jemisin inspires the reader to feel sympathy for these characters that I find so resilient and entertaining. In particular, I’m left feeling so different towards Sieh, since I now feel like I actually understand why he is the way he is. “Relief” opens with a glimpse of the relationship that Sieh and Itempas once had, and it explains his present grief and cynicism. There’s an underlying theme of parental rejection in this book, and that’s why Sieh and Yeine eventually bond over their shared sadness for the past. But before this moment arrives, Yeine gives in to fatalism. She knows that in six days, she will die, one way or another. Hell, at this point, I still don’t know how Yeine could survive the succession ceremony. Even if she defeats her competitors, she’ll die completing her end of her bargain with the Enefadeh to free Enefa’s soul. And I really don’t think anyone will allow her to live through the ceremony, even if she’s victorious and gets her revenge against Dekarta. Plus, there’s still the possibility that Dekarta isn’t even the one who had Kinneth killed, so… yeah. Yeah.
But the entire ordeal finally overwhelms Yeine. She’s never fallen in love. She’s not even twenty-one, and she knows that she’s going to die! Who wouldn’t wallow in grief if they knew this? I WOULD. FOR A MUCH LONGER TIME THAN YEINE DOES. But that’s when T’vril shows up (who I mistakenly thought was Viraine at first in the video because what), and I adore what he does here for Yeine. I think it’s natural to distrust everyone in this book because experience has taught us that no one is what they seem at first. But T’vril has shown an interest in and care for Yeine that is so much more genuine than pretty much anyone else in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I tried to think of a way that he’s be tricking Yeine or introducing her to the lowblood party for his own benefit, and I couldn’t think of one. No, once he finds out that she’s given in to the darker reality ahead of her, he tries to cheer her up. And it’s not like T’vril is naïve, either. He is very much aware of how fucked up the future is going to be for her. He still finds it within his heart to give her a good time, even if it’s just for a few hours.
That’s also because T’vril has something in common with Yeine. He repeatedly tells her that all she has left is fighting back, and it causes Yeine to wonder aloud if he wants to be heir himself. I absolutely loved this bit:
He looked away, toward the windows, and I saw it in his eyes: a terrible frustration that must have been burning in him all his life. The unspoken knowledge that he was just as smart as Relad or Scimina, just as strong, just as deserving of power, just as capable of leadership.
And if the chance were ever given to him, he would fight to keep it. To use it. He would fight even if he had no hope of victory, because to do otherwise was to concede that the stupid, arbitrary assignment of fullblood status had anything to do with logic; that the Amn truly were superior to all other races; that he deserved to be nothing more than a servant.
As I deserved to be nothing more than a pawn.
I purposely make Mark Does Stuff a personal experience, and a lot of my critical analysis is through an emotional and modern lens. It’s inescapable. At the same time, I want to appreciate the historical context or the fictional basis for certain things, and I don’t want to muddle an author’s intent too much. That’s also a deliberate thing on my part. Even if I don’t always accomplish it, I want to see things from different sides beyond what my experience and life has dictated. It is very difficult, though, for me to read this as anything but a uniquely personal part of this chapter. On the one hand, it’s character building for T’vril, and, combined with what we see later of him in “Relief,” it’s a way we can see him in a new light. But I can’t help but feel like this is a brilliant excoriation of the way our world assigns value and status to groups of power. It is arbitrary, it is illogical, and it creates a power vacuum that gives privilege to a select group of people. The work I do to fight against homophobia or racism is in part because I want to reject the world that tells me that straight people are more valuable to society or that my brown skin is not attractive. So I understand the desire that T’vril has, to fight against the establishment because you don’t want them to be right. You don’t want their assumptions and stereotypes to become reality.
One of the ways that T’vril has put a middle finger up to the powers-that-be in Sky is by creating the secret lowblood world with Sieh. We get this incredible, empowering glimpse of a world where the servants of Sky get to experience joy. Do you realize what a huge deal this is? It’s a place where they’re free of the entitlement and misery of the arbitrary hierarchy they’ve always lived in. I love it that Sieh is the one who helped make this place because I can’t imagine a better character to do such a thing:
“T’vril’s people do favors for us all year; it’s fitting we should pay them back. We slaves must stick together.”
I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. And so begins one of the most intriguing and satisfying parts of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Sieh and Yeine bonding over their shared problems. Initially, that’s because Sieh expresses a bitterness that’s new to Yeine, and she realizes that he might be just as cynical as she is. Of course, the big reveal here is that Enefa wanted to kill Sieh. Like Kinneth, who was convinced her daughter was some evil being, Enefa rationalized killing her own son. It’s remarkable to me that both Sieh and Yeine speak of the act with a perverse understanding of why their mothers considered such an act. Again, the theme of parental rejection pops up again. Children love their parents as if they are gods. So what do you do when parents corrupt that love or discard it? How are you supposed to deal with that sort of knowledge?
I hope I’m not wrong about Sieh. Like T’vril, he appears to genuinely care about Yeine, which is a rare sight in Sky. It seems like that’s the main reason that Yeine takes T’vril into her bedroom to have sex with him, though this inspires something else in her. She doesn’t feel satisfied by the sex, not just because she’s unable to be vulnerable, but because deep down, her desire is meant for Nahadoth. Yeine’s “sex” with the Nightlord is incredibly sudden, erotic, and slightly disturbing. (You should watch the second commission video for this chapter, as I hilariously comprehend this passage completely wrong. I thought that the Nightlord appeared as T’vril and had tricked her into sex. WHAT.) It’s disturbing because she knows that at any moment, Nahadoth could kill her.
But he doesn’t. Why? Isn’t this what he enjoys? Why did he spare her life??? GAH, I DON’T KNOW.
Please note that the second video contains multiple uses of the word “mad” in case that triggers you.
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