In the ninth chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Yeine makes a deal with Sieh to learn more about her mother. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Chapter Nine: Memories
Oh, there are so many neat things here. LET’S DISCUSS THEM.
The Walking Death
It’s like N.K. Jemisin thought about this world she created, realized how fucked up it was, and then made it even worse. But I know that I’ve seen the tip of the iceberg of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I’ve got so much more to discover, and that starts with the Walking Death. This horrendous disease, which compels people to walk in a feverish state to a place where there are healthy humans and infect them, hit Darr once when Yeine was growing up. The way this society deals with the Walking Death is through a horrible form of a quarantine: They simply build a wall around a city infected by the Walking Death and “close [their] hearts to the cries of the healthy trapped within.” WOW OKAY. And yet, people survive. It’s fascinating that Jemisin draws a connection between how a disease affects the wealthy noble class versus the laboring class, and it’s certainly a divide we see here in our world too. As she writes:
Priests, nobles, scholars, wealthy merchants… it is more than that they have guards and the resources to quarantine themselves in their citadels and temples. In the early years there were no quarantines, and they still did not die. Unless they rose recently from the lower classes themselves, the wealthy and powerful are immune.
I took this to be both literal and metaphorical, though I admit that since Jemisin hints this will be important later, I’m waiting to make some more substantial commentary. Yeine has to figure out how to navigate a life as a noble here because she was just minor nobility in Darr. Still, why did her father get sick, and how did he survive? Why is this relevant?
Okay, so I was into Loki as a mythological character as it was, and Jemisin’s take on Loki is just so FASCINATING. He is a trickster god, yes, and Yeine interacts with him with full knowledge that he can and will lie and manipulate her at any time. Still, there’s so much more to him that I don’t quite understand. He’s surprisingly affectionate towards Yeine in a way that is seemingly genuine. And that’s a hard thing to navigate as a reader because I don’t yet know whether he’s just terribly convincing or terribly sentimental. I do think he’s grateful for Yeine’s attempt to hurt Nahadoth! I don’t doubt that. But I want to know what else he desires from her. How does that also tie-in with his child-like appearance? Is he truly interested in helping her or does he have some sort of ulterior motive?
So, if you followed my reviews of the four main Whedon shows (Firefly, Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse), you’ll recall that one trope of his that I always adored was this idea that the characters on these shows found a way to form non-traditional families. In practically every one of these shows, the very idea of a family is deconstructed. We see fathers fail their sons and daughters; we watch families be outright rejected because they’re awful, and we watch other families adopt the outcast and the downtrodden as one of their own. Whedon reshapes the family into whatever he thinks has the best dynamic, and I found this to be incredibly empowering. I’m not a cynic about the power a family has in one’s life, but as someone who had to reject their parents for many years in order to find peace of mind and happiness, I’m always going to be drawn to narratives that examine what it means to be a family.
In the case of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, this book is unfolding a lot like a mystery of sorts, at least in terms of the secrets that Yeine seeks out about her mother. At the same time, Yeine has to cope with something Sieh brilliant conveys to her:
“Do you want truth, Yeine? Or comfort?”
And that’s the root of the issue here: What if the things Yeine learns of her mother make her less-than-stellar in her eyes? What if the image she has of her mother is tarnished or sullied after what she finds out? Plus, is Yeine going to find satisfaction if she ignores the truth in order to feel better? I got the sense that Yeine is willing to plunge headfirst into this possibly nightmarish world. Whatever secrets lies in her mother’s past is probably not some uplifting thing, right? So what happened? Why did she come back after she’d already abdicated?
That’s informs what’s coming next, but I’m piqued by what Yeine recognizes in her room after Sieh sleeps with her. (Not sexual, I should say, in case there are folks who are reading these reviews and not the book. I know you’re out there! No, he literally sleeps in her bed and brushes her hair. It’s very odd, suffice to say.)
But in the morning I would recall something – a taste in the air, as Sieh had termed it. That taste was something I had little experience with, yet I knew it the way an infant knows love, or an animal knows fear. Jealousy, even between father and son, is a fact of nature.
So why is Sieh experiencing this? Why are his eyes “dark with regret”? Oh, boy, this is so deliciously complex. I love it.
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