In the twenty-first chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, LITERALLY NONE OF THIS IS FAIR THIS IS SO FUCKED UP FOREVER AND EVER. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Chapter Twenty-One: First Love
Okay. Plot twists. THERE ARE A LOT OF THEM. And good god, everything is so messed up. BUT I WANT TO TALK ABOUT OTHER THINGS, TOO! I mean, yes, I’ll flip out a lot in the review below, but there is such a fascinating commentary on cultural assimilation/imperialism here that I can’t ignore. Then I will yell at all of you.
The Amn were not always civilized, the rumors remind us.
And so begins a section that I am going to project all over because for me, this totally reads as a way of commenting on the very popular racist trope that the white/Aryan/European cultures of the world are inherently more “civilized” than all of the others. Now, I’ve grown up being on the receiving end of this particularly racist trope possibly more than most others. I got it at every school I went to, and often teachers would make backhanded compliments about how I was “smarter than I looked” or “not like the other kids like him,” which didn’t do one single thing to make me feel very sure of myself. You don’t put down my brothers and sisters to elevate me. That’s not how this works. But then when I tried to discover or engage with my culture, the world shut it down. My teachers told me that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. My mom told me that I was white (!!!!! LITERALLY NOT, MOM) for years and would shame the hell out of my brother and I for ever even appearing to act as anything as the dominant culture. And so, for years, we were taught to believe that our fellow Latin@s were evil, stupid, gross, and destined to failure. As a group.
So while I read this section:
After the Gods’ War they imposed their barbarian ways on the whole world and judged the rest of us by how thoroughly we adopted them –
it wasn’t hard for me to read my own interpretation in this. Of course, I could be 100% off the mark! But that’s the fun of reading fiction with a critical eye. It’s so rewarding to find these different layers and meanings, especially when we imbue our own experiences into the narrative. So while I admit that this is possibly so far from Jemisin’s intention that I’ve invented a new book, I do see the signs here. Arameri culture could easily be a stand-in for any imperialistic force that seeks to erase and denigrate another culture, and for me, whiteness and white supremacy did a number on my brother and I growing up. (Because I love taking the opportunity to destroy horrible people online, this is why it’s important to shame the fuck out of white people who believe transracial identities – the idea that you were born into the wrong race, which is immensely transphobic, too – are real. Transracial adoptees like myself already use this term to describe the unique way in which culture and identity are destroyed and challenged when a child of one race/culture is adopted by another, especially if the adoptive parents are white. Anyway, that’s for another day.) On top of that, if you think about this in a more global sense, it’s easy to see how this idea that barbaric (but more powerful) nations just made their brand of barbaric behavior the norm is just so spot on.
And once, the rumors say, Amn elites prized the taste of human flesh above all other delicacies.
CAN WE NOT.
OH MY GOD HE IS TOO MUCH. I think it’s safe to say that I do trust and respect Yeine’s servant, and what he says here about Yeine is just too emotional.
He scowled. “Because you’re not like the rest of us. I thought you would do what you could to save a friend in pain, yes. I wanted to spare you that. Hate me for it if you like.”
I turned to him, privately amazed. T’vril still saw me as the innocent, noble-hearted girl who had been so grateful for his kindness that first day in Sky.
Can you even deal with this? We know that Yeine has changed over the course of her experience with the Arameri, but T’vril still can’t see it. help.
“Her original plan was to play that little game with the servants.”
!!!!!!!!! SCIMINA IS THE WORST, SPOILER ALERT, NEWSFLASH WHAT THE FUCK !!!!!!!!!
“I offered myself first.”
You’re kidding me. You’re kidding me. T’vril offered himself up to be tortured as Yeine’s friend, and he got rejected.
Dismissed again, I realized. Not even his pain is good enough for the Central Family.
Crushed. I am so crushed by T’vril’s entire existence.
I put my own hand over his. I would miss him – ironic, since I was the one slated to die.
“Of course you’re my friend,” I whispered. His hand tightened for a moment, then he went to the door to leave.
Why? Why are you giving me so many feelings about T’Vril when we are so close to the end of the book? Why would you hurt me this way?
As T’vril leaves, THE WORST ARRIVES. My god, just shut up. Shut up. Stop talking, go away. The nerve this fucker has in showing up!!! YOU JUST TORTURED A GOD IN FRONT OF HER. WHAT THE FUCK.
“If you had trusted me,” Viraine said again, with a hint of stubbornness, “I would have helped you.”
HAHAHAHAHAH YOU ARE REALLY GOOD AT TELLING JOKES, VIRAINE. TELL ME ANOTHER ONE.
“You might enjoy the night, at least a little,” he said, “if I were your escort.”
Can you hear my thunderous laughter at this clever bout of humor. Because I cannot imagine why Viraine would think that Yeine would want to spend half of a second around him.
“Your mother,” he said, “was my first lover.”
I am still shocked by this. Still. I’m sure there were clues, and some of y’all probably figured this out, but this feels like it came out of nowhere. JUST…. IT KIND OF EXPLAINS A LOT? But not as much as this does:
“I was granted fullblood status when I returned, and she was a lowblood. If she were still alive, I would no longer be her son.” He glanced at me, after a pause. “That will sound heartless to you.”
I shook my head, slowly. “I’ve been in Sky long enough.”
MY GOD. Look, I’m not saying I want to be friends with Viraine, but now that I know that he is indeed telling the truth, I’m surprised by this willful effort to give Viraine so much more depth to his characterization. I didn’t expect it! And it explains so much, particularly why Viraine clings to the fullblood status that he has now. In a sense, Kinneth helped him understand Sky and Arameri culture better than anyone else by using him for her own needs. And it all feeds into this theme we’ve seen pop up throughout The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms:
“You didn’t know her,” he said softly. It was that softness that silenced me. “No child knows her parents, not truly.”
Good god, this book is so good.
Disturbed and empowered, Yeine goes to her mother’s place, grabs the chest of letters, and then heads straight to the Enefadeh, specifically Sieh’s orrery. The first unexpected part of this interaction, though, isn’t some huge plot twist. It’s when Yeine understands that she needs to play with Sieh to help him recover from his wounds. It’s one of the more touching scenes in the whole book because Yeine feels so close to Enefa. I’m guessing that’s how she know how to play with Sieh without much talk.
Plus, she earns Zhakkarn’s approval in the process, and I think it’s a huge moment for her. After the torture of Nahadoth, I worried that she might have lost the protection of the gods, at least for a short period of time, but Zhakkarn and Sieh don’t turn her away. So when she lets Sieh see her mother’s and father’s letters to one another, I knew that he would help her. The gods clearly knew about their intense courtship of one another, and that’s how they’re able to put together the fact that some of the letters Kinneth wrote are missing. But… why? Why only some letters, but not all? And given that Sieh confirms that Viraine was once Kinneth’s lover, why would Kinneth have used Viraine? It doesn’t make sense.
“He oversees all important ceremonies and rituals…”
UM. LIKE THE RITUAL OF SUCCESSION???? LIKE THAT ONE? Except Kinneth was five when the last ritual happened, so… no? There’s no connection? And the Enefadeh didn’t make a “play for the Stone” then, either.
“Itempas attends the ceremony,” said Zhakkarn.
WHAT THE FUCK IN PERSON??? Maybe that was a huge detail that you should have revealed a lot earlier??? HELP ME, HOLY SHIT.
“So who was the sacrifice last time? Some other hapless relative dragged into the family nightmare?”
Oh. OH NO.
Sieh looked at me in surprise. “His wife. Your maternal grandmother. Kinneth didn’t tell you?”
OH MY FUCKING GOD WHAT IS THIS BOOK???
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