In the twenty-sixth chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Yeine enjoys her final night in the comfort of Nahadoth. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Chapter Twenty-Six: The Ball
These narratives asides are killing me. In particular, the one that opens chapter twenty-six is a terrible, gutting glimpse of the future, of Darr being torn to shreds and Yeine having no way to stop it. It’s haunting, and Jemisin is hurting me ON PURPOSE. It’s a clever way to build the dread for the ending of this book, which is now painfully close. What happened to give us this future? What did Yeine do??? Did Relad double-cross her?
But I also wanted to point out how many times Jemisin deliberately juxtaposes the “barbaric” customs of the Darr and other cultures with Amn/Arameri culture. It’s a common theme throughout the book, something I’ve spoken about multiple times, but it’s extremely present here. For me, I think it’s a brilliant way to explore xenophobia and racism in a fictional world, something that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms does amazingly well. If you think about it, Yeine’s realization that she could have sent a scrivener to save her people is based in a cultural difference. As she explains:
Once this would have been unheard of in High North; magic is an Amn thing, deemed cowardly by most barbarian standards. Even for those nations willing to try cowardice, the Amn keep their scriveners too expensive to hire. But of course, that is not a problem for an Arameri.
I mean, if you consider the real-world implications of this passage, you can see an interesting parallel to imperialist narratives across the globe, especially how European forces hundreds of years ago conquered and destroyed nations in the name of their gods and kings and queens. For all that people want to revere things like the British Empire or American Manifest Destiny, I think that they’re example of cowardice, personally. (In one context, obviously, as there are about a billion different lenses with which you could view this, and I don’t want to be reductive about imperialistic history.) But the Arameri don’t care that they might be perceived as cowardly. For them, the ends justify the means. If they’ve destroyed Darr, then they won. They have the power, and Yeine has lost.
Oh my god, what happened?
After this upsetting opening, I found that I was even more dejected by what followed. Without a doubt, Jemisin puts the most touching and comforting scenes in the entire novel here, right before EVERYTHING IS ABOUT TO BECOME AWFUL. There is a deliberate sense of the Other here as Yeine enters the ballroom, and I mean that in two sense. Obviously, Dekarta wanted Yeine to feel as if she was not a part of all of this. That’s why she is wearing the only colored gown in the entire room. But it’s also intentional on Jemisin’s part because she thought of putting Yeine in that gown, and it helps to remind us that even physically, Yeine does not look like the largely “white” Arameri crowd. On top of that, there’s this:
I saw smiles on many faces, but no true friendliness. Interest, yes – the kind of interest one holds for a prize heifer that is soon to be slaughtered for the plates of the privileged. What will she taste like? I imagined in their gleaming, avid regard. If only we could have a bite.
Y’ALL. Y’ALL. Oh my god, I’m interested to know that if marginalized folks have felt this before, because I cannot count how many times I have entered a room before and experienced this exact phenomenon. It’s happened at conventions, here in San Francisco in the gay scene (DON’T GET ME STARTED IN HOW RACIST WHITE GAY MEN ARE I COULD WRITE A NOVEL ABOUT THAT OH WAIT I ACTUALLY AM), and I have spoken to women who have been the only non-dude in any number of settings and felt like they were going to be consumed.
UGH THIS BOOK IS JUST SO GREAT. I LOVE IT.
Anyway, I didn’t want to highlight this part because of my deep love of social commentary. It’s yet another element of this ball that makes Yeine aware that she will never belong, no matter how hard she tries. Even if she wanted to assimilate into this culture, it wouldn’t matter. She is the perpetual Other. The “sycophants” treat her that way, as do the “more honest folk who merely gave [her] cool or sardonic nods.” So it is entirely significant to me that in this state of loneliness and rejection, Nahadoth arrives in disguise to comfort Yeine. Like I said, some of the sweetest scenes in all of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms are in chapter twenty-six, which just makes me even more sad about how this is going to end. IT’S NOT FAIR. I am so totally into the Nahadoth/Yeine pairing at this point, but I only have three more chapters after this. Yeine is going to die, her home is going to be destroyed, and I don’t know how she can stop any of this.
What I enjoy so much about their relationship is that there is a mutual exchange of power between Nahadoth and Yeine, despite that Nahadoth clearly has more power. In many ways, Yeine has humanized Nahadoth, both as a character and for the reader. I mean, I think it’s important that Nahadoth TELLS A JOKE. He’s never done that! That’s a distinctly human behavior, and I don’t think he would have done this without Yeine.
However, this isn’t without complications, which I appreciate as a reader:
It occurred to me, in a flash of insight, that this was what Kurue feared – Nahadoth’s fickle, impassioned sense of honor. He had gone to war to vent his grief over Enefa; he had kept himself and his children enslaved out of sheer stubbornness rather than forgive Itempas. He could have dealt with his brother differently, in ways that wouldn’t have risked the whole universe and destroyed so many lives. But that was the problem: when the Nightlord cared for something, his decisions became irrational, his actions extreme.
I think Jemisin has done a fine job establishing that Nahadoth (and Sieh, for that matter) cares for Yeine, and that introduces a variable that might explain the glimpses to the future. Nahadoth is a wild card, so how is he going to react in his grief at losing Yeine? What if he disrupts the plan that Yeine has intricately set in place precisely because he is irrational? I’m keeping this possibility in mind, but I admit that I still haven’t figured this shit out. I’M SCARED.
I’m scared because I’ve grown to love Yeine as a character. Her development in this novel is just so satisfying! And y’all know that I love character development like I love puppies. Possibly more. Well, maybe not more, but the current Hierarchy of Enjoyment that I am employing is basically Puppies > Friendship > Character Development. Basically. So it’s hard not to get attached to Yeine and worry about the climax of this novel because I’ve loved seeing how she’s interacted with the people of Sky, how she’s resisted becoming like her ancestors, how she’s navigated an impossibly difficult situation, and how she’s kept her moral standards throughout all of this.
My gods, the end of this chapter is just so daunting. The end is here. THE END IS HERE AND I AM NOT READY FOR IT.
Please note that the word “mad” appears in the text and the first video.
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