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[personal profile] pippin posting in [community profile] fantasy
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.

I'm not really sure how this book, in its current form, got published. A couple of intriguing ideas shouldn't make lazy writing okay. Very disappointing. Hopefully it's just a severe case of debut-novel-itis and her next books will be more strongly constructed!

Here are the interesting ideas ::
- Some gods have been turned into unhappy slaves (rather like djinn, actually, come to think of it, in that you have to word your commands very carefully, so, uh, not as new and interesting as I initially thought) and wander somewhat-freely around a palace
- Facial hair is strange and exotic.
- ......That's about it, really. (Okay, so other readers might find more of the ideas fascinating, but I'd already read/written a large majority of them.)

A lot of the book is wishy-washy. Characters are brought in, world-building is mentioned... and then none of that sticks around. Yeine is supposed to be from a culture far-removed from Sky's, but it never feels like she is. Oh, sure, her bluntness is repeatedly mentioned, as is her constant dagger-grabbing, but it's all so superficial. She's also supposed to be some kind of mayor-heir, but, again, never really acts like she's been raised for that. Whenever the omg-so-savage ways of Yeine's people are mentioned, it reads quite peculiarly, because they don't mesh with Yaena.

Speaking of Yeine. Difficult to get to know her, really! As it is difficult to get to know any of the characters (except maybe the child-god Sieh, who is apparently a trickster god, except, like so much, that's just mentioned and not shown); not many of them manage to even get to two-dimensional characterisation. Now, a few months before the narrative begins, Yeine's mother was murdered, and supposedly she is still going through the grieving process and not over it. I never once felt bad for her, never once felt a twinge in my heart. If a reader who just recently lost her mother cannot empathise with a character going through similar things, who can? (Last night I read another book, and when the main character found out his mother was dead I cried for half an hour based on his reaction in two paragraphs.)

It would have been nice if more quality time could have spent with the major players, to elevate them beyond "the nice one" and "the crazy one" and "the sad one". (Also, considering that Sky is supposed to be amazing-courtly-intrigue-and-dangerous-politics-place... why were the Sky characters so simple in both mind and deed?) Especially considering that this lack of quality character time means that all of the relationships seem to be founded purely on (a) physical appearances, (b) what their lips taste like, and (c) how daaaaaangerous they are. (On reflection, I think David Eddings has more believable/relateable relationships...) There is the really-quite interesting concept of a fragile mortal dallying with a god and in the end it all boils down to "oh, I shouldn't, but his lips taste of weird things". Yet another missed opportunity!

Oh, also. Yeine wonders whether gods have penes, or a different sort of phallus, because no mere penis could fill a woman so.

(To be fair, however, the god's wood is apparently the only wood in the whole of Sky which does not come from Yeine's home country.)

And now, a style issue :: this book is obviously being narrated by someone who's lived through the events. It starts off okay enough, but quickly becomes annoying. "Here is a hook but I can't tell you readers about this yet" is not endearing when it so repeatedly occurs.

The ending... Ah. Now, quite early on, I went "errrgh, I bet Yeine's going to be a god or something" but then, having been mistakenly lured into the impression that this was a good story, immediately went "no, no, that's too obvious and boring". But, golly gosh, not only do we get god!Yeine, we also get several characters giving speeches, explaining their traitorous/evil ways. I sadly did not pick out all of the traitors/pretendering characters, but "given even less characterisation than the others" is not a clue I'm used to looking out for.

Date: 2010-03-03 02:46 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] bindingthreads
I do agree with some of your points, especially how the court intrigue could have been more complicated. That was the part that felt the most flat to me. I also felt little emotional involvement with Yeine's plight, but I was quite moved by the situations of a lot of the secondary characters (her mother, the gods, the servants). However, I feel that the character relationships were very realistic.

Considering that the entire book takes place within two weeks of time, and that most of Yeine's time is spent interacting with people she's never met before, I thought that relationships based off of reactions to physical appearances, sexual tension and danger levels were actually quite appropriate. Given the constraints of her situation (politically unstable heir, likely to die soon) and the time frame of two weeks, I thought that it was quite realistic to portray a lack of deep, thoughtful and nuanced relationships. I felt that it emphasized her loneliness and lack of allies.

For me, it really came down to the time-line. I didn't expect nuanced relationships in the book because very few people form nuanced relationships in less than two-weeks. I do agree that there were a few things that could have been explored further, but I really liked the book overall and I hope that the rest of the trilogy will be even better.
Edited Date: 2010-03-03 02:49 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-03-03 03:32 am (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
Hmm, interesting. This is the first negative review of this book I've read, so thanks for providing that perspective.

(You may wish to correct the spelling of Yeine's name, since you have three different spellings mixed together. I've noticed that's the kind of thing that gets negative reviews dismissed out of hand.)

Date: 2010-03-03 04:09 pm (UTC)
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
I know how you feel! I have a cold and haven't been sleeping and I have sent quite a few emails that made no sense in the last couple days. :)

Date: 2010-03-03 04:12 am (UTC)
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I'd agree that the intrigue takes a back seat to the other plot elements--but given Yeine's disadvantages vis-a-vis her cousins in the succession contest, and the way her concerns shift so radically so quickly, I'd say that's not entirely unrealistic.

Given your tone, I have to ask--what writers do you like?

Date: 2010-03-04 01:51 am (UTC)
starlady: (the architect)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I thought Scimina was the worst part of the book, hands down. Relad was underdeveloped, but Scimina was clichéd. And, see, I liked that Yeine didn't have a chance...and that she [redacted] before she became [redacted] at the end; it seemed to me to be playing against epic fantasy trope.

Garth Nix! I just bought Lord Sunday today. (See icon)

Date: 2010-03-04 02:16 am (UTC)
starlady: (denizen)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I was very :-( in the bookstore when I saw how thin Lord Sunday is. When I finished Superior Saturday I literally said out loud, "Garth Nix where is the rest of my book!?" which given that I was on a train to Tokyo at the time got me some weird looks. But I am still looking forward to it very much.

Date: 2010-03-04 02:24 am (UTC)
starlady: (abhorsen)
From: [personal profile] starlady
LOL yeah, pretty much.

I console myself with the thought that the fact that Keys is finished means more Old Kingdom and other books.

Date: 2010-03-04 02:35 am (UTC)
starlady: (abhorsen key)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I think Clariel is next before the one that will inevitably be about Lirael and Nick getting together and dealing with Nick's Free Magic.

Date: 2010-03-04 03:06 am (UTC)
starlady: (abhorsen)
From: [personal profile] starlady
Oh yes. I think I've read almost everything Nix has written except The Rag Witch. I actually started a DW comm for his works partly to have a list of his more recent short stories.

Date: 2010-03-05 09:17 pm (UTC)
foxfirefey: Fox stealing an egg. (mischief)
From: [personal profile] foxfirefey
CAN I BRAG AGAIN ABOUT SEEING A CHINA MIEVILLE READING?

Date: 2010-03-19 09:28 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] miss_haitch
Aaah, this book has been driving me to distraction! So many people gave it glowing reviews that I was worried I'd missed something. I lost momentum about halfway through, and I've been humming and hawing over whether I should start reading it again.

My big problems were the asides Yeine kept making, and the structure. Specifically, the placement of the Enefa reveal in the middle of the story jarred me - it felt too soon for such a major event.

Also, like you say, lazy characterisation. Scimina in particular felt completely two-dimensional to me.

Date: 2010-03-21 05:40 pm (UTC)
inverarity: (Default)
From: [personal profile] inverarity
Kind of a snarky review, made me wonder if the author ran over your dog or something. (The crack about wood was pretty funny, though.)

I don't think the characterization was as flat as you found it, though I did get kind of tired of Yeine's rather cliched infatuation with bad-boy Nahadoth.

When I first started reading it, I loved it. By the end, the shiny had worn off a little, but I still think it was a good book, though pretty rough in places, like you'd expect from a first novel. The narrative device of having Yeine talking to herself/Enefa in between paragraphs was annoying and overused.

Scimina and Relad were neither of them very interesting. I'm still unsure how I feel about the ending.

I did, however, really like the way the gods were portrayed, because they felt like gods -- super-powerful, wise, ancient, yet also very human and capricious and prone to being stupid as well. When I read Greek myths, I always wondered, "Why would anyone worship these assholes, except out of sheer terror?" And Jemisin's gods were a lot like that: godlike, but not nice or benevolent except in a sort of abstract way.

The author's notes said the Nahadoth/Itempas duality was drawing on Hindu mythology, but I think she was influenced more by Christianity than she realized, or maybe the Milton/Paradise Lost vibe was deliberate.

Date: 2010-03-21 06:48 pm (UTC)
inverarity: (Default)
From: [personal profile] inverarity
Yo, I was just snarking your snark a little, no need to get upset. I agreed with some of your criticism.

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