The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms read-along part 2

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsAfter flying in from Paris overnight and sleeping away most of the day, I’ve just managed to finish writing this for an evening post. Part 2 covers chapters 10-16, and things are moving very quickly and dramatically! Naturally, there will be plenty of SPOILERS AHEAD. Our host for this week is Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings, and here are her questions and my answers.

 

1) We’ve started to learn about a side of Yeine’s mother that Yeine can barely believe existed. No one in this story seems all that capable of telling the objective truth, however, so who do you think Kinneth really was? A devoted mother? A traitorous schemer? Evil and cruel?

I think she could be all three and more. We all behave differently in the various contexts of our lives and the Kinneth that Yeine came to know was in world that differed vastly from Sky. People change, and Kinneth had experiences that could have changed her completely Parents are also more complex people than their children might initially assume, and I think that that’s what Yeine is learning about Kinneth now.

Jemisin has also written quite complex characters here, people with warring motives and a lot of grey areas. Most can’t simply be defined as good or evil, and I like the mixture of characteristics that Kinneth embodies. I really want to know more about her. Even though she never appears on the page, I think she’s one of the most interesting characters.

Viraine’s comment that Kinneth was “purpose incarnate” makes me wonder if she had some sort of overarching plan that has yet to be revealed. There’s still so much mystery surrounding her. Also, Ras Onchi said Kinneth told her that an Arameri must know “How to be cruel […] How to spend life like currency and wield death itself as a weapon.” This makes me wonder if Kinneth planned her own death for some reason. Either way, I’m just curious as to how these words will play out.

 

2) Wow major plot reveal Batman! Finding out about Yeine’s second soul was not something I saw coming at all. Did you suspect? Have any other theories? What do you think of this major plot development? What do you think Yeine should do?

I didn’t guess at the double soul thing specifically, but I knew there had to be some kind of connection between Yeine and an important figure from the distant past. I’d guessed at the human woman Nahadoth had slept with, and at the truth about Enefa.

The situation is more dire than I expected though. I didn’t think an alliance meant they wanted Yeine to die for them. And they’re far less respectful of Yeine than I’d come to believe. Zhakkarn and Kurue just see her as some tool. Sieh is more sympathetic, but ultimately he just wants his mother back. Admittedly that’s quite relatable. They’re a family, broken and betrayed, trying to fix things. Because they’re gods, there’s no real malice in the way they treat Yeine; it’s just that individual humans are insignificant to them, while finding justice for their mother is far more important. Even Yeine seems to understand that, and it’s her head on the chopping block.

I have no idea what Yeine should do, but I assume she won’t simply go to her death, and none of this will play out in a way that anyone expects. The Enefadeh aren’t even sure exactly what should happen. Yeine revealed that she’s narrating this while dead, and presumably this is why her memories are fractured and she needs to tell this story to reclaim them. There’s hope there – at least she’s in some sort of limbo state and not simply deceased.

 

3) We’ve gotten to know a lot more about Darr in this section and their traditions have both good and bad sides it seems to me. What do you think of their coming-of-age ritual for the women? What about women soldiers and men being left to protect the children? Any other traditions that struck you?
I’m not big on warrior traditions that require victims, but I like that Jemisin hasn’t written the Darre as some kind of idyllic matriarchal society. Inequality is inequality whether a society is matriarchal or patriarchal and I don’t see those rituals as noble but as a symptom of a social ill.

Scimina makes some interesting points about how the old ritual was better because it taught the warriors to nurture and love as well as to survive. However, I love what Yeine thinks to herself when Scimina asks if the new ritual teaches anything at all:

It taught me to do whatever was necessary to get what I wanted, you evil bitch.

I quite like that Jemisin has totally reversed our traditions of childcare, with men seen as the ones indispensable to the task. I consider many traditional assumptions about childcare and parenthood to be utter bullshit, so I love it when authors make up their own family structures. They’re not necessarily better, but they suggest that there isn’t only one way of doing things.

 

4) The Walking Death played a pretty big role in the past given none of this would have happened if Yeine’s father hadn’t gotten sick. There was discussion in the previous section about how the Death only infects commoners and those of high-birth aren’t affected. What do you think the Death really is? Any theories on why it infects only certain people?
Hmm, something created by Itempas as a way of maintaining order? An unhappy underclass is always a threat to the orderly status quo of the nobles. Since the nobles and Itempas value order, the Walking Death would be a convenient way of getting rid of pesky commoners who dare to rise up against them without hurting any of the nobles.

And if it can be controlled by a powerful Arameri like Dekarta, you could see how he might have had Yeine’s father inflicted with it. After all, he upset the seemingly perfect line of succession when Kinneth ran away with him. If he had died, Kinneth may have returned to Sky. The Death also drove home the point that her husband was a commoner.

 

5) Finally, we’ve learned a lot more about our enslaved gods between getting to know Nahadoth better, finding out what is up with Sieh, and seeing a rather bitter side of Kurue. What do you think of all these revelations? Has your favorite god changed?
It’s so twisted I don’t know where to start! There’s lots of somewhat incestuous behaviour going on: Enefa as sister and lover to Nahadoth and Itempas; Itempas in love with Nahadoth; Sieh’s slightly sexual suggestion that he could look older for Yeine if she wanted him too. Then again, incest might not have any meaning for the gods, given that they don’t have genes like we do.

I like the fluidity of Nahadoth’s gender, as seen in him image in the library:

a lithe, sensual figure […] I frowned in confusion, arching up to touch what might have been a swirl of cloth, or a rounded breast.
“Itempas forced him into a single shape,” said the old woman, he voice very soft. “When he was free he was all things beautiful and terrible.”

I’m fascinated by the relationship between Itempas and Nahadoth, and the difference between the official depiction of Itempas and the one we get from the other gods. He’s been made into the embodiment of goodness and perfection, but the others reveal the dysfunction in his demand for order, the jealousy he felt when Enefa intruded on his existence with Nahadoth, and his cruelty in killing Enefa and binding the others. He’s also depicted without any sense of sexuality, and now we find out that he killed his sister to have his older brother all to himself. The god everyone worships is a jealous, gay and incestuous. Which is so much better, because perfect gods without lusts and longings are so boring.

I still like Sieh a lot, but I think I’m more interested in Nahadoth now. You never know what kind of attitude he’s going to have when he appears, or how dangerous he’s going to be. How does he feel about his relationship with Itempas? What happened between him and Kinneth? Lots of mysteries here. I’d like to know more about Khakkarn and Kurue too, just because I’m curious.

 

Quotes and Notes:

“If Itempas hadn’t used poison, He could never have slain her outright. But she trusted Him. Love Him.”
 – Itempas poisoning Enefa parallels Dekarta poisoning Kinneth, although we still don’t know all the details there.

I like how the demons’ blood was poisonous to the gods, so the gods hunted down and killed them, afraid that the demons would taint the blood of the human race, making them all poisonous to gods. And what if one of the demons survived, or there’s a bloodline of poisonous half-breeds?

I’m wondering if there’s any connection between the instructions T’Vril was overheard giving in chapter 8, and the single moment during the succession ritual when the person who wields the Stone of Earth becomes one of the Three:
– T’Vril: “No. There won’t be another warning. When the signal comes, you’ll have one chance. If you’re still near the shaft when it comes…”
– Yeine, thinking about the ritual: It would be like striking a match. I imagined having that much power course through mortal flesh. A bright flare, perhaps a few seconds of steady flame. And then…
 – Is T’Vril planning to use the ritual to take down Sky somehow?

Sky sometimes ‘eats’ people, on nights where the moon and stars are hidden so Itempas is powerless. No bodies are ever found, but Yeine says she knows where they have gone. So many mysteries…

A line from Yeine’s narration: This is an approximation, you realise. This is what your mortal mind can comprehend.
 – So is Yeine no longer mortal?

The idea of a lover as an enemy or a danger keeps coming up: Scimina’s relationship with Nahadoth is very dangerous, and for that reason at least Yeine avoids entering into a similar relationship. The story of the woman who birthed the first demon with Nahadoth is a tragedy. The Darre’s rituals for female warriors position men as both adversaries and lovers. The rivalry between Itempas, Nahadoth and Enefa led to the God War and all the trouble that makes up the story.

 

“The head of the clan must have the strength to kill even loved ones.” Sieh Shrugged. “It’s easy to sentence a servant to die, but what about a friend? A husband?”

– So was Dekarta showing strength by having Kinneth poisoned (if that was the case)? Many characters have said that Kinneth was merciless enough to be the perfect heir. Does this suggest that she was strong enough to have harmed her husband or Yeine in some way that hasn’t been revealed yet? Or was it when she fell in love that she realised she didn’t really have the strength to be the Arameri ruler?

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms read-along part 1

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsI’ve had a fantastic start to this read-along. Although I don’t often read epic fantasy, this book had me instantly intrigued with the complexity of its worldbuilding, its female POC protagonist, the enslaved gods at the core of the plot, and the way it seethes with secrets and danger.

Part 1 of the read-along covers chapters 1-9, and our host is Susan from Dab of Darkness. Head over there to start the blog hop and feel free to leave your link in the comments here as well. You’ll find the full schedule here. If you want to join in leave a comment on one of the host’s blogs, and we’ll add you to the list to get the discussion questions.

1) We’ve met our narrator, Yeine. What are your first impressions? Do you like the chosen form of story telling so far?
Yeine strikes me as a very resolute character. She doesn’t go to pieces when her grandfather rips her from her home, thrusts her into an unfamiliar and prejudiced society, and basically tells her to kill or be killed. She adapts quickly and goes about the business of dealing with her new situation – the rivalry with Relad and Scimina, overseeing three provinces, and forming a relationship with the gods. Very impressive for someone who is only nineteen.

To be honest, I find her slightly intimidating, so I like the fact that her narrative style is so personalised and self-reflective. Yeine fills in details as she has need of them, or chooses to withhold information if she does not yet want to talk about it. The uncertainty of this style makes Yeine feel a bit more human, more companionable.

I’m curious about the way she seems to be using storytelling as an act of remembrance, also this also gives us greater cause to doubt everything she says. What happened to her that she needs to piece her memory together like this? Is there anything she’s forgotten? Anything she’s remembering wrong?

2) Yeine essentially has two families – the Darre (her father’s people) and the Arameri (her mother’s people). What do you think of her two halves? Do you think one will win out over the other within Yeine?
Yeine’s heritage is a revolutionary combination – one of the poorest races  and the most powerful. While it makes her something of an outcast among both, it also means she has both an understanding of inequality and injustice, and the potential to do something about it.

The power of her Arameri side is quite seductive, particularly the power to command the Enefadeh, but the Arameri are deceptive and morally repugnant in many ways so I don’t really see Yeine embracing this side of herself. However, she might use it to her advantage, and for subversive or revolutionary purposes. I don’t know if her Darre side will win out per se – it might be more of a synthesis – but I think it certainly guides her character, her ethics.

3) We meet the Enefa, the enslaved gods. Which do you wish to know the backstory to the most? What do you think of their enslavement?
Gods on a leash? I fucking love this. Because what I really, really want to see, is what happens if (probably when) the Arameri lose control of their slaves. Even on a leash they’re dangerous; a loosely phrased command can lead to all sorts of death and destruction, as one of Yeine’s dreams proved. Then consider how they’ve been used and humiliated. Sieh in particular has revealed that he’s been used by paedophiles. What if he gets the chance to turn on them?

He’s the one that intrigues me the most. Nahadoth’s backstory is probably more important, but I find Sieh’s character more interesting. He’s charming and unnerving at the same time, and his need for physical affection is a very ungodlike trait. Plus he’s a trickster, so I can never be sure what he’s playing at or what he might be hiding.

4) Nahadoth finally catches up to Yeine and his first words and actions are mysteries to her. Gibbering or meaning?
I’m inclined to think that it has meaning; I’d hate it if it was just random weirdness. My first thought was that she might be a reincarnation of someone Nahadoth loved. Later I linked this to the story about the human woman who Nahadoth had a child with. More on this in question 6.

5) We’ve met the competition for the unspoken throne – Lady Scimina and Lord Relad. How do you think they will complicate Yeine’s life?
Scimina is the most obvious threat; her very first reaction upon seeing Yeine was to have her attacked! Relad on the other hand seems too drunk to care about anything except perhaps keeping himself alive, drinking, and sleeping with women who look like his sister. I hope Yeine can somehow use their strange relationship against them. I’m quite worried about the vulnerability of her position. I don’t have any speculations as to how this will play out, so I’ll just chew my nails and see what happens.

6) The Enefa obviously want something from Yeine. What do you think that is and how do you think Yeine will react to their wants?
I assume Yeine has something that will help liberate the gods in some way, although not necessarily to break their bonds completely. Viraine the scrivener mentioned that the gods lost the ability to reproduce millennia ago. The first thing Nahadoth did when he caught up with Yeine was kiss her and say he’d waited a long time for her. Then there’s that story Yeine tells about the woman who bore a child with Nahadoth. My first guess was that Yeine is a reincarnation of this woman, or that she can somehow restore the god’s fertility. Perhaps she’s even a descendant of the demon that the woman gave birth to.

Alternatively, I wondered if Yeine is somehow related to Sieh’s mother Enefa, “The Betrayer” – a reincarnation, or some diminished form (like the Enefadeh, trapped in human bodies). If Yeine is connected to her somehow, then Sieh’s requests to sleep in her bed make more sense.

Yeine is careful and calculating, but she has good reason to form an alliance with the gods, given that they’re the only ones who really want to ally with her at this point and they’re powerful and knowledgeable. But, as she mentioned, “An alliance made in fear or haste will not last” so she’ll no doubt tread very carefully here, no matter how eager she is. Personally, I want her to join them as soon as possible because that’s when the trouble will really start 😀

Other
– I loved the altarskirt metaphor for the city. Yeine noted the rose’s infertility, it’s artificial nature, and the fact that creating it produces monsters that must be destroyed. I can see how this relates to the palace – the way all the people who live there are related, the fact that it could only be created with the help of the enslaved gods, and the necessary monstrousness of those gods. The rose can also be linked to the Enefadeh themselves – they can’t create new life and they’re in a tamed, unnatural form. When they tried mating with humans, they produced demons who had to be killed. But what if, amidst those demons, there was something worthwhile?

Quotes
My people were audacious builders once […] but we could never have built anything like Sky. Nor could the Amn, of course, not without the aid of their captive gods, but this is not the main reason Sky  is deeply, profoundly wrong in Darre eyes. It is blasphemy to separate oneself from the earth and look down on it like a god. It is more than blasphemy; it is dangerous. We can never be gods, after all – but we can become something less than human with frightening ease.

 

See what the others thought:
Dab of Darkness
On Starships & Dragonwings
Little Red Reviewer
Books Without Any Pictures
All I Am – A Redhead
Many A True Nerd
Nashville Book Worm

Intro to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms read-along

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsI had such a blast with The Republic of Thieves read-along that I’m jumping straight into a new one 🙂 Susan from Dab of Darkness and Andrea, the Little Red Reviewer have set up a read-along of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. They will be joined by Anya at On Starships & Dragonwings, and invited me to be the fourth host.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in The Inheritance Trilogy, followed by The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods. It won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and was nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, the World Fantasy Award, and the James Tiptree jr. Award.

Check out the blurb from Goodreads:

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate – and gods and mortals – are bound inseparably together.

 

The schedule will go as follows:

Chapters 1-9 (106 pages) Dab of Darkness, Dec. 2nd
Chapters 10-16 (100 pages) On Starships & Dragonwings, Dec. 9th
Chapters 17-22 (96 pages) Little Red Reviewer Dec. 16th
Chapters 23-End (96 pages) Violin in a Void, Dec. 23rd

If you’d like to join in with your own blog posts, email Susan at nrlymrtl [at] gmail [dot] com, or let me know in the comments. We’ll put you on the list to get the discussion questions before the posts go out.

Of course you’re also welcome to just jump in wherever you like to share your thoughts. With all those award nominations this book must have loads worth talking about; I can’t wait!