May 02, 2011

BOOKS: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin (2010)

"Such a convoluted patchwork," says Jemisin's heroine at one point, as she tries to piece together the story of who's trying to manipulate her, and how, and why. And that's as good a summary as any of this book.

Yeine is the granddaughter of the king, but he disowned her mother when she ran off to marry a man from a "barbarian" tribe. It comes as a surprise, therefore, when Grandfather summons her and declares that she shall be one of the competitors to be his heir. She's competing against his niece and nephew, who are far more familiar with the Machiavellian politics of the kingdom than she, and it soon becomes clear that she is being used as a sacrificial lamb.

The convoluted patchwork involves the backstory of the Gods' War, a great battle among the three sibling gods who created the world, one of whom killed his sister (except that she's not quite dead) and imprisoned his brother in human form. There are also a bunch of the gods' children -- "godlings" -- running about, also in (mostly) human form, with immense powers that are never terribly well defined, and with agendas of their own.

By about halfway in, I'd entirely lost track of who was pulling who's strings, and I honestly didn't much care. By the time we get to the end, which is about as literal (and cheesy) a deus ex machina as one could imagine, I was just sick to death of the story and everyone in it.

With this book, I've now read all of this year's Nebula-nominated novels, and I am underwhelmed by the field. Two of the nominees -- this one, and Connie Willis's Blackout / All Clear -- also made the Hugo list (I suppose I should move on to the rest of that list now), and they were my least favorite of the bunch. I can understand Willis making the list; she's immensely popular within the field, and has a long (and richly deserved) reputation for fine writing. There's no way her magnum opus wasn't going to be nominated, no matter how badly padded and over-stuffed it is. I'm more perplexed by the Jemisin; she's a first-time novelist, so personal politics is significantly less of a factor. Anyone out there who read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and liked it? What am I missing?

None of the other nominees blew me away, but if you made me vote for a winner, I'd probably go with Jack McDevitt's Echo.

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