Yeine Darr’s mother was once heir to the throne of the Arameri, the ruling family-society of the world of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Until...she married a “barbarian” from the north and her father, the king, Dakarta, disowned her.
Now, just a short time after the mysterious death of her mother (“Mysterious” as in if the novel were set in the modern world, there’d be talk of “persons of interest” regarding the death.) Yeine has been summoned to the capital city of Sky to appear before her grandfather. She’s expecting to show up, put in some face-time, be sneered at by the Arameri, and then head home. Instead, grandpa, aka, King Dakarta informs her that she’s now one of his heirs and expected to vie for the throne against her two cousins. She can never go home because, even though she’s only half-Arameri, that’s enough to consign her to perpetual servitude to the throne. Hey, it could be worse. She could be one of the lesser nobility, who are conscripted as maids, cooks and other menial jobs.
The competition for the throne pits her against Relad, who is an ineffectual schemer, but a schemer, nonetheless, and, Scimina, who is a sociopath. Yeine doesn’t expect to win or for that matter, survive the competition. Especially when, soon after arriving in Sky, she encounters Scimina, who cheerfully sets Nahadoth, the Nightlord on her.
See the Arameri are top dog in the land because they’ve enslaved gods. “The gods walk among us” is reality in Sky, and anyone with the right sigil on their forehead can command them to do anything.
Therein lies the hope for Yeine’s salvation. The gods want out of this arrangement and see Yeine as the key to freeing themselves from the chains of slavery. Unfortunately, helping the gods will also get her killed, but at least she can go out on her own terms.
As one might expect, The Hundred Thousands Kingdoms’ plot is driven largely by political intrigue. I don’t read epic fantasy much lately because it’s often overburdened with world building at the expense of pacing, characterization, and just-telling-the-damned-story. Here, fortunately, the story line doesn’t flatten forests in order to spell out a detailed lineage of every king that has ever sat on the throne.
A big part of the backstory belongs to the gods themselves, in particular, the enigmatic and delicious Nahadoth, and his relationship with the Itempas, the ruling and only “free” god, and Enefa, who was slain by Itempas. And this is the story’s strength because Yeine, quite frankly, isn’t that interesting.
Yeine’s characterization can be summed up as bland. She’s the ennu, chieftain of her people, and supposedly a kick-ass kind of woman. But she spends most of the novel wandering around Sky, bumping into people and situations that prod the plot along. The characterization is trying to convey that Yeine is a fish-out-of-water and
a strong decisive woman, but it doesn’t quite achieve either, and the result a character who is swept along by the story’s events. For me, the overall tone of the writing was emotionally detached, too cool, and I just couldn’t engage with Yeine.
Huh. Maybe this is just a characteristic of most Hugo nominees.
OTOH, I liked the sex scene; it was a hawt change from the usual Tab-A meet Tab-B sexy times, and fitting given that one party was a god.
I wonder if I might have enjoyed this more absent high expectations...?