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A More Diverse Universe: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Cover image of The Hundred Thousand KingdomsBook bloggers were the ones who put The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit Books, 2010) on my radar, so reading it for the A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour seemed like the perfect reason to move it to the top of the TBR list.

First in a trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms lays the foundation for an overarching story but also has a satisfying completeness in itself. It took me a little while to get hooked, but about halfway through, I realized why so many readers liked this book so much.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, as you might guess from the title, mentions multiple countries in the course of the story, all under the rule of the Arameri family of Amn, in the palace of Sky, in the city of Sky. The story is set many years after the Gods’ War, when one of three powerful gods vanquished the other two and the world changed for the humans living under the sway of the pale-skinned Arameri, who wield the power of the one remaining god, the Skyfather, also known as Bright Itempas.

Yeine, the main character and narrator of the story, is a nineteen-year-old warrior chieftain from the forested country of Darr, the child of a Darren father and an Amn mother, who was the exiled daughter of the ruling Arameri family. Yeine describes herself near the beginning of the book as “short and flat and brown as forestwood, and my hair is a curled mess.” When she is thrust into the thick of palace intrigue and succession squabbling right at the start of the book, no one is more surprised than she is.

It doesn’t take Yeine long to get her bearings. It took me a lot longer, what with all the skillful world-building going on and the backstory of world mythology that was common knowledge to Yeine but had to be told to the reader. (I’ve never been good at geography. Or mythology, for that matter. All those gods and who does what…) Themes of race, gender, slavery, wealth, power, and religion thread through the book, but are never allowed to take over. The strong plot and the ultimate bad boy love interest move the story along quickly, once the story gets going and as Yeine starts to understand more.

I haven’t read a lot of straightforward fantasy to compare The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to, so I’m not the best reviewer of this book, but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms won the 2011 Locus Award for Best First Novel, so judges who are very familiar with the genre have recognized its merit. Readers looking for a fantasy with a strong female main character and detailed world-building should definitely give it a try.

Read the first chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms here.

View the complete schedule for A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour hosted by Aarti at BookLust.

Waiting on Wednesday — Clockwork Prince

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read selection” is:

Clockwork Prince

Cassandra Clare

Publication Date: December 6

Second in Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices sequence, this picks up where Clockwork Angel left off. Young adult urban fantasy can start to seem repetitive after a while, but Cassandra Clare (a Massachusetts resident, BTW) is the leader of the current pack in creating smart, strong characters and casually blending breezy humor with tense action scenes. Infernal Devices is a prequel to The Mortal Instruments, set in Victorian London, and adds an element of steampunk to the mix.
If you start with City of Bones now, you can read the four books that come before Clockwork Prince and be all caught up by December 6th.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

This is a book that I want to hand to everyone in the library, saying, “You’ve got to read this book!”
Since The Wise Man’s Fear is a sequel, though, I’d actually have to say, “First you’ve got to read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and then you’ve got to read this book!” People are going to think I’m crazy to recommend two gigantic books from the fantasy and science fiction section (kiss of death for a vast swathe of readers) even before they realize from the series title (in tiny print on the cover), Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2, that there is at least one more gigantic book to come.
I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the fantasy genre, so when I loved The Name of the Wind so much, I did wonder if it was derivative of other series and just seemed fresh and original to me because I’m not a Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, or Stephen R. Donaldson reader. But today I found a lengthy online discussion of all the connections and hidden meanings in the Kingkiller Chronicle thus far (most of which I probably missed, rushing through the books). The discussion is led by author and Kingkiller fan, Jo Walton, and her novel Among Others (reviewed here, March 2011) proves without a doubt that she knows her science fiction and fantasy.
The Kingkiller Chronicle is a humanistic fantasy; there are faeries, demons, archanists, and alchemists, but no epic battle scenes with giant moving trees or ogres fighting elves. Most of it is set up as Kvothe, the hero, telling the story of his life (which has been exaggerated, rumored about,  and mythologized) to a chronicler traveling through.
Sounds boring, and believe me, I thought so too, when I first realized with The Name of the Wind that I was going to be listening to a storyteller for over 700 pages. But Patrick Rothfuss makes Kvothe into a great storyteller; you forget you’re listening to a story, and become engrossed in it.
To be realistic, I know I won’t talk everyone into reading these books, so I’ll just say this: Try them if you’re looking for an absorbing read. Maybe, if you liked The Passage by Justin Cronin, but thought the good vs. evil tension could have been a little more subtle, or if you liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, but would be willing to forgo the elements of English historical fiction, you should pick up The Name of the Wind.
Perfect for an extended summer vacation read!

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