Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: Fantasy
Original Pub. Date: 2010

One of these days I'm finally going to finish and publish my fantasy magnum opus, and then I'll get my proper karmic punishment from Goodreads as a thousand bitchy frustrated authors come out of the woodwork to sneer.

But that day hasn't come, and so thanks to my own laziness I don't need to fear immediate reprisal as I say: this book was stupid, so incredibly stupid that I wonder how the author got out of protective custody/padded wrapping/a nursery school long enough to write it, and so stupid that I'm certain I'm stupider for having read it.

It's so dumb that I'm having trouble even breaking down the nitwittery into discrete chunks for review-quality digestion.* Shall I start with the fact that this book, like Kushiel's Dart and so many others in recent years, hinges a significant portion of the plot on deviant sex, mystical sex, and/or poorly written sex? I guess that's better than no sex at all, particularly when the books in question claim to be fantasy romance, like the unbearably tedious and neutered Chronicles of Elantra and its unbearably tedious and neutered protagonists. On the other hand, when the deep connection between the lovers is predicated not on actual character development but on the fact that one of them is able to have ten or twenty mystical god-mouths on different human parts all at once, my gag reflex kicks in and my literary interest abruptly switches off.

Or, we could start with the muddled political allegories. I think the author thinks that slavery is really mean and bad and that white imperialists don't, like, treat all cultures as equal and stuff, but I could be wrong about that. It was done so subtly.

I also had some issues with the author's apparent belief that noble, dark-skinned people who are forced to live among slave-owning white imperialists don't use contractions. At least she put all the apostrophes in the right place when she did use them, unlike some people.

Or maybe I should go right for the jugular: what makes contemporary fantasy authors think that vague, meaningless pseudo-spiritual garbage equals elevated style? It could be because so many critics with dollar signs in their eyes have pushed that agenda on a guileless public, wide-eyed lambs sent trustingly to a slaughterhouse of half-finished sentences, italics, and vague hints at deep meaning that never coalesce.

On the other hand, it could simply be that the contemporary fantasy authors in question are fucking stupid. In this case, I'm going with column B.

The book starts as Yeine Darr, the granddaughter of the white imperialist slave-owning king of the world**, is summoned from her little backwater kingdom to the seat of power, the city of Sky. The rulers of Sky keep their stranglehold on the rest of the world by using the power of gods who have been subjugated and forced to their wills. One of the gods, Itempas, is nominally in charge; the gods whose power is bent to the ends of the Sky rulers are his various family members (godly incest is a big theme here, natch, since what would pseudo-spirituality be without a healthy dose of deviant god-sex?).

Though much of Yeine's energy goes into avoiding contractions and indulging in far too many passages of unfinished, and in some cases seemingly unedited, italic reminiscences, she still manages to engage in some obscurely written multiple-mouthed god-sex with light-god Itempas's brother, the god of night, fend off the sexual advances of a playful child-god whom others in Sky have raped and abused, and have a one night stand with one of her cousins.

Even though it stretches my powers of analysis to attempt to comment on the above, I feel compelled to note that I think -- not sure here, but going for it anyway -- that it's ironic that the god of light is the source of evil, that the beautiful city of Sky, placed above the rest of the world, is beneath it in morality, and that the hated god of destruction and darkness is actually more capable of love and honor than those who set themselves up as authorities on religion and social order. It was also shocking when I saw that sometimes highly placed, wealthy people are capable of decadence and pedophilia; I was then led to the astonishing realization that material wealth and political power, when wielded by light-skinned imperialists, inevitably lead to pedophilia and rape! Thank all the many-mouthed sex gods for my new-found enlightenment. Without N.K. Jemison, I might have spent the rest of my life believing (thanks for nothing, patriarchal oppression!) that all races, income levels, and occupations contain people with a variety of character traits and personal habits.

Once properly indoctrinated, I was ready to be enthralled by the remainder of the book's finely tuned plot. After getting through all the gross sex needed to sell the book to the target demographic properly express the author's complex ideas, Yeine unravels the mystery of why Itempas set up Sky in the first place, and why she was summoned to the city in order to participate in its governance.

In the end, she frees the enslaved gods, becomes a god, and takes off into the ether to have incestuous god-sex, surely the highest end to which anyone could aspire. Me, I just want a cup of coffee and a good book, no incestuous pseudo-S/M god-sex required, but thanks to N.K. Jemisin, that dream is now just a heap of ashes and unnecessary italicized adverbs.

Avoid this overblown, pretentious, preachy, dull, over-written nonsense at all costs, unless your medical insurance covers blunt-force metaphor trauma.

One and a half stars.

* And I'm also a little hampered by the fact that I moved 1500 miles in between reading this book/starting the review and now, when I'm going to post it. I don't have the book in front of me, and so I can't quote from it -- bummer for me, but Christmas came early for you.

** Do you think he might be one of the villains? Hmmmm . . .

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