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Debut Week kick-off with N.K. Jemisin

I'm pleased to kick-off Debut Week here on my blog with N.K. Jemisin, whose first novel, THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, was released by Orbit in trade paperback just last week (February 25th) to much fanfare.  (Check out my release day post here.)  I'm dying to rave about what an amazing and original writer she is, but I know the dangers over over-hyping, so I hope you'll all just go out and look for her book and find out for yourselves.  Further, if the reading inspires you to chat, N.K. Jemisin will be a guest at the Barnes & Noble Fantasy & Science Fiction Discussion Board all this month!  (Of course, you're always welcome here as well.)  And now, I present to you....

Ten Epic Fantasy Themes We Don't See Enough: THE SEQUEL by N.K. Jemisin

Hi again, all. It seems amazing to me that the big day has come at last, but it has: as of last Thursday, my first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, has officially been published!

The past week has been pretty busy for me as I undertook all the usual rites-of-passage that debut authors do around Launch Day. I threw a launch party, just me and fifty of my closest friends; I've been promoting myself at every turn, doing interviews and setting up readings; and more. But it occurs to me that rites of passage are also times of transition and reflection. It's important for us creative types to pause every so often amid the hustle and grind, and look back a bit. So when Lucienne asked me to do a guest blog for her, I decided to revisit the last one I'd done:
Ten Epic Fantasy Themes We Don't See Enough. Let's see how The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms stacks up against my own list. I'll check them off as I go along.

First, a brief description of the book:

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 Arameri -- the family that rules the world. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. She must turn to the family weapons, a quartet of enslaved gods, for help. But gods, especially angry ones, cannot be trusted...

I'll try to avoid spoilers, as I go along.

10. True Ensemble Casts.

No check. (Aww!)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is very much the story of one woman, Yeine Darr, who gets sucked into a viper pit of family drama and godly politics. She has to solve a number of mysteries and survive multiple death threats from every direction -- so it's safe to say this isn't really an ensemble/team kind of story. That said, every named character in the story, from the cold-hearted patriarch Dekarta to the cynical servant T'vril, is absolutely crucial to the plot. They all have their own unique motivations, which aren't always what Yeine expects, and it's safe to say that they don't just exist for the sake of making Yeine look good. So maybe the book meets the spirit, rather than the letter, of this theme.

9. Settings Other Than "McAncient McEurope".


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms -- which is in this case the collective name for the world portrayed in the trilogy -- are much like our own world's nations. They exist on multiple continents, and encompass hundreds of disparate cultures and races and ethnicities. Although the story takes place in a society which to a degree resembles medieval Europe -- there's a palace, people ride in carriages and use swords -- Yeine's father comes from a society that more closely resembles indigenous American empires like the Inca, and the story briefly visits one of their marvelous stone cities. Much of the story's tension lies in the conflict Yeine feels between her father's culture, in which she was raised, and her mother's people, who regard her as barbaric, and tainted for being of mixed race.

8. Beta Males and Alpha Females.


Yeine is very much an alpha female -- the chieftain of her father's people, born and raised to rule a nation. But at the beginning of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, she's forced to become a member of the Arameri family. They rule the whole world, not one nation, and among them Yeine is a babe in the woods. The whole story revolves around her struggle to claim agency, despite her powerless position.

There's a beta male in the story too: Nahadoth, the most powerful of the Arameri's captive gods. Nahadoth is "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" in the classical sense; he's the god of chaos, and his normal state of existence is as a screaming, shapeless, insanely destructive force of nature. Having been crammed into a mortal shape for the duration of the story, he's a constant looming threat for Yeine, because he's developed a habit of killing any Arameri foolish enough to be seduced by him... and Yeine's definitely atracted. Yet for all his power, Nahadoth is still a slave. He can be commanded, punished, and degraded by his mortal masters -- including Yeine -- at any time. This makes him both powerful and powerless, and Yeine is the one who must decide how (or if, given the danger) there can be anything between them.

7. Fantasy Without Magic.

No check.

Nah, there's magic all over this book. Magic elevators, magic cosmetics, magic toys. Scratch that one.

6. Cross the Streams!


I have to admit, I was a little surprised when my publisher first described the trilogy as epic fantasy. I hadn't really known what to call it -- New Weird baroquepunk? History mystery fantasy? Part of the problem is that the whole trilogy is a little bit of everything. The first book is part Gothic mystery, part stranger-in-a-strange-land bildungsroman. The second book is part urban fantasy, part redemption tale. The third book is part quest fantasy, and another bildungsroman (sort of). Cross the streams? This trilogy's a frickin' river delta.

So "epic fantasy" is probably the most useful label, given that it covers so much territory. But it's no Tolkien clone, believe me.

5. Acknowledgement of Ugliness.


Yeine isn't pretty. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and cultural. Because Yeine is biracial and has inherited the characteristics of two races that hate each other, she's gotten a lot of crap from people on both sides of her heritage. The result is that she doesn't consider herself beautiful, even though by the standards of a multicultural society like the United States, she's probably kinda cute.

And the world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms isn't pretty. This is a world in which a single family wields absolute power -- and they have of course been corrupted absolutely by it. The Arameri have done great things, despite this; they saved the world, in the wake of a terrible apocalyptic war between the gods. They've abolished hunger, gotten rid of illiteracy and overt sexism and racism, and so on. But all these boons come with a price: absolute obedience to the Arameri. Every culture in the world must speak their language, worship their gods, follow their customs... or be destroyed.

And then there's the source of the Arameri's power: the quartet of hobbled, enslaved gods. Slavery isn't pretty -- not even when it takes place in a beautiful skybound palace, and not even when its victims are inhumanly magnificent beings with great power of their own. Slavery can destroy even a god's soul. So there's plenty of ugliness in that respect too.

4. Scientific Rigor.

No check.

This one's in line with #7. The whole story takes place in a setting that defies the laws of physics: Sky, a city-sized palace that sits atop a thin, mile-high stalk. Such a structure couldn't possibly exist in the real world, and certainly not without using high-tech materials and modern building techniques. In this case, however, building it was easy: the Arameri just commanded their godly slaves to do it for them. (I fully expect this to annoy any architects or engineers who read the story.)

3. Human Societies with Realistic Complexity.


As I mentioned in #9, there's plenty of that here. There aren't really a hundred thousand kingdoms in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms; that's just poetic license the Arameri use to make their reign seem more grandiose. But there are several hundred kingdoms, each with their own cultures and histories and agendas. The tensions of race, ethnicity, class, and power are ever-present in the story.

2. Life After "Ever After".


Hmm. I can't think of a way to talk about this without major spoilers. Suffice it to say that although The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is essentially complete in itself, it's still part of a trilogy, and there's two whole books of life after "ever after" remaining to be explored.

1. More, Well, Fantasy.

I can't judge this one. Those of you who've read the book will have to tell me if I succeeded!

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( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 1st, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
I'm so looking forward to reading this! It'll be nice to have a multi-cultural/ethnic fantasy. Keep writing!
Mar. 2nd, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
I'm sold! I'll be in Singapore in a few days (in Vietnam now), and hope I can find a copy. Maybe I should order the book now so it will be there when I arrive. Now there's an idea...

Off to explore Google's possibilities...
Mar. 13th, 2010 11:48 pm (UTC)
Don't know if you managed to get the book, but I saw copies in Kinokuniya on Orchard Road last week.

Edited at 2010-03-13 11:48 pm (UTC)
Mar. 14th, 2010 11:09 am (UTC)
Yep, that's exactly where I got my copy! Thanks. :D
Mar. 2nd, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
I got to hear this at World Fantasy. I'm so excited to be able to read the rest of it!!
Mar. 2nd, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on your debut!
Mar. 2nd, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
Nice! I'm biased when it comes to fantasy, as it's my preferred genre, but I have to say your post really got my attention. Added to wish list!

Congrats on the debut! I've seen the book's cover and was already intrigued, now I'm hooked! :)
Mar. 2nd, 2010 10:46 pm (UTC)
New Weird Baroquepunk? Whoa. That sells me a lot better than epic fantasy. *g*
Mar. 3rd, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
you had me at Epic Fantasy XD I love epic fantasy.

That being said I read this and I adored it. Yeine was my kind of heroine honestly--tough, clever and didn't take BS, but knew when to ask for help.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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