Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin -- Some Thoughts

Hundred Thousand

It's probably well known to you all that I have a bit of an aversion to epic high fantasy books. I always really really want to like them, because I'm really fond of the sort of people who do. They usually seem delightfully nerdy in all the right ways and super smart and on the edge of what's considered cool by society and all of that. And passionate. People who love fantasy have this kind of no excuses passion for it that I just adore. I guess I want to be like that so I wish I liked fantasy. Oh and it seems that people who like fantasy really enjoy getting into the meat of a story and talking about IDEAS and all that jazz.

But whenever I try to read one, I just...can't. There are usually too many things for me to think about, too many names like Aaaeeddywna that I can't pronounce and then get confused because there's also Eeeadwyna. There are all these creatures and new places and rules and languages and in no time I'm bored because my mind can't conjure the imaginary world where the story lives.

But I wanted to give it another try, so I begged, pleaded, and threatened my book club to do it with me in the form of one of last year's most acclaimed fantasy novels, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This book got GREAT reviews, made a lot of year end lists, and is also published by Orbit, so I was sure it was going to be FANTASTIC. Also, someone said there was RELIGIOUS stuff in it and you know I love that. I was sure this was going to be so good and all of my book club was going to be thanking me for dragging them into my high fantasy adventure with me and we were going to have this great discussion about how we were all wrong about fantasy it's really amazing and then we were going to pledge to read another epic fantasy by the end of the year and I was so sure so so so sure that I was going to actually give The Lord of the Rings another try before I die.

Friends, it didn't happen. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a very readable book in that I quickly turned the pages, but I now cannot tell you a single thing it was about. I think there was a character whose mother was murdered so she went to this other kingdom to see her grandfather and he wanted her to duke it out with some of her cousins (I think) to see who should get the inheritance and rule the kingdom. And I think this main kingdom was like THE kingdom in that they controlled everyone else so she really needed to win because otherwise her homeland would be decimated. (I had flashbacks to Star Wars but I have no idea if that's relevant) But somehow there were these gods who had started the world but were now slaves and they all wanted to have sex with her which was totally creepy and one of them, of course the dark lord, she could barely resist and oh yes having sex with him MIGHT KILL HER. I started wondering at this point if I was actually reading a paranormal romance. And then a whole bunch of other stuff happens and a big secret is revealed and that changes everything. Also, there was a matriarchal society where the girls coming of age was killing a man before he raped her or something traumatizing like that. I'm not even kidding.

Our book club conversation was about 20 minutes of those who actually read it talking about how we had no clue what was going on half the time, before happily moving on to talk about upcoming trips and books we want to read and my endless job search. And I have to concede that I just don't think fantasy is for me. I like urban fantasy and I like YA paranormal romance, and stuff like Harry Potter, but for some reason I just cannot seem to really get into these books that take place in an entirely made-up place. I have to concede that I will never be one of those cool people who love fantasy and that makes me sad. This, of course, is not the fault of the genre, but something about the way I'm wired.

I will say this book was much better than it could have been--I found it very readable, I just didn't retain a whole lot and was never fully immersed in the world. And also you should not take this as a slam on the book, but rather as the perspective of someone who doesn't normally read fantasy. So no hating okay?

Do you read fantasy? Is there a genre you wish you loved that you don't read?


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