Yeine Darr is a barbarian from a backwater kingdom. She is also the daughter of an outcast Arameri, the all-powerful rulers in the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. When her mother dies suspiciously, Yeine is summoned back to her family’s seat of power, the city of Sky. In Sky she hopes to discover the truth of her mother’s death, but her investigation is complicated when she is named heir to the king, setting off a power struggle with her vicious cousins.
About now you are thinking that you have read this book before. Orphaned child: check. Royal heritage: check. Courtly intrigue: check. Fallen gods who function as weapons and sadomasochistic lovers: wait..what? Sorry, I forgot to mention those. You see, the Arameri are able to rule the world, because they have gods to smite their enemies whenever their enemies need smiting and the populace needs to be kept in check. Or simply because the Arameri are bored. They also have sex with these gods. Kinky sex. This took me by surprise, because the book has a fast plot that feels like a YA novel that I expected to fall into normal cliches. Just when you expect the heroine to fulfill her destiny, whammo, sex with deities.
Deity sex isn’t this book’s only distinguishing characteristic. N.K. Jemisin injects types of story elements into her novel that don’t often mix. There is court intrigue, paranormal romance, a young adult fulfilling her destiny, and even murder mystery. Jemisin also uses a trick I identify with Zelazny, where the narrator and the reader are plunged into a foreign world with a mystery to solve, but the nature of the mystery isn’t entirely clear. In fact, I was not entirely sure I was reading a fantasy novel or a science fiction novel at times, also reminiscent of Zelazny’s Lord of Light and The Amber Chronicles. And while I am discussing Nemisin’s likely influences, I should also mention that she must have read Scalzi’s superb tale of enslaved gods, The God Engines.
The real question is, does N.K. Jemisin pull it off? I say yes. I enjoyed the book a lot more than I expected and would recommend it to others with reservations. For example, young adults just coming off Harry Potter, probably not. Adult fans of young adult literature, definitely. Young adults with black eye-liner and lots of silver jewelry. Giddy-up. In closing, get this book, take it to a beach and enjoy. Strike that, get this book, buy a pack of cloves, take it to a dark coffee shop, and enjoy.