After her mother dies under suspicious circumstances, Yeine is ordered by her estranged grandfather, the head of the Arameri and sovereign of the world to journey to Sky, the citadel from which the hundred thousand kingdoms are ruled. Yeine knows little of the ways of the Arameri who run a malevolent theocracy centred on the god Itempas or skyfather. The gods responsible for creating this world are a part of its fabric albeit slaves to the Arameri after being defeated by Itempas in an ancient war. At Sky, Yeine is named heir to the Arameri throne along with two of her cousins, a decision that is tantamount to a death penalty. It doesn’t help that the Arameri regard her as little more than a northern barbarian. When the enslaved gods offer her an alliance, which wouldn’t save her life but may redeem it, she is drawn into a conspiracy that could have disastrous consequences for her.
I usually enjoy books that the Speculative Scotsman recommends. This is not actually one that he’d read – but was apparently very eager to read, having collected all the books in the trilogy. I was naturally disappointed because I found the book boring. I suspect this had a lot to do with Yeine’s point of view from which the book is written. I suppose Jemisin was trying to show Yeine’s evolution from a timid and unsure entrant in this world of intrigue into someone who later demonstrates extraordinary control over her actions and emotions. This motive notwithstanding, the narrative appears lopsided, disjointed and frankly annoying.
The focus of the story is not on world building at all. We see very little of the world at large beyond Sky’s walls. The citadel had the potential to astound but felt like a second rate blend of Gormenghast and Pandora’s floating mountains. Its descriptions are mundane and make it feel like a mildly magical manor house. Jemisin’s interest appears to lie in relationships particularly those that Yeine carves with the gods, Nahadoth and Sieh. The former is the alluringly hot lord of the night who cares and harms in equal parts. The latter is the childlike deity of mischief who confuses Yeine with his overtures. The novel has strong feminist inclinations. For instance, Darr, Yeine’s homeland is a matriarchal society where in the past young men were captured on the battlefield, mutilated and used for breeding. Although its misandry seems to have mellowed, the nation’s army continues to be made up of women where the strength of men is seen as better used to defend homes and babies. Even among Yeine’s opponents, Relad is shown as lazy, inebriated and indolent whereas his sister Scimana is cunning and capable albeit cruel. She exploits Nahadoth sexually and sadistically in what seems to be a reversal of traditional roles. Additionally, Yeine herself appears to be sexually independent, perhaps even the dominant partner in the encounters she discerningly commits to – very unusual for a work of fantasy where women are rarely masters of their sexual destiny. This Germaine Greerish tenor, however unconventional, wasn’t enough to make this novel work.