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 king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.
"Jemisin's engaging debut grabs readers right from the start…a complex, edge-of-your-seat story with plenty of funny, scary, and bittersweet twists." - Publishers Weekly, (starred review)
Release date: February 25, 2010
Print pages: 432
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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
I must try to remember.
* * *
My people tell stories of the night I was born. They say my mother crossed her legs in the middle of labor and fought with
all her strength not to release me into the world. I was born anyhow, of course; nature cannot be denied. Yet it does not
surprise me that she tried.
* * *
My mother was an heiress of the Arameri. There was a ball for the lesser nobility—the sort of thing that happens once a decade
as a backhanded sop to their self-esteem. My father dared ask my mother to dance; she deigned to consent. I have often wondered
what he said and did that night to make her fall in love with him so powerfully, for she eventually abdicated her position
to be with him. It is the stuff of great tales, yes? Very romantic. In the tales, such a couple lives happily ever after.
The tales do not say what happens when the most powerful family in the world is offended in the process.
* * *
But I forget myself. Who was I, again? Ah, yes.
My name is Yeine. In my people’s way I am Yeine dau she Kinneth tai wer Somem kanna Darre, which means that I am the daughter
of Kinneth, and that my tribe within the Darre people is called Somem. Tribes mean little to us these days, though before
the Gods’ War they were more important.
I am nineteen years old. I also am, or was, the chieftain of my people, called ennu. In the Arameri way, which is the way of the Amn race from whom they originated, I am the Baroness Yeine Darr.
One month after my mother died, I received a message from my grandfather Dekarta Arameri, inviting me to visit the family
seat. Because one does not refuse an invitation from the Arameri, I set forth. It took the better part of three months to
travel from the High North continent to Senm, across the Repentance Sea. Despite Darr’s relative poverty, I traveled in style
the whole way, first by palanquin and ocean vessel, and finally by chauffeured horse-coach. This was not my choice. The Darre
Warriors’ Council, which rather desperately hoped that I might restore us to the Arameri’s good graces, thought that this
extravagance would help. It is well known that Amn respect displays of wealth.
Thus arrayed, I arrived at my destination on the cusp of the winter solstice. And as the driver stopped the coach on a hill
outside the city, ostensibly to water the horses but more likely because he was a local and liked to watch foreigners gawk,
I got my first glimpse of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ heart.
There is a rose that is famous in High North. (This is not a digression.) It is called the altarskirt rose. Not only do its
petals unfold in a radiance of pearled white, but frequently it grows an incomplete secondary flower about the base of its
stem. In its most prized form, the altarskirt grows a layer of overlarge petals that drape the ground. The two bloom in tandem,
seedbearing head and skirt, glory above and below.
This was the city called Sky. On the ground, sprawling over a small mountain or an oversize hill: a circle of high walls,
mounting tiers of buildings, all resplendent in white, per Arameri decree. Above the city, smaller but brighter, the pearl
of its tiers occasionally obscured by scuds of cloud, was the palace—also called Sky, and perhaps more deserving of the name.
I knew the column was there, the impossibly thin column that supported such a massive structure, but from that distance I
couldn’t see it. Palace floated above city, linked in spirit, both so unearthly in their beauty that I held my breath at the
The altarskirt rose is priceless because of the difficulty of producing it. The most famous lines are heavily inbred; it originated
as a deformity that some savvy breeder deemed useful. The primary flower’s scent, sweet to us, is apparently repugnant to
insects; these roses must be pollinated by hand. The secondary flower saps nutrients crucial for the plant’s fertility. Seeds
are rare, and for every one that grows into a perfect altarskirt, ten others become plants that must be destroyed for their
* * *
At the gates of Sky (the palace) I was turned away, though not for the reasons I’d expected. My grandfather was not present, it seemed. He had left instructions in the event of my arrival.
Sky is the Arameri’s home; business is never done there. This is because, officially, they do not rule the world. The Nobles’
Consortium does, with the benevolent assistance of the Order of Itempas. The Consortium meets in the Salon, a huge, stately
building—white-walled, of course—that sits among a cluster of official buildings at the foot of the palace. It is very impressive,
and would be more so if it did not sit squarely in Sky’s elegant shadow.
I went inside and announced myself to the Consortium staff, whereupon they all looked very surprised, though politely so.
One of them—a very junior aide, I gathered—was dispatched to escort me to the central chamber, where the day’s session was
well under way.
As a lesser noble, I had always been welcome to attend a Consortium gathering, but there had never seemed any point. Besides
the expense and months of travel time required to attend, Darr was simply too small, poor, and ill-favored to have any clout,
even without my mother’s abdication adding to our collective stain. Most of High North is regarded as a backwater, and only
the largest nations there have enough prestige or money to make their voices heard among our noble peers. So I was not surprised
to find that the seat reserved for me on the Consortium floor—in a shadowed area, behind a pillar—was currently occupied by
an excess delegate from one of the Senm-continent nations. It would be terribly rude, the aide stammered anxiously, to dislodge
this man, who was elderly and had bad knees. Perhaps I would not mind standing? Since I had just spent many long hours cramped
in a carriage, I was happy to agree.
So the aide positioned me at the side of the Consortium floor, where I actually had a good view of the goings-on. The Consortium
chamber was magnificently apportioned, with white marble and rich, dark wood that had probably come from Darr’s forests in
better days. The nobles—three hundred or so in total—sat in comfortable chairs on the chamber’s floor or along elevated tiers
above. Aides, pages, and scribes occupied the periphery with me, ready to fetch documents or run errands as needed. At the
head of the chamber, the Consortium Overseer stood atop an elaborate podium, pointing to members as they indicated a desire
to speak. Apparently there was a dispute over water rights in a desert somewhere; five countries were involved. None of the
conversation’s participants spoke out of turn; no tempers were lost; there were no snide comments or veiled insults. It was
all very orderly and polite, despite the size of the gathering and the fact that most of those present were accustomed to
speaking however they pleased among their own people.
One reason for this extraordinary good behavior stood on a plinth behind the Overseer’s podium: a life-size statue of the
Skyfather in one of His most famous poses, the Appeal to Mortal Reason. Hard to speak out of turn under that stern gaze. But
more repressive, I suspected, was the stern gaze of the man who sat behind the Overseer in an elevated box. I could not see
him well from where I stood, but he was elderly, richly dressed, and flanked by a younger blond man and a dark-haired woman,
as well as a handful of retainers.
It did not take much to guess this man’s identity, though he wore no crown, had no visible guards, and neither he nor anyone
in his entourage spoke throughout the meeting.
“Hello, Grandfather,” I murmured to myself, and smiled at him across the chamber, though I knew he could not see me. The pages
and scribes gave me the oddest looks for the rest of the afternoon.
* * *
I knelt before my grandfather with my head bowed, hearing titters of laughter.
* * *
There were three gods once.
Only three, I mean. Now there are dozens, perhaps hundreds. They breed like rabbits. But once there were only three, most
powerful and glorious of all: the god of day, the god of night, and the goddess of twilight and dawn. Or light and darkness
and the shades between. Or order, chaos, and balance. None of that is important because one of them died, the other might
as well have, and the last is the only one who matters anymore.
The Arameri get their power from this remaining god. He is called the Skyfather, Bright Itempas, and the ancestors of the
Arameri were His most devoted priests. He rewarded them by giving them a weapon so mighty that no army could stand against
it. They used this weapon—weapons, really—to make themselves rulers of the world.
That’s better. Now.
* * *
I knelt before my grandfather with my head bowed and my knife laid on the floor.
We were in Sky, having transferred there following the Consortium session, via the magic of the Vertical Gate. Immediately
upon arrival I had been summoned to my grandfather’s audience chamber, which felt much like a throne room. The chamber was
roughly circular because circles are sacred to Itempas. The vaulted ceiling made the members of the court look taller—unnecessarily,
since Amn are a tall people compared to my own. Tall and pale and endlessly poised, like statues of human beings rather than
real flesh and blood.
“Most high Lord Arameri,” I said. “I am honored to be in your presence.”
I had heard titters of laughter when I entered the room. Now they sounded again, muffled by hands and kerchiefs and fans.
I was reminded of bird flocks roosting in a forest canopy.
Before me sat Dekarta Arameri, uncrowned king of the world. He was old; perhaps the oldest man I have ever seen, though Amn
usually live longer than my people, so this was not surprising. His thin hair had gone completely white, and he was so gaunt
and stooped that the elevated stone chair on which he sat—it was never called a throne—seemed to swallow him whole.
“Granddaughter,” he said, and the titters stopped. The silence was heavy enough to hold in my hand. He was head of the Arameri
family, and his word was law. No one had expected him to acknowledge me as kin, least of all myself.
“Stand,” he said. “Let me have a look at you.”
I did, reclaiming my knife since no one had taken it. There was more silence. I am not very interesting to look at. It might
have been different if I had gotten the traits of my two peoples in a better combination—Amn height with Darre curves, perhaps,
or thick straight Darre hair colored Amn-pale. I have Amn eyes: faded green in color, more unnerving than pretty. Otherwise,
I am short and flat and brown as forestwood, and my hair is a curled mess. Because I find it unmanageable otherwise, I wear
it short. I am sometimes mistaken for a boy.
As the silence wore on, I saw Dekarta frown. There was an odd sort of marking on his forehead, I noticed: a perfect circle
of black, as if someone had dipped a coin in ink and pressed it to his flesh. On either side of this was a thick chevron,
bracketing the circle.
“You look nothing like her,” he said at last. “But I suppose that is just as well. Viraine?”
This last was directed at a man who stood among the courtiers closest to the throne. For an instant I thought he was another
elder, then I realized my error: though his hair was stark white, he was only somewhere in his fourth decade. He, too, bore
a forehead mark, though his was less elaborate than Dekarta’s: just the black circle.
“She’s not hopeless,” he said, folding his arms. “Nothing to be done about her looks; I doubt even makeup will help. But put
her in civilized attire and she can convey… nobility, at least.” His eyes narrowed, taking me apart by degrees. My best Darren
clothing, a long vest of white civvetfur and calf-length leggings, earned me a sigh. (I had gotten the odd look for this outfit
at the Salon, but I hadn’t realized it was that bad.) He examined my face so long that I wondered if I should show my teeth.
Instead he smiled, showing his. “Her mother has trained her. Look how she shows no fear or resentment, even now.”
“She will do, then,” said Dekarta.
“Do for what, Grandfather?” I asked. The weight in the room grew heavier, expectant, though he had already named me granddaughter.
There was a certain risk involved in my daring to address him the same familiar way, of course—powerful men are touchy over
odd things. But my mother had indeed trained me well, and I knew it was worth the risk to establish myself in the court’s
Dekarta Arameri’s face did not change; I could not read it. “For my heir, Granddaughter. I intend to name you to that position
The silence turned to stone as hard as my grandfather’s chair.
I thought he might be joking, but no one laughed. That was what made me believe him at last: the utter shock and horror on
the faces of the courtiers as they stared at their lord. Except the one called Viraine. He watched me.
It came to me that some response was expected.
“You already have heirs,” I said.
“Not as diplomatic as she could be,” Viraine said in a dry tone.
Dekarta ignored this. “It is true, there are two other candidates,” he said to me. “My niece and nephew, Scimina and Relad.
Your cousins, once removed.”
I had heard of them, of course; everyone had. Rumor constantly made one or the other heir, though no one knew for certain
which. Both was something that had not occurred to me.
“If I may suggest, Grandfather,” I said carefully, though it was impossible to be careful in this conversation, “I would make
two heirs too many.”
It was the eyes that made Dekarta seem so old, I would realize much later. I had no idea what color they had originally been;
age had bleached and filmed them to near-white. There were lifetimes in those eyes, none of them happy.
“Indeed,” he said. “But just enough for an interesting competition, I think.”
“I don’t understand, Grandfather.”
He lifted his hand in a gesture that would have been graceful, once. Now his hand shook badly. “It is very simple. I have
named three heirs. One of you will actually manage to succeed me. The other two will doubtless kill each other or be killed
by the victor. As for which lives, and which die—” He shrugged. “That is for you to decide.”
My mother had taught me never to show fear, but emotions will not be stilled so easily. I began to sweat. I have been the
target of an assassination attempt only once in my life—the benefit of being heir to such a tiny, impoverished nation. No
one wanted my job. But now there would be two others who did. Lord Relad and Lady Scimina were wealthy and powerful beyond
my wildest dreams. They had spent their whole lives striving against each other toward the goal of ruling the world. And here
came I, unknown, with no resources and few friends, into the fray.
“There will be no decision,” I said. To my credit, my voice did not shake. “And no contest. They will kill me at once and
turn their attention back to each other.”
“That is possible,” said my grandfather.
I could think of nothing to say that would save me. He was insane; that was obvious. Why else turn rulership of the world
into a contest prize? If he died tomorrow, Relad and Scimina would rip the earth asunder between them. The killing might not
end for decades. And for all he knew, I was an idiot. If by some impossible chance I managed to gain the throne, I could plunge
the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms into a spiral of mismanagement and suffering. He had to know that.
One cannot argue with madness. But sometimes, with luck and the Skyfather’s blessing, one can understand it. “Why?”
He nodded as if he had expected my question. “Your mother deprived me of an heir when she left our family. You will pay her
“She is four months in the grave,” I snapped. “Do you honestly want revenge against a dead woman?”
“This has nothing to do with revenge, Granddaughter. It is a matter of duty.” He made a gesture with his left hand, and another
courtier detached himself from the throng. Unlike the first man—indeed, unlike most of the courtiers whose faces I could see—the
mark on this man’s forehead was a downturned half-moon, like an exaggerated frown. He knelt before the dais that held Dekarta’s
chair, his waist-length red braid falling over one shoulder to curl on the floor.
“I cannot hope that your mother has taught you duty,” Dekarta said to me over this man’s back. “She abandoned hers to dally
with her sweet-tongued savage. I allowed this—an indulgence I have often regretted. So I will assuage that regret by bringing
you back into the fold, Granddaughter. Whether you live or die is irrelevant. You are Arameri, and like all of us, you will
Then he waved to the red-haired man. “Prepare her as best you can.”
There was nothing more. The red-haired man rose and came to me, murmuring that I should follow him. I did. Thus ended my first
meeting with my grandfather, and thus began my first day as an Arameri. It was not the worst of the days to come.
THE CAPITAL OF MY LAND is called Arrebaia. It is a place of ancient stone, its walls overgrown by vines and guarded by beasts that do not exist.
We have forgotten when it was founded, but it has been the capital for at least two thousand years. People there walk slowly
and speak softly out of respect for the generations that have trodden those streets before, or perhaps just because they do
not feel like being loud.
Sky—the city, I mean—is only five hundred years old, built when some disaster befell the previous Arameri seat. This makes
it an adolescent as cities go—and a rude, uncouth one at that. As my carriage rode through the city’s center, other carriages
went past in a clatter of wheels and horseshoes. People covered every sidewalk, bumping and milling and bustling, not talking.
They all seemed in a hurry. The air was thick with familiar smells like horses and stagnant water amid indefinable scents,
some acrid and some sickly sweet. There was nothing green in sight.
* * *
What was I—?
Oh, yes. The gods.
Not the gods that remain in the heavens, who are loyal to Bright Itempas. There are others who were not loyal. Perhaps I should
not call them gods, since no one worships them anymore. (How does one define “god”?) There must be a better name for what
they are. Prisoners of war? Slaves? What did I call them before—weapons?
They are said to be somewhere in Sky, four of them, trapped in tangible vessels and kept under lock and key and magic chain.
Perhaps they sleep in crystal cases and are awakened on occasion to be polished and oiled. Perhaps they are shown off to honored
But sometimes, sometimes, their masters call them forth. And then there are strange new plagues. Occasionally the population
of an entire city will vanish overnight. Once, jagged, steaming pits appeared where there had been mountains.
It is not safe to hate the Arameri. Instead we hate their weapons, because weapons do not care.
* * *
My courtier companion was T’vril, who introduced himself as the palace steward. The name told me at least part of his heritage
at once, but he went on to explain: he was a halfbreed like me, part Amn and part Ken. The Ken inhabit an island far to the
east; they are famous for their seacraft. His strange red-colored hair came from them.
“Dekarta’s beloved wife, the Lady Ygreth, died tragically young more than forty years ago,” T’vril explained. He spoke briskly
as we walked through Sky’s white halls, not sounding particularly broken up about the tragedy of the dead lady. “Kinneth was
just a child at the time, but it was already clear she would grow up to be a more-than-suitable heir, so I suppose Dekarta
felt no pressing need to remarry. When Kinneth, er, left the family fold, he turned to the children of his late brother. There
were four of them originally; Relad and Scimina were the youngest. Twins—runs in the family. Alas, their elder sister met
with an unfortunate accident, or so the official story goes.”
I just listened. It was a useful, if appalling, education about my new kin, which was probably why T’vril had decided to tell
me. He had also informed me of my new title, duties, and privileges, at least in brief. I was Yeine Arameri now, no longer
Yeine Darr. I would have new lands to oversee and wealth beyond imagining. I would be expected to attend Consortium sessions
regularly and sit in the Arameri private box when I did so. I would be permitted to dwell permanently in Sky in the welcoming
bosom of my maternal relatives, and I would never see my homeland again.
It was hard not to dwell on that last bit, as T’vril continued.
“Their elder brother was my father—also dead, thanks to his own efforts. He was fond of young women. Very young women.” He
made a face, though I had the sense he’d told the story often enough that it didn’t really trouble him. “Unfortunately for
him, my mother was just old enough to get with child. Dekarta executed him when her family took exception.” He sighed and
shrugged. “We highbloods can get away with a great many things, but… well, there are rules. We were the ones to establish
a worldwide age of consent, after all. To ignore our own laws would be an offense to the Skyfather.”
I wanted to ask why that mattered when Bright Itempas didn’t seem to care what else the Arameri did, but I held my tongue.
There had been a note of dry irony in T’vril’s voice in any case; no comment was necessary.
With a brisk efficiency that would have made my no-nonsense grandmother jealous, T’vril had me measured for new clothing,
scheduled for a visit to a stylist, and assigned quarters all in the span of an hour. Then came a brief tour, during which
T’vril chattered endlessly as we walked through corridors lined with white mica or mother-of-pearl or whatever shining stuff
the palace was made of.
I stopped listening to him at about this point. If I had paid attention, I probably could have gleaned valuable information
about important players in the palace hierarchy, power struggles, juicy rumors, and more. But my mind was still in shock,
trying to absorb too many new things at once. He was the least important of them, so I shut him out.
He must have noticed, though he didn’t seem to mind. Finally we reached my new apartment. Floor-to-ceiling windows ran along
one wall, which afforded me a stunning view of the city and countryside below—far, far below. I stared, my mouth hanging open
in a way that would have earned me a scold from my mother, had she still been alive. We were so high that I couldn’t even
make out people on the streets below.
T’vril said something then that I simply did not digest, so he said it again. This time I looked at him. “This,” he said,
pointing to his forehead. The half-moon mark.
He repeated himself a third time, showing no sign of the exasperation he should have felt. “We must see Viraine, so that he
can apply the blood sigil to your brow. He should be free from court duty by now. Then you can rest for the evening.”
He stared at me for a moment. “Your mother did not tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“Of the Enefadeh.”
The look that crossed T’vril’s face was somewhere between pity and dismay. “Lady Kinneth didn’t prepare you for this at all,
did she?” Before I could think of a response to that, he moved on. “The Enefadeh are the reason we wear the blood sigils,
Lady Yeine. No one may pass the night in Sky without one. It isn’t safe.”
I pulled my thoughts away from the strangeness of my new title. “Why isn’t it safe, Lord T’vril?”
He winced. “Just T’vril, please. Lord Dekarta has decreed that you are to receive a fullblood mark. You are of the Central
Family. I am a mere halfblood.”
I could not tell if I had missed important information, or if something had been left unsaid. Probably several somethings.
“T’vril. You must realize nothing you’re saying makes any sense to me.”
“Perhaps not.” He ran a hand over his hair; this was the first sign of discomfort he’d shown. “But an explanation would take
too long. There’s less than an hour ’til sunset.”
I supposed that this, too, was one of those rules the Arameri insisted on being sticklers for, though I could not imagine
why. “All right, but…” I frowned. “What of my coachman? He’s waiting for me in the forecourt.”
“I didn’t think I’d be staying.”
T’vril’s jaw flexed, containing whatever honest reply he might have made. Instead he said, “I’ll have someone send him away
and give him a bonus for his trouble. He won’t be needed; we have plenty of servants here.”
I had seen them throughout our tour—silent, efficient figures bustling about Sky’s halls, clad all in white. An impractical
color for people whose job it was to clean, I thought, but I didn’t run the place.
“That coachman traveled across this continent with me,” I said. I was irked and trying not to show it. “He’s tired and his
horses are, too. Can he not be given a room for the night? Give him one of those marks and then let him leave in the morning.
That’s only courteous.”
“Only Arameri may wear the blood sigil, my lady. It’s permanent.”
“Only—” Understanding leapt in my head. “The servants here are family?”
The look he threw me was not bitter, though perhaps it should have been. He had given me the clues already, after all: his
roaming father, his own status as the steward. A high-ranking servant, but still a servant. He was as Arameri as I, but his
parents had not been married; strict Itempans frowned on illegitimacy. And his father had never been Dekarta’s favorite.
As if reading my thoughts, T’vril said, “As Lord Dekarta said, Lady Yeine—all descendants of Shahar Arameri must serve. One
way or another.”
There were so many untold tales in his words. How many of our relatives had been forced to leave their homelands, and whatever
future they might have had, to come here and mop floors or peel vegetables? How many had been born here and never left? What
happened to those who tried to escape?
Would I become one of them, like T’vril?
No. T’vril was unimportant, no threat to those who stood to inherit the family’s power. I would not be so lucky.
He touched my hand with what I hoped was compassion. “It’s not far.”
* * *
On its upper levels, Sky seemed to have windows everywhere. Some corridors even had ceilings of clear glass or crystal, though
the view was only of the sky and the palace’s many rounded spires. The sun had not yet set—its lower curve had only touched
the horizon in the past few minutes—but T’vril set a more brisk pace than before. I paid closer attention to the servants
as we walked, seeking the small commonalities of our shared lineage. There were a few: many sets of green eyes, a certain
structure of the face (which I lacked completely, having taken after my father). A certain cynicism, though that might have
been my imagination. Beyond that, they were all as disparate as T’vril and I, th
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