N.K. Jemisin, author of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMSIf N.K. Jemisin‘s name (okay, well, initials) hasn’t already caught your ear, it will. Soon, with the impending release of her debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (REVIEW), her name will be on the lips of bloggers and reviewers everywhere. Every year, a handful of debut novels catch fire and set themselves, and their authors, above the rest and Jemisin seems poised to do so with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a confident novel that stands head and shoulders above other debuts.

So, I teamed up with Ana of The Book Smugglers to round up Jemisin and get her to talk about everything from her novel (natch), #racefail, my own potential #generfail, and even Squeenix (you’ll find out).

The Interview

Welcome, Ms. Jemisin, to A Dribble of Ink! Anything you want to say to start things off? To set the tone?

   Hi? =) I dunno, what do people usually say here? How’s it going? I like chocolate. Buy my book!

Chocolate, huh? I like chocolate, too. You’d think I was a woman, I love it so much. Speaking of which, the name, N.K. Jemisin. What’s it stand for and why the initials? And don’t tell me its to appear gender neutral on store shelves (like Robin Hobb or K.J. Parker).

   It’s not, but what if it was? There are a lot of good reasons to go for gender neutrality in this business. Like, say, if I was a male writer in the romance genre — there are quite a few, but it’s hard to tell, because they usually use female or neutral names. I don’t blame them; they don’t want readers’ biases interfering with the stories they’re trying to tell. Of course, there’s a fine line between short-circuiting reader biases and encouraging those biases by concealing the truth, so I don’t bother hiding the fact that I’m female. I figure if anybody really has that much of a problem with it, they’re not going to like my work anyway, so better that they figure it out quickly.

   But the real reason I use initials is just that I prefer to keep some separation between my day job and my writing life. That doesn’t work very well because people keep asking me what the initials stand for. =) Oh, well. But anyway, it’s Nora Keita.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin

“Yeine Darr is heir to the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. She is also an outcast. Until, that is, her mother dies under mysterious circumstances.

Summoned by her grandfather to the majestic city of Sky, Yeine finds herself thrust into a vicious power struggle for the throne. As she fights for her life, she comes ever closer to discovering the truth about her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history – as well as the unsettling truths within herself.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate are bound inseparably together, for both mortals and gods alike.”


I first caught wind of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms late last year, thanks to the beautiful cover, but what kept me interested in the release was the publisher synopsis that promises a familiar story but hints at a truly impressive sense of scale and grandeur, even for the Fantasy genre.

What can you tell us about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that isn’t found in that short synopsis?

   Well, basically, it’s a story about power. This is a world that has been conquered by one extended family, because they’ve got a hell of a WMD: a quartet of hobbled, enslaved gods. The family has used these gods to impose their vision of goodness on the world — except “good” is debatable, because it’s tough to enforce good at gunpoint, so to speak. And then there’s the probem of who gets to control such power, particularly when the family is extensive and dysfunctional, and particularly when the captive gods are doing everything they can to break free. So the story ends up exploring issues of family drama, colonialism, genocide, religion vs. faith, broken trust, slavery, love… a whole lot of stuff.

(From Ana at THE BOOK SMUGGLERS) – I am reading your book right now and some of the things that catch my attention are the mythological elements present in the story – were you influenced by classic mythologies like Greek or perhaps even Hinduism? Did you do any research to build the world/mythology in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms?

   I don’t think there was any single specific influence. I was raised Christian myself, and I’ve been reading Christian and other faiths’ mythologies since I was a child; I love mythology as a subject in and of itself. That includes Greek and Hindu, Egyptian and West African, Haitian, Navajo, and others. There are more similarities than one might expect across all of these. But in terms of research — I did do some, but that was more to excise certain similarities, because I wanted the mythology of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to feel different, not derivative. (Some derivation is impossible to avoid, of course, but it can be minimized.) I also didn’t want to do anything that might piss people off, because what’s “myth” to some of us is belief to others. So I borrowed the structure of many myths, but tried not to appropriate the substance more than I had to.

One of my most ardent readers, edifanoB was wondering if, without diving too far into spoiler territory, whether Yeine Darr will be the central character in the second volume of The Inheritence Trilogy?

   Nope! The Inheritance Trilogy is really three related, sequential, but separate stories set in the same universe, not one story in three parts. Each book has a different protagonist, and a different storyline which is resolved at the end, and even a slightly different style of narration. This is kind of risky for me to do as a new writer, because my career hinges on how quickly I can build up an audience of eager readers. The easiest way to do that is to keep them hooked with the same characters they loved the first go-round. But honestly? I get bored easily. I can’t stand drawing out the same story forever; I don’t like reading about the same people over and over. I can’t imagine how other authors write three books with the same characters, let alone seven or ten or whatever. (Hmm, now that I’ve said that, I think I’m going to try writing a trilogy with the same characters next. Gotta challenge myself.) I’m aware that readers may feel differently; they might get mad because they want more of the same thing they got in book one. But I hope I’ll have won their trust enough by the end of the first book that they’ll give the new protagonists a chance to tell their stories.

   That said, Yeine will put in an appearance in all three books, as will most of the gods we meet in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. And there’s one important plot thread that will run through all three books… ah, but I can’t talk more about that without spoilers.

I’ve always been partial to series written as a set of interconnected stories that stand alone while moving forward and overall narrative.

Now, speaking of narration and Yeine in particular, while reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms it is very clear that the story could only be told through a first-person narrative. It goes beyond Yeine’s narrative voice and into how she tells the story: what she chooses to share, her perceptions of the events, and her reactions and preconceptions tint the entire story with her own interpretation of the events.

There’s a nice dichotomy between Yeine the protagonist and Yeine the narrator. What can you tell us about the decision to write The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from a first-person perspective, rather than the traditional third-person perspective?

   Actually, the book was originally written as third person. See, I first wrote the novel that became The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms maybe 10 years ago. It was very different back then — third person, among other things — and I think it did work, though not as well as in the first person. Which is probably why that version of the book didn’t sell, when I tried to shop it around to publishers and agents (I didn’t have an agent at the time). I got positive feedback on it, but not what I really wanted, which was a book deal.

   So I set it aside and worked on other projects. I went to Viable Paradise (one-week writers’ workshop; I highly recommend it), joined a writers’ group, wrote two other novels, and did a bunch of other things to develop my skills. Got an agent in the interim too. Eventually I took another look at that first novel, because I thought the concept still had potential, though I no longer liked the execution. Wasn’t really sure what was wrong with it, though, so I started randomly changing things just to see what worked. Switching to first person was only one of those changes, and not the most radical of them. Then I literally rewrote the whole story from scratch. So there was no real decision-making involved in the first person component; I just plugged different things into the story until something fit.

I’m nearing the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but I’ve yet to run across an explanation for why the land is called ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, when only a handful play a role in the story. Beyond sounding cool, what is the origin of the name?

   It’s just poetic license — a pretentious way for the Arameri to emphasize the scale of their accomplishment in unifying and pacifying all the world’s once-fractious nations. There are a lot of them — many more than the 200 or so of our own world, since this world was at about a Bronze Age level when the Arameri took over and they were tiny little kingdoms. There have been lots of consolidations and annexations since then, so I’d say the world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms actually consists of maybe a thousand kingdoms, tops. Give or take a few hundred, since the Arameri tend to obliterate those that annoy them.

   As for the origin, I’d first started to call this world “the Ten Thousand Kingdoms”, until I looked it up and discovered that some early iterations of China would poetically refer to themselves as the Ten Thousand Kingdoms. Whoops. So then I upped it to a hundred thousand. That was about as pretentious as I could make it while still keeping the poetic flow and rhythm of the words. (“The Million Kingdoms” just didn’t flow as well.)

Tell me about that cover. Lauren Panepinto, the designer, really outdid herself. In my opinion, it’s one of the best covers Orbit Books has ever put on one of their books. How’d you get so lucky?

   Magnets? I dunno, but I’m seriously glad for it. It is a phenomenal cover, isn’t it? Lauren kicks ass. So does Cliff Nielsen, the artist.

Similarily, what does the cover tell us about the story contained beneath it?

   Well, I think the cover works on multiple levels. The central image is the setting of the story: the palace called Sky, which is, uh, in the sky. But Sky doesn’t float, although it appears to from a distance. When people get closer, they can see that it sits on top of a half-mile-high, very thin column that is likely to make every architect and engineer who reads the story asplode!!1! in “that can’t possibly work” apoplexy. It works because the architects were gods and they built the palace with magic. “But wait!” I hear you saying. (Pretend you said it.) “If they’re gods, why didn’t they just make the palace float, huh? Huh?” Well, the whole structure is riddled with traps and secrets because the gods were angry when they built it. Exploiting and abusing your construction crew gets the job done, but doesn’t make them do a good job. So the column provides a little insurance in case of cut corners. The result is a beautiful floating palace that doesn’t really float, isn’t very beautiful once you see what’s inside it, and is actually quite dangerous to its inhabitants.

   Likewise, I love the warm, golden colors of the cover, because they do a similar double-duty. The world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has existed in a kind of self-declared “golden age” since the gods were subjugated; the rulers even call this time/civilization “the Bright”, kind of like “the Enlightenment” of Western civilization in our world. But just as our Enlightenment is a very pretty word covering ugly events like the transatlantic slave trade and global imperialism, the Bright has its own very dark side — only worse, because gods are involved. So here we get continents being sunk, class warfare via magically engineered germs, and so on. In fact, the main god whose magic supports this regime is the god of darkness (you can see his face in the top third of the image), so “the Bright” is an even greater misnomer. I love that these shiny happy colors are on my story of grim, horrifying events! It’s like an artistic sucker punch.

   You know my favorite element of the cover art? There’s this one little tower in the top left quadrant that’s ever-so-slightly off-kilter. I’ve noticed that people will remark on it, and wonder whether the artist made a mistake, but then they’ll just accept it and get lost in the rest of the image. They accept that Sky itself is slightly off-kilter. That tells me the artist knew exactly what he was doing. It’s perfect.

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

(From Ana at THE BOOK SMUGGLERS) – Your book has a “Person of Color” (POC) as its protagonist. In light of the recent outcry over the cover of Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (in which a dark-skinned protagonist was replaced by a white young woman on the cover of the book), we’d like to ask if you are happy with your cover? To expand on the subject: do you think that covers matter?

   Of course they matter. Like I said, a book’s cover is the first thing that catches readers’ attention; even Aidan has said he first got interested in reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because of my cover, long before the book was even available. I think his reaction is typical. The cover is probably the most important marketing tool any book can have — if it’s a good cover.

   But a good cover has to be more than visually interesting; it also has to reflect the actual content of the book. Granted, this is art we’re talking about, and there’s room for interpretive leeway; the representation doesn’t have to be a hundred percent realistically accurate. My cover isn’t, actually — the palace depicted, Sky, is repeatedly described in the book as being a shining white in color. But as I mentioned, Sky is actually a frightening, dangerous place, and an accurate image would not have conveyed this. Nielsen’s image works because it correctly captures the essence of the story.

   When a book cover displays a character, it also needs to capture the essence of that character. I think most of us would agree that certain pieces of our background and social position help to form this essence. Gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, class; our professions, our loved ones, our nationality; these things aren’t the be-all and end-all of who we are, of course. But change them, and we become different people. Not better, not worse — but different. So changing the race of a character transforms that character’s essence, and since the protagonist is usually fundamental to the story, it transforms the story’s essence as well. Cover art should enhance a book, not change it. It’s not fair to the story for the cover art to change it in this way. It’s not fair to the readers to mislead them into thinking they’re getting one kind of story, when they’re really getting something else. It’s certainly not fair to the writer, since it suggests that the publisher really wishes she’d written a different story. And given history, and why whitewashing occurs, and why so many of us seem to think that a brown-skinned character is repellent or undesirable… it’s not fair to our society as a whole to keep perpetuating that kind of thinking. That’s the kind of thinking that said a black man could never be president of the United States; it’s outdated and wrong.

   And I’m definitely happy with my cover; wouldn’t have blathered on about it for three paragraphs if I wasn’t! I should note, by the way, that I asked for a cover that depicts the setting, and not the character(s). Epic fantasy novels are rarely about a single character anyway — mine certainly isn’t — so I’ve never understood why so many of them showcase one person out of an ensemble cast. And in my case I just thought Sky would make for a striking image, if they could find an artist to depict it correctly. Thank all the gods, real and imagined, that they did.

Ahh! A woman after my own heart. You’ve put into words many of the opinions I’ve felt about Fantasy cover art in recent years. If a publisher’s not willing to do a book justice, and represent it as accurately as possible, why are they publishing it in the first place. I’m eager to see where Orbit goes with the final volumes of the trilogy.

(From Ana at THE BOOK SMUGGLERS) – Fantasy is genre that is perceived of as traditionally white and male (and obviously that perception isn’t always true given the numerous established female and POC authors in the genre – not to mention, we Smugglers are two female readers, one of whom is a POC, and we are competely obsessed with fantasy!). Could you talk a bit about writing Fantasy as a feminist and a POC?

Octavia Butler   Well, I want to point out one thing first. Fantasy and science fiction are perceived as white and male, yes — but as the cover art “whitewashing” debate has shown, this is in part an artificially-created perception. For one thing, whitewashing has been happening for decades, with countless characters of color being turned white on book covers. (It used to happen to women too — sometimes they were drawn as men on the covers, though often the “malewashing” was more subtle. One of my favorite books from 1980 had a female protagonist, but on the cover she was literally drawn as a half-naked damsel in distress tied to something like railroad tracks in the background — a scene that never occurs in the book — with the male secondary character positioned in the center foreground, charging to her rescue.) For another thing, Farah Mendlesohn and other feminist critics have noted that white male authors’ photos get printed on the back cover of the book far more often than women and PoC authors’ photos do. Octavia Butler’s early editions actually seemed to hide any information that would hint at her race — there was no photo on or in the book, no mention of her background in the “about the author section”, nothing in the sales catalogs. So the genre may be heavily skewed towards white men in terms of writers and characters, but it’s never been quite as skewed as the visuals would have us believe. I suspect the readership is the same.

   As for myself, I don’t ever set out to write a “black woman’s fantasy”. I don’t have to; who I am will come through in my writing whether I try to put it there or not. I think that’s the case for any writer; all those white guys don’t set out to write “white men’s fantasy” either. I just write the kinds of books I want to read, and I hope that others will want to read them too.

Piggy-backing on Ana’s question, the reason I asked earlier about your name and gender neutrality is because I was recently involved in a ‘Best Fantasy Books of the Decade’ list over at Tower of the Hand, a website dedicated to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, that came under some fire for not including enough female authors (though I only submitted one novel to the list, at the last minute. It was by a male author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon). Similarly, this list on your blog of your Favourite 5 Fantasy Non-humans contains characters written solely by female characters.

Were these lists flawed because they heavily favoured one gender of author? I don’t think so. Variety is always a good thing, but my take on the argument is that those compiling such lists should judge only the merits of the text and not consider outsides influences such as race or gender.

I’m curious to hear how you feel gender of an author affects a reader’s experience or expectations with a book and also how much consideration you feel it should be given when compiling ‘Best of…’ lists, even when they’re just for fun.

   Gah! OK, first off, that meme post didn’t even address the meme. It was supposed to be favorite species, and I got lazy and stuck individual characters in there. I suppose I should’ve deleted the post, but I never dreamt anyone would take it seriously. Those characters/species aren’t even from my favorite books!

   That said, a “favorite anything” list is very different from a “best of” list. My favorites are just things I like for whatever reason. Those reasons aren’t necessarily rational, and some of them are going to reflect my preferences or biases. For example, you noted my visible and distinct preference for female writers. (This wasn’t always the case, note. When I was younger, I preferred male writers, almost exclusively. More on this later.)

   But it would be presumptuous in the extreme for me to claim that my favorites are the “best” of what’s out there. For one thing, I haven’t read everything that’s out there. Haven’t even tried. If I’m going to declare that I know what’s best, then I’d darn well better try and expose myself to a good representative sample, or there goes my credibility. That means I can’t just let my preferences drive my reading, especially when I know my preferences are biased. I’ve got to read more male fantasy writers, even if the synopses of their books or the protagonists’ narrative voices don’t immediately hook me. I’ve got to consider why these things don’t hook me — is it because the book isn’t well-written? Or is it because of some irrational bias or assumption on my part? Maybe I think male writers suck at characterization. Well, then I need to ask around and find out if there are some male writers who are considered to be good at characterization, and I need to read their work. If I really want to be representative, this is what it takes. I’ve got to step outside my comfort zone.

   The problem that I see with a lot of these “best of” lists — and anthologies, and so on — is that many editors are quick to claim they’ve looked at a representative sample when they really haven’t. They haven’t stepped outside their comfort zone, so what they’re really presenting is just their favorites from within a biased sample set. And in a lot of cases, they don’t even realize they’re biased. Part of the problem is history. You say that we shouldn’t consider race or gender; I say that’s impossible, given that we live in a society that has been so shaped by racism and sexism (and other “isms”) over generations. We’re already thinking about race and gender, because we’ve been trained to think of whiteness and maleness as “neutral”, when they’re not. White is a race; male is a gender. Most of the time when people say they want to be “colorblind” and “gender-neutral,” what they really mean is that they want to be free to ignore PoC and women and focus on white men, without guilt. That’s not neutrality.

   So what we need to try for isn’t neutrality. (I don’t even know what true neutrality would look like, asexual albino characters? Except those things aren’t neutral either in our society.) We need to try for balance, to offset the “neutral” skewage of white men. We need to step outside the comfort zone of whiteness and maleness and try something different.

Ariel by Steven Boyett   For example. I mentioned earlier that I used to read all men. I actively avoided women writers, actually — I was convinced that their books would be full of “girly stuff” like… I don’t know. Unicorns or ponies or something. (OK, in my defense, I was maybe 14 at this point, but the internalized sexism was strong back then.) What broke me out of this was reading several writers who made me aware of my biases: among them Steven Boyett, a male writer who wrote a book about unicorns (it’s called Ariel and it’s beautiful, as is the sequel Elegy Beach); and Anne McCaffrey, who showed me that girls don’t want ponies, we want gigantic firebreathing dragons. Both books blew my mind for different reasons, but together they helped me realize how crazy it was to believe all the stereotypes I’d absorbed about women. And about men, for that matter. After that, I started seeking out other writers who were doing something “different” and making me think in a different way. I’m not surprised that women dominate my reading now, given this. I still read plenty of men — but male writers don’t challenge my biases as often. Maybe they don’t have as much reason to.

   Editors are supposed to do this, BTW — step ouside their comfort zone. Good editors do it without being told. And anybody who’s got the gonads to declare any kind of “best of” had better do it, or be prepared to have their credibility — and biases — questioned.

So then, is simply changing the title of such posts to ‘My Favourite XXX of XXXX!’ (a habit I’ve taken to on A Dribble of Ink) enough to shelter such lists from criticisms?

   It certainly wouldn’t bother me if you did that. Of course, I wouldn’t care either, because I don’t know you and I have no reason to want to know what your favorite XXX of XXXX is! Which is one reason why I think people instead declare their favorites to be “the best” — because it’s a way of claiming authority and getting attention. Not that you would ever do anything for that reason… ^_-

*grumble grumble*

Alright, thanks for indulging me and my insecurities. It’s a subject I’ve battled since the subject first reared its head in response to the ‘Best of…’ list. I’ve more to think about now as I contemplate how this debate can help me become a better critic/pundit of the genre.

But, enough with the serious questions. In the interview included at the back of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms you mention that your editor decided on the title (which is great, by the way). What was the original title of the novel, the one you came up with an used when trying to find a publisher? Were there any other potential titles?

   Actually, a correction — I was mistaken. At the time I’d thought my editor had chosen the title, when in fact it was Tim Holman, my editor’s boss. Either way, still a great choice of title.

   The original title was The Sky-God’s Lover. Sort of a double (triple? quadruple?) entendre given that there are actually two gods of the sky, and they each have two lovers. The trilogy itself was originally called “The Earth and Sky trilogy”, and the two sequels were originally titled The Bright God’s Bane and The Broken God’s Get. But once SkyGod became 100K (my own abbreviations, because all these titles are mouthfuls!), I didn’t want to keep the other books’ titles, which were intended to reference the first book’s original title. So all three books are getting name changes.

So, would you be willing to tell us those titles? Also, The Inheritance Trilogy is also the name of Christopher Paolini’s mega-successful ‘trilogy’ (that has since become more than three volumes, natch). Was this considered when choosing the name for your trilogy?

   The second book is now called The Broken Kingdoms. Book 3 is officially untitled as yet, though I’ve been calling it Kingdom of Gods just to avoid calling it “that book”. I’m not very good with titles, so I’m hoping the folks at Orbit will come up with something good again.

   And yeah, when my editor mentioned the new series title, I looked it up and discovered the Paolini series. But there’s actually a third Inheritance Trilogy, you know — a science fiction series by author Ian Douglas, which came out from Eos a few years ago. And I believe there’s a mystery series from the Eighties with the same name. There are probably other series sharing that real estate; I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a good name! So I don’t think it’s a huge issue. I highly doubt anybody’s going to get Paolini’s dragons, or Douglas’ spaceships, mixed up with my gods.

Also in that interview, you mention that you’d give an arm to be able to write for Squeenix (Square Enix, for those not in with the JRPG lingo) or Atlus, two videogame developers known for their RPGs. Given that these two companies are behind some of my favourite videogames, this certainly caught my attention.
How has playing videogames, in particular Japanese RPGs, which have a very distinct and rigid formula for telling their stories, affected you as a storyteller? Do you have much experience with Western RPGs (such as Baldur’s Gate, Fallout or Dragon Age) which leave much of the storytelling up to the player, letting them create the narrative through their own actions within the game world (by interacting with the environment, enemies and through dialogue)?

   Yeah, I tried Baldur’s Gate a few times because one of my BFF’s is really into it, but I just kept bouncing off of it. I think the problem is that I don’t want to create my own narrative. I can see how that might be appealing to some, but I create my own narratives all the time when I write. When I play a game I want a different experience; I’d rather someone else to do the heavy lifting. Especially if they’re good writers themselves, as the teams at Atlus and Square Enix seem to be.

Say Squeenix offered you a job. You get to write a game, from the ground up. What’s it about?

   Hmm, that’s not really something I can just rattle off; writing a game on the scale of a Square Enix title is roughly equivalent to writing a novel, and it usually takes me months to solidify a new novel idea! But I wouldn’t mind seeing the world of the Inheritance Trilogy rendered as a video game setting, with different characters and a different plot. The protagonist could be J. Random Arameri, sent to subdue a rebellion using the family gods as summoned creatures. She could have a choice between forcing the gods to do what she wants — thus earning their hatred and eventual escape/revenge — or persuading them, maybe by offering payment for their work or trying to earn their friendship. Both strategies would have advantages and disadvantages. And in the meantime the protagonist would have to navigate a complex web of political and military problems that would force her to use the gods to survive, one way or another. She can let them go, too — though that might mean the end of the world, or the disintegration of civilization. It would certainly mean the end of her power.

   I’ve seen other games tackle that kind of subject matter to varying degrees, so I know it could be done and would probably sell well. So… know anybody at Squeenix or Atlus? Can you put in a good word for me?

Looking to the future, you mention that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, though part of a trilogy, stands on its own. What can we expect from the final two volumes of The Inheritance Trilogy?

   Hmm… there’s really no way I can tell you much without spoiling the first book. I’ll just say that the second book takes place ten years after The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and will visit the city underneath Sky, which has become a very strange place in the intervening time. The first book focused exclusively on the ruling elite of this world, but in The Broken Kingdoms we’ll meet a young woman of the common people who is — mostly — ordinary. The story will be a little more urban fantasyish — Mieville-style, not chicks-with-guns style — though still epic fantasy at its core; there’s still political and religious intrigue to hash through, and some godly secrets too.

   The third book will focus on Sieh, the child-god who appears in the first book, and who suddenly and inexplicably begins growing up against his will. I really can’t tell you more about that one; ask me about it again after you’ve read the second book!

On your blog, you’ve chronicled the success The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has found with critics and reviewers, including io9, Krikus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. How’s a new, young author keep praise like this from going to her head?

   By thinking about the third book of the trilogy! Capturing a god’s narrative voice is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. And trying to wrangle Sieh in particular — who is a pissy, fractious protagonist if ever there was one — is plenty humbling, believe me.

I always like to invite my guests to pitch a book or author that they feel are criminally under read. So, in your opinion, who’s an author that my readers may not have read, but deserves their attention the next time they’re at the bookstore?

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin   Argh, so many choices! But I’ve been raving lots lately about Kate Griffin‘s fantasy debut (she’s an established author in the children’s/YA field, but this is her first adult fantasy), A Madness of Angels. It’s the first book of the “Matthew Swift” trilogy, an urban fantasy series set in modern-day London and following the exploits of a sorcerer who isn’t quite human. Brilliantly original magic, beautiful writing, and Griffin captures the city of London in all its sprawling, filthy, multicultural, magnificent glory. Honestly, I haven’t been so enamored of a new writer since I first discovered China Mieville. I’m astounded at how few reviews I’ve seen of this book.

   It’s also from Orbit, but I’m not plugging the book because they’re with the same publisher — I’m plugging it because I can’t wait for the second book of that trilogy. I’ve been bugging my editor about it, actually, and whenever I drop by the Orbit offices I look around to see if there are any review copies I can mooch. Not yet. Guess I’m going to have to wait for the release date like everybody else.

Well, that’s a wrap! Thanks for dropping by A Dribble of Ink and best of luck with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and beyond!

   Thanks for having me, Aidan; it was a lot of fun. And I hope you like the rest of the book(s)!

18 thoughts on “Interview | N.K. Jemisin, author of ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’”

  1. Ana says:

    Great interview Aidan and Nora, thanks for letting me be a part of it.

    It is no secret that I loved your book, Nora.And now that I know that book 3 is Sieh’s, I am even more psyched about it.

    This: “Most of the time when people say they want to be “colorblind” and “gender-neutral,” what they really mean is that they want to be free to ignore PoC and women and focus on white men, without guilt. That’s not neutrality. ”

    Yes. Perfect, thank you.

  2. ediFanoB says:

    Where to start?
    First of all a big thank you to N. K. Jemisin (hope you don’t mind that I will use Nora instead for the rest of my comment) and of course to Aidan and Ana for a glorious review!!

    Aidan, thank you for compliments (“ardent reader”)and for putting my question to Nora. I read her answer with great interest. I must admit that I belong to the group of readers who like to read “endless” about a favorite character. But I look forward to read THE BROKEN KINGDOMS and KONGDOM OF GODS in oirder to see how your concept will work for me. I didn’t read THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS so far (except the excerpt)because I want to finish my current reads (three books) first. Need to hurry up because I’m keen to read it. Fortunately I own a copy. I will read and review (one more can’t be wrong :) ) THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS n March.

    I still remember when I discovered the free reading of chapter one. You caught me with the very fist sentences:

    “I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore.

    I must try to remember.”

    Finally I wish you a huge success and I hope you will write a lot more sublime books.

  3. Chad Hull says:

    I think I’m in love.

    Easily the most informative author interview I’ve read. (Congrats to Aidan and Ana.)

    As a point of irony (or perhaps bias) now that I know Ms. Jemisin to be a black woman, I’m gonna go buy her book. It was a standard fantasy trilogy in my mind before, now it has new light shining on it by way of the author’s background.

    There are countless books that come out the receive similar praise and they are almost never written by a black woman. Because of her identity (previously I didn’t know the author was a woman or of color) I’m interested.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Fantastic interview Aidan and Ana! Jemision sounds like quite a neat individual and I plan to read her book in the future. I do have a reading pile that I’m desperate to reduce!

    Just a side question to you Aidan, are you partaking in any of any of the Olympic events (you are from Vancouver right?)

  5. aidan says:

    Glad you all enjoyed the interview!

    @Jennifer – I won’t be attending any events (couldn’t get any tickets, though I tried my damnedest! It all came down to luck of the draw, at least for those of us without bundles of expendable cash), but I will be in Vancouver on Friday to check out all the Olympic spirit in the city. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!

  6. Kate Griffin’s book sounds a little to much like The Dresden Files.

    Is that true or is it worth reading? I have loved every one of Butchers books, and i will compare them similar stuff whether i want to or not.

  7. Whoops — sorry, folks, didn’t realize people were talking to me here. Thanks for the compliments on the interview! Though I think some thanks are owed to Aidan and Ada, who asked such interesting questions. =)

    ediFanoB, just a note — there’s a brief excerpt from the first chapter of THE BROKEN KINGDOMS in the back of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, so you’ll be able to get a taste of the new protagonist then.

    Josiah, Griffin’s book is very much like The Dresden Files, if those books had been written by Neil Gaiman or China Mieville. That’s the best description for it I can think of. Both books have similar concepts — urban sorcerers, organizations of magic users, etc. — but Butcher’s books are clearly going for the noir/pulp homage, while Griffin’s is something else entirely. Has some of the most original magic I’ve ever seen, a main character who utterly entranced me, and chewy, rapture-inducing prose. Like I said, I really don’t understand why they haven’t gotten more attention.

  8. ediFanoB says:

    N. K. Jemisin,

    thank you for your kind answer. To be honest so far I avoided to flip through the pages. Therefore I didn’t know about the excerpt at the end of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS. One more reason to finish my current reads as soon as possible.

  9. Jeff says:

    Nice interview – far more informative and interesting than the standard stock-question, fantasy blog interview. It made me twice as likely to pick up this book, which, to be fair, was already pretty darn likely.

  10. Lauren P. says:

    Awesome interview guys, so very informative. I’m sorry I missed the deadline to write a bit about the art from the art director’s POV (designing the next book is keeping me way busy of course). I did want to pop in from an art perspective and say this about the 100k Kindgoms cover – we did originally have cliff do sketches with Yeine on the front, down low, with the city looming over her. Her ethnicity was absolutely taken into the design of the character. However, we all felt like the cover became too zoomed out and unwieldy with her and the city and the god fighting for the focus. So we integrated the god into the city more, and zoomed in on that. It makes sense with the trilogy – we didnt want to lead people to believe they were going to be following one main character thru the trilogy. – and it absolutely made it pop from a purely aesthetic sense.

    that said, I just got the art in for Book 2 and damn, is it smokin. Hope you guys like it as much as you liked this one!

  11. Lauren P. says:

    oh also, about Madness of Angels – i know I work for Orbit and all, but I was a fan first, and I love those books. they don’t really feel like Dresden to me at all – more like Gaiman’s Neverwhere, honestly. The main character, altho yes he is a male sorcerer in a city, is much more…unique? I can’t say more without giving stuff away. he’s not a standard hero by any means. And the magic system is the coolest I’ve read. Anyone read the comic “Phonogram” miniseries by image comics? the magic is to the city like the magic is to music in those stories. At least its the best comparison I can come up with. I have had the fabulous luck (jealous Nora?) of reading all the way thru the 3rd book after Madness of Angels, and it’s one of the manuscripts this series i was DYING to read (and Broken Kingdoms too, of course). I shove Madness into the hands of everyone I can find, I don’t know why it isn’t showing up on more radars. It’s out in mass market this month, and the next book, Midnight Mayor is out in March. SO GO READ IT!

  12. milleama says:

    Loved this interview. I have heard so much hype about this book, and some negative comments, that it is nice to hear a little bit about the author’s perspective. I have pre-ordered it on Amazon for my Kindle (since it is way to expensive to purchase books here in Denmark) and am excited that I only have to wait 2 more days!

  13. Katy says:

    This interview was all kinds of awesome! I can’t wait to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and I’m interested in several of the books N.K. mentioned in the interview now as well. :D

  14. -ink says:

    The library finally came through with a copy of this book for me. I devoured it in two or three sittings, flat. Great recommendation!

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