Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Also by this author: The Wall of Storms
Published by Saga Press on April 7, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice. Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.
Legendary. I’m tempted to leave me review at that, but will elaborate a bit. The style of this book is superb. Often with a debut novel, people are curious who you might compare this author to. I had heard some reference to GRRM before reading this. And what I will say, is that the complexity of the story and the size of the cast, the death toll and potentially the number of kings all lend themselves well to comparison. But in my opinion, the actual writing style does not.
It reminds more of K. J. Parker in the ability to present the reader with a great deal of information, without it feeling like an info dump or dry. Liu’s style of story telling just makes it everything terribly interesting, even if it is a topic you would expect to be more information than story. Liu manages to make it all story instead of that separation of story and info . Also, Guy Gavriel Kay is another author I thought of while reading because of the flow of prose. But really, when it comes down to it, Liu has his own voice and its one that is just meant to tell epic stories. Reading this felt more like reading a legend than any other book I have read. And there is reason legends are so popular.
Funny thing about this book, the more I read it, the more I loved the title. It’s not that I didn’t like the title before reading. I did. But, I felt it had more impact, and I really thought about it more as I was presented with the plethora of kings within this book, and seeing the varying styles, strengths and weaknesses. The grace of some shone through more than others or you would catch a glimpse of a real moment of grace or a perhaps an example of the opposite of grace, amidst all the rest of it. The title went from just being a catchy set of words to something with more meaning, something that made me think about what I was reading and how applicable the title is. I have also gained a new respect for dandelions with their durability, versatility and beauty.
This Grace of Kings is a well paced book that I found addictive and easy to read. The cast is quite large. If you have trouble keeping track, I highly recommend making use of the List of Major Characters at the beginning (which contains 38 characters. Yes, I counted. 🙂 ). Don’t let it the number of people involved deter you from the story, because it’s well worth reading and there are some amazing and memorable characters in there!
I think one of the things I really enjoyed was the contrast between these Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu and how those differences impact their relationship with each other as well as with the people. Kuni is everything unexpected. He has been on both sides of the law and sees himself as one of the people and understands that everything is not black and white. In the beginning he declares that he always chooses the most interesting path even if it is harder or longer. It’s just an interesting way to live. He also is a leader of the people, someone that can relate to them and what they need and want, as well as understand the best ways of motivating them. Mata on the other hand was raised almost in isolation and taught the throne was his birthright, wrongfully taken from him. He is an example of what one might expect in a ruler. He was raised to be a warrior and a leader, taught politics and strategy. Yet, he is lacking all of the people and social skills that Kuni possesses.
There were other moments, events and actions I loved in this book that I was tempted to include, but just couldn’t do it because I know as a reader I would prefer to not know these things ahead of time. Try as I might, some areas I loved just easily go into spoiler territory if I try to tell you about them. Just know there is lots to love including unexpected twists and turns of events. Highly recommend.