Wednesday, July 8, 2015

REVIEW: GRACE OF KINGS



It's a good time to be a fantasy fan. In recent years, the genre has undergone a transformative renaissance. What used to be niche environment mainly populated by lost heirs disguised as farmboys has transformed its storytelling scope into an expansive drama detailing world-shaking events.

The audience for fantasy has grown larger as well; through mediums such as film and music, which make the stories more accessible to fans, it is possible to make the stories bigger, to add a level of detail never before seen. Books have begun, in turn, to echo that trend. Now we have massive multi-book series spanning many years, containing thousands of characters. J.R.R. Tolkien, Laura Resnick, Kristen Britain, and George R.R. Martin are some of the best known, and now the name of Ken Liu can be added to their ranks.


The story of The Grace Of Kings is actually fairly simple: an island nation formerly comprised of separate territories united under one emperor descends into civil war after that emperor's death. As warfare engulfs the island, two heroes emerge that will dominate the events unfolding. Kuni Garu, once a small-time rogue elevated to general status, and Mata Zyndu, a seven-foot, double-pupiled man compared to the gods of old. The book deals mainly with these two and how their relationship transforms over the years of war.


There's a lot to like about all the characters; I enjoy how selfish they all are. A lot of fantasy books involving warfare usually like to focus on the side of the righteous -- the heroic rebels overcoming the villainous king, and living happily ever after. In this book, though the characters may state that their causes are noble, at heart they continue to lust after other things. Upon becoming a captain, a man aspires to be a general; upon being forced to marry, a woman aspires to lead her people into a bold new age. Even at the end of the book, when cooperation between characters is necessary to resolving the conflict, they choose not to be content, but rather to keep a wary eye on each other. It makes them feel more human.


But if the characters are fantastic, the world in which they inhabit is even better. A lot of Eastern-influenced fantasy has been appearing as of late (see my previous reviews of Guy Gavriel Kay's River Of Stars and Jay Kristoff's Endsinger) and it's really cool to see some new points of view in a primarily Western-dominated view. The culture and mythology of the people in Kings is meticulously constructed and easy to get into, which helps make the characters' actions more believable. Speaking of mythology, one of my very favourite things about this book is the gods; they're real, and though they interact with people from time to time, they're not omnipotent. There are little snippets throughout the book as the gods snipe at one another over the course of the war, and you get the sense of them as beings merely playing a game with mortals, rather than controlling them. The notion of the manipulative instead of the forceful god is an interesting and creative way to use the concept.


If I had to make one complaint with the book, sometimes it slows down a lot and takes too long of a break between characters. Sometimes events that were heralded as extremely important in later chapters were barely touched on whilst they were actually happening, and sometimes it's easy to forget what a character is doing at a given moment. However, these gaps are few and far between, and it's easy to catch up on them. As far as epic fantasy series goes, this one has the potential to be a classic. I eagerly await the next two volumes.


Robert Green is a confirmed bibliophile and aspiring writer whose love of sci-fi has caused him to own many more books than he has physical room for. He is also the owner and creator of the up-and-coming company Verity Books, which can be seen at various cons throughout the year. Any questions or comments can be sent to veritybooksanddvds@gmail.com or facebook.com/veritybooksanddvds.

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