Title: The Grace of Kings
Author: Ken Liu
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Source: NetGalley ebook
The Grace of Kings is probably the first book I have read where my enjoyment of it fluctuated depending on how I was reading it. As such, it was a very strange experience to read – there were moments were I was really not enjoying it and other times where I could not tear myself away. Fortunately, I realised the times when I enjoyed it most were the ones where I sat down, with little to no distractions, and read it solidly for an hour or so. Reading in short bursts, as I often do with my kindle books, did not work at all.
The book is the first in a new series and recounts the beginning of the ‘Dandelion Dynasty’, for which the series is named. It is set in the Islands of Dara and follows two men in the aftermath of an Empire’s fall. These two men, Mata and Kuni are very different characters yet their lives end up on very similar paths. It is a fascinating read and works as both a stand-alone and as the first in a series.
For those expecting to get dragged into a novel from the get-go, this is probably not the novel for you. The Grace of Kings reads like a history of the island and, as such, the focus zooms in and out. One page could be shown individual lives while the next one shows the broader scope of a large populations of people. This was the reason I struggled to read it in short doses. The story works best as a whole, when you’re able to see the big picture and build it up as you read. Just reading about one character or group at a time, with a break in between, means you end up missing out on seeing everything together.
The plot itself is intriguing as we see different people come into play as the future of Dara is decided. While I did find some parts, such as how it would end, quite predictable; the interference of the gods and the constant shifting of allegiances did keep you on your toes as to what would happen. However, while the overall plot was good, I felt the sub-plots left a lot to be desired. Due to the history-book type nature, you don’t really see much development in the characters and relationships and other side-plots just seem to come out of nowhere before they disappear again.
There were a lot of characters in The Grace of Kings. A lot. Of them all, I can only remember about 5 names. Mata and Kuni, as the main players of the game, are of course the first two who come to mind. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses which complimented each other when they were together, making them a powerful force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, Mata in particular does start to become a caricature and the potential he had at the beginning is gradually lost.
The other characters are interesting, although we don’t really learn too much about them. Luan was easily my favourite before his sudden ‘romance’ plot-line while Gin, as the female warrior, was a close second. I did feel that, especially in the first half, there were no strong female characters beyond Jia (before she had children). This is partly rectified in the second half where women become far more important, but I do feel like their characters are not as developed as I would have liked. Without a doubt, however, my favourite characters overall were the gods. Their scheming and alliances and interfering were fantastic to read and I would love to see more of them in future books.
I loved the idea of using islands as the setting of this novel. By separating the lands by water, Liu has been able to add in another factor to the war and so make it ever more thrilling. That each land has their own god and culture made reading about them very interesting. I did get a bit confused as to the layout (I was reading on my kindle, I imagine the physical book may have a map to make it easier) and how each island related to one another. Again, only a few names of places stayed in my mind so I do feel there is plenty more to learn about the setting of The Grace of Kings.
That being said, what we do see has many references to history and folklore from our world. While I, unfortunately, don’t know enough about Chinese history to fully appreciate its presence in this novel, I have read that there are a number parallels between the two. It is an incredibly refreshing place to read about as a result.
The Grace of Kings was quite a mixed read for me. I absolutely loved certain parts of it, yet others did not fall quite right with me. That it took me a while to find my stride when reading it did not help either. However, what did work worked very well. There is no doubting Liu’s ability to write – the prose is beautifully written and his ability to imagine a world is something to be admired. The fact that the book is very self-contained with only a hint of it being a part of series is something which I really enjoy as it means I can be content with the story I read. That being said, I am probably going to be reading the sequel.
The Grace of Kings is out now. It’s sequel The Wall of Storms will be released on the 4th October 2016.
The Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/The-Grace-of-Kings/9781784973230/?a_aid=rosienreads (use this link to help me out a bit as I get a small commission)