Title / The Grace of Kings
Author / Ken Liu
Publication Date / 2016
Star Rating / ★★★★
Book 1 of the Dandelion Dynasty trilogy, this is set on the archipelago of Dara. Once seven warring kingdoms, it is now united under one empire. Two men rebel together against tyranny in this sweeping first book. It is an epic fantasy series that is based around Ancient China.
Firstly I just want to say that this book is incredibly rich and dense. I have to admit that it took me between 100-200 pages before I felt fully engrossed with the story and characters. We are introduced to so many characters and places that it is initially quite overwhelming to keep track of everything. However a map and major character list is provided so you can check out places or names if you need to (I used it several times throughout reading it). Although sometimes initially abit confusing, the shifting narrative and the wide scope of the story allows you to see different areas of the conflict from different perspectives.While this does create some distance from the characters and a lack of connection, I didn’t mind it. It allows you to focus on the details of the world, as well as the events of the book. This creates a very interesting look into the world. It also shows that it is not just the ‘hero’ who puts thing into action, but their friends and/or followers as well. To me this makes it more realistic – these characters could not have gone where they did without each other and the common people. The depth Liu has created in this world is amazing. It is a rich and vibrant world with a whole load of potential for more stories.
The characters are a pleasure to read about – they are extremely well written and although there are alot of characters introduced, they are all distinctive. I enjoyed the complexities of each character. I was frustrated with some characters but not in a bad way, if that makes any sense. I think it shows Liu’s skill at creating flawed characters. Although there are quite a few characters introduced, we closely follow two main characters throughout the book – Kui Garu and Mata Zyndu. The friendship between these two is complex one, and I have to admit that I hard to a little trouble understanding it when it is first introduced. I feel like it happen perhaps a bit too quickly but overall it was an interesting relationship. However one issue I did have was the lack of women. Of the 31 main characters (from the list and not including the gods), only 6 are women and some of these are only introduced later in the book. Perhaps it is supposed to be a representation of the state of society in this world, but I did find it a little frustrating. Especially because the women in the book have a lot of potential to be very interesting and complex characters that, in my opinion, wasn’t fully taken advantage of. I am interested to see how the women progress in the next book. I think, in general, I would have liked more character growth.
What I loved about this book , or I should say one of the things I love about this book, is the rich character story of these two men and their opposing views. Each are trying to overthrow an empire to rebuild a new world but they have very different personalities and views. This creates a very interesting discussion – Kuni notes in the book that although he saw the bad side of the empire, many people would have been helped by the creation of roads, better distribution of food that the empire set in place. There is also the question of the morality of a rebellion that is costing many lives in order to take down the empire. I found this fascinating to read and I enjoyed the musings of the characters throughout the book. The sweeping arc of this book is huge. It encompasses the story of the seven kingdoms and the lives of their people, but it never dragged. The detail is one of the best things about this book. You can really appreciate the world he has created, as well as the characters of course. Another element that I really enjoyed was the military tactics and battles sequences, as well as the intrigue. I personally love books that incorporate these things and I felt that it was done very well.
Overall I very much enjoyed this book. It is an engrossing story that never dragged and in my opinion is quite unique. If you enjoy large scale epic fantasy that incorporates sweeping battle sequences/military and is quite character driven then I think you will love this. I would perhaps suggest that it is not the best place to start if you are new to epic fantasy or fantasy as a whole. The second book in the trilogy, The Wall of Storms, is coming out in October and I will definitely be checking it out,
See you next time