Book: The Grace of Kings
Author: Ken Liu
Genre: High Fantasy
What it’s about: Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu could not be less alike. Kuni is commoner who rises through the ranks because of his cleverness and the loyalty he inspires in others through his compassion and fairness. Mata is the last in a line of great warriors and believes that true honor can only be found on the battlefield. These two great men hold very different views of what the world is and how it should be, but they are brought together by the revolution fighting to overthrow the emperor. But war and power change people, and even Kuni and Mata are not immune to their effects. Ambition, deceit, and all-out betrayal tear the two men apart as it becomes obvious that the fall of the emperor will not bring peace, and the two men at the forefront of the revolution realize that their hopes for the future of their land are not the same. This sweeping tale of friendship, love, power, and war is the first installment in the Dandelion Dynasty, a new fantasy series by Ken Liu.
My thoughts: I was really excited about this book, because I’ve always thought the genre of high fantasy was missing something by focusing only on the mythology/setting of the medieval Western World, and here was a book that drew on dynastic China. I really, really wanted to love it. And it was a very well written and interesting book, but the truth is it took me a lot longer to read this book than it should have mostly because I just kept dragging my feet. Parts of the book were excellent and really engaging, but frequent character shifts (to the point where I couldn’t even establish for certain who the protagonists were until well into the book) and occasional overlong exposition caused the book to drag a lot between the good parts.
So while in a lot of ways I did really enjoy the book , I wasn’t jumping to read the next chapter and I definitely didn’t have trouble setting it down at first. That was true until I was about halfway through the book. By that point, the story picked up a lot, and it became clear that much of the first half of the book was necessary (and interesting, if sometimes tedious) backstory and set-up. It is good high fantasy, and the world building is definitely fascinating and (as I mentioned before) quite different from most of the fantasy that we see.
Overall, I did really enjoy the book, but it was just a bit more work than I expected. It was pretty dense, so you probably shouldn’t start this book unless you have some time and will-power on your hands. I’m glad I read it, though, and I imagine I’ll continue with the series when the next book comes out, because the story and characters did win me over in the end.
TL;DR: Good book, but very dense. I would only recommend if you really love high fantasy and are ready for a challenge.
“Great men are always misunderstood by their own age. And great seldom means good.”