by Ken Liu
25 Words or Less:
An ageing emperor tours his domains only to undergo an attempted assassination, inspiring the revolutionary urges in two very different youths of his conquered lands…
A polished piece of art suggestive of the novel’s themes of military conflict and new growth, combining nicely with that unadorned text, a rather uncommon choice in fantasy but which works just fine here for me.
Formatting, Grammar & Spelling:
Professional, no errors noted, American English.
An almost stately, elegant style in the opening passages makes way for crisp clear writing when the action ups the tempo early on. Easy and engaging to read, but with the feel of something substantial about it.
Narrative, Characterisation & Dialogue:
We encounter four characters of note in the opening chapter and a half, starting with Emperor Mapidéré, who is prematurely ageing due to alchemical treatments intended to prolong his life. “Divine” ruler of numerous conquered nations, he recognises the necessity of touring his domains but languishes in loneliness and boredom because of it. This only makes the appearance of a strange bird in the skies above his grand retinue the more intriguing…
Among the thousands strong witnesses to the Emperor’s grand procession through one such land are stocky, cocky Kuni Garu and his lanky, nervous best friend Rin Coda, a pair of truant students who find themselves in the midst of chaos when an assassin strikes at Mapidéré from a swift-moving battle kite, hurling bombs that spray burning oil over bodyguards and bystanders alike, yet from which the Emperor himself somehow escapes unharmed.
Some months later we encounter Mata Zyndu, who observes the Emperor’s arrival from across the sea with vengeful eyes. Fourteen years old, the solemn son of a defeated warlord, he is seven-and-a-half feet tall, fiercely muscled and with jet black eyes that reflect light from within — striking, to say the least. He attempts a low profile, and like Kuni before him sees a glimpse of his ruler’s mere human mortality, fuelling rebellious desires in his heart.
The story slips into the history of the Zyndu family’s downfall as the sample comes to a close, but by this point we have been given a rich taste of the world of the story. The personalities of the key players have been neatly established, and while I found the pairing of Kuni and Rin to be a little over-familiar (physical-and-psychological-opposites-as-best-buddies seems a fantasy staple) I could quite happily have carried on reading this through the evening.
The book begins with a brief note about pronunciation in the story, which I found inessential but unproblematic; as I noted in a couple of reviews recently, fantasy has its tendencies and tongue gymnastics when it comes to character names is just one of those things that happens. The several pages listing major characters which followed, well, that I could have done without — and did, since I just paged past and got on with the actual story. Appendix.
Moan moan moan, anyway, what lies in store is a re-imagining of ancient Chinese history through fantasy eyes, and — though I’ve become jaded towards it somewhat — I admired George R. R. Martin’s use of the War of the Roses as the basis for A Game of Thrones very much. I’ll suspect I’ll be quicker to take up this new epic than to finish A Song of Ice and Fire (and the same could be said for Martin, boom boom, etc.).
There are hints of both quality and entertainment in The Grace of Kings, and I find I’m sorely tempted in spite of my reluctance to break a tenner for any ebook, ever. If the price was just a dollar or two lower I’d buy, and I’ll keep my eye on this one for just that opportunity.
TO BUY LIST
= Technicalities =
Title: The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty #1)
Author: Ken Liu
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Price: $10.99 (July 2015)