The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

“There is often no line between perfection and evil.”

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In 2014, I read two short stories by Liu : his famous multi-award-winning The Paper Menagerie and Reborn and I enjoyed them both a lot, especially The Paper Menagerie which is probably my favorite short story ever (even if I don’t know if it’s a great achievment since I don’t read a lot of short fiction). Anyway, the moment I heard that he was coming up with a novel, I couldn’t contain my excitment. The only problem was that I don’t usually buy new releases right away because they tend to be really expensive and I didn’t have a Kindle at this time of the year so I decided to wait a little and to get the paperback version a year later. However, some months ago,while I was browsing the SFF category on Netgalley (because that’s what I do very regularly haha) I found this book. I immediatly resquested it but since I was new to the website and that a lot of my request were denied, I didn’t have high hopes.  To my delight my request was finally accepted and I started the book straight away. To stop after reading only 3% of it.

At this point of the review, you may be like “why is she telling her whole life to say that she DNF’d it after a chapter?”. Let me explain 😉

The thing is, I enjoyed what I read of it the first time but I just wasn’t in the mood at all. And let me say that to you, you have to be in the mood for this book because this is probably going to be a unique experience.

The basic premise of this book is pretty simple : the Empiror Mapidéré, the ruler of Dara, a man hated by nobles because he put commoners in position of powers but also by the commoners because he considered them like expendable materials, dies. His death leads the different kingdoms of Dara to rebellion. As you can see, the synopsis isn’t something that original.

However if you look at the actual realisation of this plot, well, it’s not something you’ve read before. The story follows a huge cast of characters but it mostly focuses on two  : Kuni Garu, a commoner who happens to involve himself by chance in the future of Crocu, the kingdom he lives in, and Mata Zyndu, the son of the deposed Duke of Zyandu and the greatest warrior of Dara. Both of those two characters have the same goal : destroy the Empire and when they meet, even if they are completely different, an unlikely friendship appears.

As I mentionned before we meet a ton of other characters including advisers, kings, princesses, generals (both male and female), scholars, thieves and commoners which creates a very complex painting of the events that are taking place in Dara. At first, it is a bit overwhelming because at every chapter, you meet at least a new character and it takes some time to remember who is who. However, toward the midway point, Liu finally stops the avalanche of new names so it becomes easier to understand what is happening.

This book is heavily inspired by Chinese folklore. Since my knowledge of Chinese myth and legend is very thin (if not completely inexistant), I can’t really say what were the principal myths/legends/persons that inspired this book but a lot of scenes had a “old tale” feel to them if that makes sense. Those particular parts really made me want to read actual Chinese tales to see the original stories. If you have any recommendations by the way, I am all ears. 😉

The writing style of this book is great. Liu’s prose is rich but not flowery, intricate yet not confusing and the story flows really easily. It’s what I liked about his short stories so I was glad to see that the lenght of the story did not affect his writing style.

“He felt, in a way that he could not explain, that he was meant to live more than the life he was living, destined to one say soar high into the air like these dandelion seeds, like the kite rider he had seen long ago. He was like a seed still tethered to the withered flower, just waiting for the dead air of the late summer evening to break, for the storm to begin.”

My only problem with The Grace of Kings was the lack of female characters for the first half of the story. I know that it’s because this is a story about wars where only soldiers, (male  ones obviously…) fight and also that it represents an era where women didn’t have the same place in the society but I would have like to see more. I really enjoyed the perspective of Jia, Risana and Gin Mazoti but I would have like to see them sooner, especially Mazoti. I really hope that in book 2, The Wall of Storms (coming in October 2016!), women will have a bigger part in the story.

 “‘What is so bad about being compared to women?’ Kuni said. ‘Half the world is made of women.'”

 

I would definitely recommend this book to you if you don’t mind multi-POVs stories and if are looking for a new type of epic fantasy. One filled with Chinese folklore and elements of steampunk and fantasy. Also if you enjoyed The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson, I think that you are going to love this ! 🙂

 

“Maybe it’s time for a new story to be told by the wandering bards.”

★★★★ 1/2

 

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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5 thoughts on “The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

  1. This book has been sitting in my reading queue for some time now, because I had the definite impression that it needs… space, for want of a better word. It needs the reader’s total attention, and complete absorption, and that’s why I keep procrastinating. Your review just confirmed my suspicions… Hopefully, that “better time” will come along, sooner or later…
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe you should just read the first couple of pages and you’ll see if that’s something you want to read now or later 🙂 It’s not a hard book to get through at all, it’s just that the writing style and the structure is a bit unusual. I can’t say that it needed my “complete absorption” since I was reading two other books at the same time and it did not affect my enjoyment of the story at all. I guess that just the type of book that you have to take slow to enjoy every little scene 🙂

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  2. This book was simply phenomenal and I understand what you mean as well about having to be in the mood. I struggled through the intro because the style was just so different from what I was used to in an epic fantasy. Liu’s prose is almost poetic, and the chapters felt like anecdotal bits from a history book. But once I got into it I couldn’t stop. Most of it is based on true historical events between the fall of the Qin dynasty and the rise of the Han dynasty in ancient China, when the different factions were warring for power, and the two main characters were based on two historical figures, so I thought that was pretty cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it’s true that that it looks like a succession of anecdotes ^^
      I didn’t know that it was based on real historical events, I knew that the history of China is very complex but I have to say that since we don’t study it at all in school (except after WWII), I know nothing about it. I will do some research because it sounds fascinating 😀 (the history nerd is coming hehe!)

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