Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

December 21, 2015
Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken LiuThe Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Series: The Dandelion Dynasty #1
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 7th 2015
Our reviews of this author: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, The Wall of Storms

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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The Grace of Kings really is a work of epic proportions.  A story of rebellion and war, victory and defeat, friend and foe and ultimately an incredibly poignant and sometimes sad look at friendships.  The story is dripping with issues of trust, deceit and betrayal whilst also telling some incredibly moving stories of love and loyalty.

I’ve only read one of Liu’s short stories before The Grace of Kings and on the strength of that was keen to read this and, yes, it is a book that takes time to read but its also a book that is definitely worth the time.

The main thrust of the story revolves around an uprising of the common people, driven to despair by despot rulers and seeking fairer rule.  At least on the face of it that’s what I would say this is about.  Of course, war very often has little to do with the common people and that is certainly the case here – even though very many of them will lose their lives fighting most of them could just as easily be on one side as the other, and, as the book itself acknowledges, perhaps the people with the differences should get together and fight it out between themselves!  Anyway, getting away from the main point.

The story revolves around two rebel leaders, Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu.  Kuni and Mata are completely different characters in virtually every respect.  Kuni’s life has been a life of crime, in fact he practically falls into the rebellion by chance and without much planning or forethought.  He’s a smooth talker and knows and understands people.  Mata is the deposed son of a Duke who has been raised with great expectations.  He has very fixed ideas on virtually everything and less experience of people.  Kuni is anything but a warrior, he’s more a talker, a thinker and a person who can run away fast.  Mata is a huge beast of a man, trained as a warrior with a firm code of honour.  He inspires followers with his roaring war cries and battlefield heroics.  And yet, in spite of their differences, they become firm friends and after a number of serious encounters where they succeed against the odds they declare themselves brothers.  If only everything was that simple.

There are a lot more characters in the story and I’m not going to elaborate on them all but give a snapshot of the ones I found most interesting.  We have a bunch of interfering Gods who seem to be playing their own games and frequently appear in disguise amongst the mortals to either dispense words of wisdom or cause confusion.  We have a number of women who play important roles in Kuni’s life.  His first wife Jia.  You could say that Jia sets Kuni off on his path to rebellion by giving him a strange herbal concoction that gives him a certain zest for life, they have a strong bond although it is going to be severely tested.  We have the Lady Risana who seems to be something of an illusionist – a very intriguing woman and I was fascinated by her background.  Soto, who spends time as Jia’s housekeeper and has her own secret past and, my absolute favourite, Gin Mazoti.  I’m not going to give anything away about Gin other than to say I loved this particular episode of the story and was absolutely captivated by her tale and loved what Liu managed to achieve with her.  A very compelling person to read about and a serious contender to steal the show!  Of course Gin’s particular element of the tale comes into force at a very interesting time when inventions and battles are becoming more and more creative.  The two main characters actually have a quite sad story arc and definitely bring to mind the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’.

I really admire the strength of writing.  There is such a lot going on here.  Many and varied characters, political maneuvering, sly intrigue, a wealth of background and history and multiple battle scenes.  Now, I can’t deny it, this isn’t a quick read.  Given everything that the author includes it was never going to be a book that you could race through.   It needs to be carefully considered in order to get to grips with all the characters and their different allegiances, I enjoyed savouring this though and coming to grips with everyone.  I think to race through this would be such a waste.  Seriously this book is worth the time.

The fantasy here is subtle.  Nobody is wielding firework type magic and dragons are not swooping out of the sky causing mayhem.  We have, of course, the meddling deities.  On top of this we have a wealth of wonderful creations and we have some huge and spectacular creatures.

This really is a monster book – you might want to stroke the spine to pacify it a little before you pick it up, but once you do you’ll be able to enjoy this wonderfully complex tale that is practically brimming over with plot and counter plot.  Given the proper chance you won’t be able to help yourself from becoming attached to these characters and watching them go through their exploits and wringing you out a little as they go!  Very intelligent, very thought provoking, very emotional.  I could say so very much more but I’m afraid of giving things away so I’m going to leave it there.

If you’re interested in a book that almost reads like a period of Chinese history but with inventions, gods and other slightly fantastical things thrown in then this could be just what you’re looking for.  I will definitely look forward to the next instalment.

Lynn Williams
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One Comment

  • maddalena@spaceandsorcery December 22, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    This is one of the titles that have been on my reading queue (and my e-reader) for a while, but I’ve never gotten around to because I’ve either been distracted by other books or somewhat afraid of the energy and dedication that this kind of work requires. But I need to get to it as soon as I can, because every time I read such a wonderfully detailed review as yours the… siren song of this title sounds a bit louder… 🙂

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