Sometimes, you just want to completely immerse yourself in a good book. Such is the case with Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings. A doorstop at over 600 pages, the book was so good that I still wanted to read more after I finished. The story is so captivating that I lugged the book around on the subway to work every day, and devoured the entire tale in only about two weeks.
Liu is a master at world building. He has created a nation united under a single emperor, yet still feeling the tensions beneath its origins as seven separate kingdoms and the bloodiness of the emperor’s path to power. Enter our two heroes: wily bandit Kuni Garu and fierce warrior Mata Zyndu. Mata also happens to be the latest generation of a long family line whose power was deposed by the current regime. Kuni is on the path to power, yet his power lies in his background as a bandit, and his being, at heart, a commoner. Enter as well the gods, several of whom have a stake in the future of this nation, and like the gods in any ancient legend, have no qualms about interfering in human affairs.
Kuni and Mata become fast friends as they wage war against the cruel despot. They are united by a common goal, yet as time passes and circumstances change, both are revealed to have vastly different philosophies about the meaning of justice and how the world should be run.
I absolutely fell in love with this story, and I’m thrilled to see so much influence from Chinese folklore and mythology. So often, when I read these great epic novels — Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones — the influence is very clearly Western, and the characters usually come off as such. This is the first contemporary novel from a traditional publisher, that I’ve read (or at least can remember) with such scope and depth and such an epic, mythological, legendary feel, that struck me as being influenced by Eastern folklore. As an Asian Canadian, this is definitely important to me. (Another title of note, with a clear influence from Eastern mythology, is Amy McCulloch’s The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, a fantasy adventure YA duology.)
The Grace of Kings is the first book in the Dandelion Dynasty series. It is an entertaining story of intrigue, battles and political plotting. Beyond that, it also raises some interesting philosophical questions about what justice really means and how best to rule such a fragile nation. Above all, it’s a book to lose yourself in, so definitely set aside some time to treat yourself to this tale.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.