The Grace of Kings
Written by: Ken Liu
Published by: Simon & Schuster
The Grace of Kings by KEN LIU
The Dandelion Dynasty Book #1. Two polar opposite friends overthrow an empire, but then they find themselves leaders of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.
Like most readers familiar with Ken Liu’s work, I eagerly anticipated his debut novel. Were I a betting man I would have wagered on it being some sort of a dark near-future thriller extrapolated from the latest technology headlines. Imagine my surprise when his inaugural novel turned out to be epic fantasy.
While I’m not typically a huge fan of epic fantasy, The Grace of Kings grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go until I devoured its 200,000 words in less than a week. The novel is a tour de force and I fully expect to see it on the Hugo and Nebula ballots next year.
Far from being yet another Tolkienesque clone, instead it offers a rich and unique world inhabited by engaging and believable characters. Ken Liu has coined the term “silkpunk” to refer to the sub-genre of this book, and it’s an apt term indeed. But since the term is new, I’ll throw in my own elevator pitch:
The Grace of Kings is like the Game of Thrones meets Romance of the Three Kingdoms meets Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Loosely inspired by the power struggle in third century B.C. China which ultimately led to the rise of the Han dynasty, the novel is set in a fictitious archipelago which is home to a number of peoples and cultures. While there’s an ensemble cast of interesting characters, at its core the book is about the relationship between two rebels who become the unlikeliest of friends.
Mata Zyndu is the last of a high-born line, a fierce warrior who has no equals in combat and who abides by a rigid code of honor.
Kuni Garu is a roguish criminal with a talent for politics and the willingness to fight dirty.
Neither man is perfect, but both are fascinating and the relationship between them, the juxtaposition between the noble Chrysanthemum and the common Dandelion, is the thread that?? binds the novel together.
There are so many good things about this book, but the special sauce is Ken Liu’s ability to delve into the history and background of each character and make the reader care about their fate in short order. There’s a tax collector who must apply his skills to leading an army, a street urchin who rises to become a great tactician, a princess who must protect her people at all costs?€? So many of the characters are killed that it’s difficult to ignore the Game of Thrones comparison, but unlike the cruel and occasionally senseless violence of The Song of Ice and Fire, in this novel so many of the characters are their own worst enemies, their doom caused by their own faults and shortcomings in a very Shakespearean fashion. There is also a level of optimism that shines through despite the violence of revolution, which is not found in GoT or other grimdark fantasies.
The Grace of Kings is the first book in The Dandelion Dynasty trilogy. However, it largely avoids the issue so common in epic fantasy series: leaving the reader in the middle of the story, forced to wait a year or more for the next installment. This book reads just fine as a standalone novel, and yet you will be drawn to the world and its characters and thoroughly persuaded to get your hands on the sequel.
Reviewed by Alex Shvartsman
The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty)