Review: THE GRACE OF KINGS by Ken Liu

(If you aren’t familiar with my template, I’m sharing my thoughts from my writer, editor, and reader brains, because sometimes they feel very differently about the same book. No spoilers, I promise!)

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
(Fantasy; Saga Press, 2015)

4.5/5 Stars

Amid decades of political intrigue, turmoil, and boldfaced war, a few lead the many in pursuit of a better life. But is a king better than an emperor? A thief better than a king? Gods and mortals struggle for purchase in this intricate tome.

Writer Brain: 4.5/5. There’s so much to unravel here. The prose is somehow stylized but not affected, reserved but never stilted. The magic, tech, and belief systems are instantly believable and not overdone. The cast is huge, but every person has his or her purpose. There are no throwaway people, even when they get thrown away.  (Insert writer “gah” of joy and envy here.) And I especially loved that the “bad guys” are often people who, in their own mind and moral code, are actually really good guys. This is not the cast of The Song of Ice and Fire series, either. The POV always feels much more formal, much more distant. While that worked, I wanted more dialogue–so much was a story being recounted rather than played out. And combined with the huge cast (with few characters getting lots of “screen time”), I felt I needed convincing to continue past the first third. And then I got convinced fast and read the last two-thirds like a madwoman. Take-away: The care taken in crafting this book is visible from every angle and on every page. But the downside of such a sweeping plot with such monumental implications for the characters may mean a lot of time spent on getting things going, which can be rough on the reader.

Editor Brain: 4.5/5. What Writer Brain said. Take-away: Sometimes Writer Brain knows what she’s doing.

Reader Brain: 4.5/5. Last year I read a bunch of dark-but-funny, swashbuckling epic fantasy, so coming over to this court-intrigue/war epic fantasy was much different. I told my husband it was like reading a Crane Clan courtier novel with several Scorpion Clan lawyers thrown in to gum up the works (please forgive these dorky Legends of the Five Rings comments from Reader Brain). I was stuck in Writer Brain and Editor Brain for a long time and then Princess Kikomi…wait, I promised no spoilers. Anyway, there was plenty that left me breathless and excited and awestruck. The tech–some have dubbed it silkpunk–is just awesome. I mean battle kites? Come on! And the divination! Oh, and the GODS. Ahh. Just stop me before I tell you all the good things in monosyllabic utterances.  Take-away: I think you’re very likely to read something that makes you want to keep going even if you’ve felt that the going is tough.

Et cetera: I openly wept on public transportation when I read Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie” a few years back. There I said it.

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