About the Book
Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, soaring battle kites, conspiring goddesses, underwater boats, magical books, as a streetfighter-cum-general who takes her place as the greatest tactitian of the age. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.
Before you read too much of this, I can sum up the entire review with the following:
This book was amazing. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Everything about it rocked my world.
You can stop reading now. Really, everything else I’m going to say is going to reiterate what I just said.
The Grace of Kings is a huge breath of fresh air. I’m getting kind of turned off by epic fantasy. It’s not that it doesn’t interest me, I’m just sick of the western settings, the similar cultures, etc. The Grace of Kings is nothing like that. Set in a Far East world, with a subtle (if nonexistent) magic system, full of myth and history, this is one of those books that the genre has been crying for.
Liu first got my attention with his superb translation of The Three Body Problem (another book that absolutely blew my mind with all its amazing). When I saw that he was writing his debut novel, he had my full attention. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I knew I wanted to read it. Liu is a stunningly talented author, and The Grace of Kings shows his style. His prose reminded me of Guy Gavriel Kay, lyrical and flowing, carrying readers forward effortlessly through a world that is complex, and superbly crafted.
Liu is a true wordsmith. I think the man could write a shopping list and I’d enjoy reading it.
The Grace of Kings is the tale of an empire, and a revolution. However, the genius is that the book doesn’t stop there. Liu goes into just as much detail about how this group of countries recovers and comes to grips with their world after the revolution. Insert a few gods, and a ton of diverse and intriguing cultures, and plenty of legends that are just as interesting as the book itself, and you have a book on your hands that is not just captivating, but also absolutely intriguing.
The world is stunning, and managed to be just as surprising and complex as the plot and the characters, and surprisingly sprawling. There are hints of lands that haven’t been discovered yet, or hints of places beyond the horizon. There’s room for Liu to expand and grow his world, but he doesn’t really need to. The lands that his characters traverse are diverse, complex, and interesting enough to keep any reader occupied.
The characters were astounding. They were rich and complex, with plenty of flaws that keep them interesting. Kuni and Mata are absolute opposites, but Liu worked their opposite elements together to propel the plot and move it beyond just interesting and firmly into captivating. The genius part of their development was just how important each character’s flaws became in the story being told. They weren’t just flaws, they were humanizing aspects that made this already interesting story emotionally appealing.
This is probably a weird thing for me to say, but I like an author who isn’t afraid to kill off his characters. The Grace of Kings has the sort of carnage that George R. R. Martin would appreciate. Nothing is sacred, and right when you expect one character to do a certain thing, Liu turns it all on its head and pulls the rug out from under you.
There is a lot I can say about The Grace of Kings, and there is a lot I want to say about this book, but I generally try to wrap up my reviews right about now (and I need to go to bed). I’m going to end it here.
I’ve said all you need to know in the first part of my review – this book is amazing. It is so complex and sprawling it defies any effort on my part to box it in label it. It’s epic, and refreshing, with some absolutely stunning writing and characters that you’ll never forget. This is one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year, and while the year is still young, I think this one will be on my top-ten list.
Bottom line: This book is award-worthy.
In an aside, the audiobook was very well done. Michael Kramer does a great job with pronunciation (which keeps me from having to guess how a name is supposed to be said). He didn’t waste too much time on doing voices – they are just different enough without being distracting. In fact, the way he read the novel allowed me to focus more on the story being told than how the story was being told (if that makes sense).