Review | Kings of Paradise – Richard Nell

About the Book

A deformed genius plots vengeance while struggling to survive. A wastrel prince comes of age, finding a power he never imagined. Two worlds are destined to collide.

Only one can be king. 

Ruka, called a demon at birth, is a genius. Born malformed and ugly into the snow-covered wasteland of the Ascom, he was spared from death by his mother’s love. Now he is an outcast, consumed with hate for those who’ve wronged him. But to take his vengeance, he must first survive. Across a vast sea in the white-sand island paradise of Sri Kon, Kale is fourth and youngest son of the Sorcerer King. And at sixteen, Kale is a disappointment. As the first prince ever forced to serve with low-born marines, Kale must prove himself and become a man, or else lose all chance of a worthy future, and any hope to win the love of his life. Though they do not know it, both boys are on the cusp of discovery. Their worlds and lives are destined for greatness, or ruin. 

But in a changing world where ash meets paradise, only one man can be king… The first installment of an epic, low- fantasy trilogy. Kings of Paradise is a dark, bloody, coming-of-age story shaped by culture, politics, and magic.

601 pages 
Published on August 8, 2017
Buy the book

I read this book via Kindle Unlimited. 


Here’s a secret for you, dear reader. When I saw that just about everyone on the planet loved this book, I made a solid, determined effort not to read it. Reason being? I really, really don’t like reading hyped up books because I’m so afraid of being let down. And it’s even worse when said hyped up book is an indie one. I don’t want to be that one person who pees all over an author’s parade. I also don’t want to be the one person who is like, “Everyone loves this thing, and I suck because I hated it.” I know how hard it is to get traction as an Indie author, and I never want to be the person who actively works against someone’s creative efforts. Treat people as you want to be treated, and all that.

So yeah. When everyone is like, “THIS BOOK IS AWESOME” you’ll very rarely actually see me read it or review it. 

However, things happen, and I ended up with a few months of Kindle Unlimited. I saw this book and thought, “Well, why not” and here we are. 

And, spoiler alert, I loved this book something fierce. 

This is one of those books that is so dark, you’ll either love it or hate it (if you aren’t a fan of dark worlds, plots, and characters, then you might want to steer clear of this one, because it does plumb the depths), but what I really loved about this level of darkness was that Nell never really seemed to glorify in the pit he’d dug for his characters. There was no point I felt like he was pushing his darkness or gore to more extreme levels just to see how far he could go. And if I may say, this is one of my personal bugaboos regarding grimdark fantasy these days. There are a million different ways to make your books dark. The books that seem to glorify bloodshed and violence are a dime a dozen, and they rarely do much for me. The fact that Nell avoided this is a huge mark in his favor. 

Kings of Paradise follows three characters: Ruka, Kale, and Dala. Each of them are delightfully twisted in their own ways. We’ve got the cannibal (be still, my heart), the prince, and the young girl. Each of these characters are forced through a stunning personal evolution, and Nell skillfully leads his readers along as they go from who they were, to who they are becoming. This is, perhaps, the aspect of the book I loved the most, because the characters are so incredibly realistic they jump off the page. They live and breathe. They have heartbeats. And this is no small feat. Kings of Paradise is fantasy. The events that transpire are fantastical, and yet somehow Nell has risen above that slight hinderance and made his secondary world and characters as vibrantly real as the world I live in. 

It’s these character evolutions that really captivated me, because in truth, Nell is juggling a lot of balls in this book, and he manages to keep them all in the air whereas I think a lesser author would drop a few of them, and the book would pay for it. It’s very rare that I read a grimdark book that takes on character development on this level and manages it so artfully, making said personal evolutions as big of a plot point as the wider sprawl of events we are reading about. I am a huge sucker for characters that seem to breathe with their own set of lungs. It’s not something I see in grimdark that often, as most authors seem to have a focus more on plot, but Nell really nailed the balance between plot and character development here, and then wove them together so they are inseparable elements that work together to make the book what it is. 

Nell has a way with slowly revealing both the depth of his world, and his plot as the book goes on. Slowly he peels back the layers of his story. Drip by drip, we begin to see the magnificent scope of what he is just beginning to outline for his readers. He has a knack for revelations and complexity, for knowing just when to show, when to tell, and when to deepen which plot points, and just how to do it. I never once felt overwhelmed or confused. I never felt like I was wading through an infodump a mile wide, which is absolutely shocking when you consider just how complex every part of this book really is. 

Basically, I was hooked. I was hooked, and I was shocked. The reader part of my brain spent the entire book just captivated. The editor and author part of my brain was parsing out how Nell managed to do all of this because holy shit

I’m also a big sucker for authors who take a chance on world building. I get a bit sick of the standard western-esque worlds, and when I first saw that there was a prince in this book, I will be honest with you. Some part of me was all, “Oh god, another Eurocentric-type governmental system… joy.” (insert eye roll here) However, Nell flipped the script on just about everything. While there are roots in European-style systems here, notably Norse, Nell put his own spin on all of it, and made it different enough that it really ended up being its own thing. He borrows elements from other societies as well, some Asian-feeling cultural items made their appearance, as well as some Indian. The result of this is a wide, sprawling world that feels nearly boundless, with plenty of places off the map–hinted at, but never shown–and is as varied culturally as our own. 

Some things to be aware of.

Kings of Paradise is a long read, and if you aren’t the type of person who is willing to invest time into a book that has a slower pace, then you might want to skip this one. While I loved everything about this one, it is an investment. It’s weighty, and it’s the start to a series, so there’s a lot of setup (and a lot of reward for said setup). However, it is worth being aware of that. Not every shoe fits every foot, and all that. 

Secondly, there aren’t any real battles to speak of, which might seem weird, seeing as how it is grimdark, but notice how I said above that there are a million different ways to write a grimdark book? Sometimes personal evolution, personal struggles, personal battles can be just as grim and dark as the sword and the hacking, and that’s really what you have here. There is blood, and gore, don’t get me wrong. It’s just a different breed of it. Kings of Paradise absolutely is dark, but it’s not the kind of dark you find in Joe Abercrombie, for example (which, honestly, was a huge plus in my eyes). 

I do not consider either of these things negatives, let me be clear. Rather, they are preferential. They worked for me, but might not work for you, depending. In truth, Nell writes more the kind of grimdark that personally appeals to me more than most other types of books that style themselves grimdark. It’s layered, with plenty of texture and a ton of depth, and deeper themes and ideas for readers to gnaw on. It’s not just a story, but an exploration of life, and choice, and the price of both. It’s some secondary world yarn, but a whole other reality, and it comes to blazing life under Nell’s skillful hand. Kings of Paradise is a thoughtful, delicately balanced book, and it really checked off all my boxes. Stunningly well written, and absolutely unforgettable. 

This is one of the best SFF books I’ve read in a while. 

5/5 stars

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