Summary

An attempt at a modern, more imaginative version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Kinda nearly succeeds.

Written by
Ken Liu in 2015

The Grace of Kings promises much. There’s world building, fantastical locations and heroes fighting villains. But the further you read into it, the delivery just isn’t quite right. A bit like watching an ad for a Big Mac and then seeing one in the flesh. It’s still edible, but part of you wonders why you didn’t just make instant noodles at home.

Set in an island archipelago, Grace of Kings begins when the Xana Empire had united the archipelago for some years under the rule of King Mapidere. Though he strove for an everlasting peace, his policies were cruel and ineffective. At the time of Mapidere’s death, rebellion was inevitable.

The various former lords and peoples of the old states try to get back to their old ways, endless wars and petty disputes between nobles are commonplace again. In the midst of this, two heroes emerge. Kuni Garu, a lowly drunkard and playboy who has a heart of kindness, and Mata Zyndu, an enormous man with martial skills and quick temper, who only cares for honour and fighting prowess. They begin as allies, but as so often happens in war, they end as enemies.

Ken Liu has tried to do something interesting, and that is marry the style of writing that Romance of the Three Kingdoms had, with the descriptions of major and minor characters, the rise and fall of dynasties, with modern western literature. In that classic of literature, the good guys were good, and the bad guys were bad, but they all had honour and respected each other. Truth be told, Grace of Kings didn’t really work with this mashup of styles.

Aside from the rigid and one dimensional way many characters are portrayed, especially the heroes, there are lots of events in the book that make you ask “why did they do this?” Like when the main characters betray each other the first time, the betrayal would have been completely negated by the simple act of writing and delivering a letter. It made no sense.

I think the main problem with this book isn’t the ambition, it’s that it tries to do too much. There are bits focusing on the deities of the archipelago, exploringthe supernatural aspect of the world. There are also bits focusing on two brothers who follow the rebellion from start to end, attempting to be the commoner’s view. All of this makes the book feel quite disjointed, and with the large number of characters, it becomes hard to follow unless you’re willing to invest some time and effort into it.

As the first in a planned trilogy, Grace of Kings serves to set up the world and characters. It’ll be interesting to see if the style has changed for the upcoming sequel. I think this series has potential, but I’m sure some will be put off by the way this book’s been written. I think it’s worth it, personally, to stick it through, because it gets better towards the end. But then, not everyone has the patience.

Rating

There’s a good book hidden under the laborious number of characters and chopping, changing set locations.

Read this if you…

Are looking for Romance of the Three Kingdoms redux.

Skip this if you…

Want deep and well written characters with a complex storyline.

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