Overview (No Spoilers):
I’ve found Grace of Kings on several lists offering suggestions for alternative high fantasy novels with which to occupy your time while you wait for the next Song of Fire and Ice installment. My attention piquing, I finally reserved this title from my local library, curious as to the high praise and awards associated with this read. In hindsight, what a whirlwind, dense, expanse of a book! I usually wait to reserve any judgement while in the midst of reading a book, regardless of the subject matter, until the absolute end, however in Grace of Kings, early on I was enamored of the world building and the sheer potential of the material and I just knew this was going to garner a fabulous rating. Additionally, the reader was Michael Kramer, who narrates one of my favorite series, The Stormlight Archive, so I had very positive vibes with every early word he spoke. Alas, then the book stagnated, growing stale as the quagmire of politics took over the focal point. Just as I was getting ready to give up on the read, something I absolutely NEVER do, the story picked back up again, pulling my attention back to the adventure at hand. This roller coaster of action vs. delays continued throughout this read over and over and over again, proving exhausting as a reader. As a lover of high fantasy, I understand these growths happen early in series, and the world building in Grace of Kings is everything and more I look for in series that stand above other contemporaries. I struggled to pinpoint my frustrations in this inaugural installment of The Dandelion Dynasty, until I realized I had zero attachment to any of the main characters. Liu does an excellent job developing detailed personas, however perhaps the fatal flaw for me was that the characters were too real. While each person had their own unique voice and depth, each and every one had fatal flaws that were always lurking near the surface. So despite loving Liu’s highly detailed literary world and the multidimensional characters he created, both elements that typically make or break high fantasy for me, I realized I had had growing annoyance with all of the key individuals within this book. It hasn’t been since Girl on a Train that I’ve truly disliked all of the characters I’ve encountered within a read. Perhaps, presenting their personality flaws in such a realistic manner shows Liu’s literary genius, however it will be hard for me to continue with the series. I couldn’t decide who to root for, because even the ruthless character who I should clearly be against I felt bad for and even cried for at one key heartbreaking plot twist. Overall, Grace of Kings contained all the ingredients that should have easily made the final product a read that I loved, however the fantastic individual components didn’t quite fit together in a fluid manner, leaving a bad taste from the reader’s perspective.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Can we talk about Mata for a second? I wanted him to be a good guy so bad! And worst of all, despite knowing he was going to do nothing but terrible things if he won, his death was terrible on so many levels. It was perfect, and oh so very horrid. Poor Mata.
- Oh Kuni! I enjoyed his chapters the best, however disliked where the story left him once he obtained his power. The circle of misery and distrust was setting up to repeat itself in the next novel. I don’t think I can handle a second roller coaster of emotion.
- Throughout the majority of this book I was rather annoyed at the lack of female characters. Jia was set up initially to be so strong, but she was set aside to raise the kids while Kuni adventured. The next book sets her up to war with Kuni’s other wife that she encouraged him to take. I just can’t see that being enjoyable to read.
- While I’m on the thread of female characters let’s chat about Princess Kikomi. Smart but people only care about her looks. So she tries seducing a guy to sees through it and forces her to seduce an uncle/nephew power duo to break them apart. Better yet, she has to kill one of them. Her sacrifice to kill herself while still fulfilling her mandate was brutal and unexpected but a total waste of an intriguing, needed female character.
- I thought the tragic death of King Jizu who was essentially another martyr fizzled out. Yes it highlighted the Gods trying to influence their pawns, however he was another interesting character who was cut down prior to his full potential being explored.
- Finally a strong female in Gin Mazoti! Her chapters were some of my favorites. The end of this read unfortunately starts to set her against Kuni despite her being utterly loyal.