My initial attack plan for 2015 was excruciatingly simple: one book per week, followed immediately by a review. I’d have no limits on the genre except that I would attempt to read books more recently published than something bound and printed decades, or centuries ago. Every book I started, I promptly finished in the allotted time I allowed myself. Until this book. GRACE OF KINGS is a extensive story of over half a thousand pages that belies the traditional definition of a novel. It is in a very real sense a modern epic.
The story is that of the Tiro states, an assembly of various city-states that focus around an archipelago of islands. These islands were long conquered and forged into a single, albeit oppressive, empire. Largely unfamiliar with Asian history that predates the Boxer Rebellion or outside of the Sengoku of Japan, I was unable to create the correlation that many others did with Liu’s retelling. To me, this was a fairly new story. Having reflected on a handful of reviews on Amazon, I felt it necessary to make that known as many complained that Liu’s story was merely a retelling of older, Asian tales. I’ll have you know this is the way of things on other continents, as well.
My initial thoughts within finishing THE GRACE OF KINGS is that it should not be a single book. This may derail it from it’s encapsulation as an epic, but this is overlooking the the explicitly signification predication of how books are viewed in 2015. Equivocally, this book’s plot tells about the length of George RR Martin’s first two books and perhaps even into the third as far as the scope of the plot goes. A Song of Fire and Ice would not be so critically acclaimed I think, if it crammed into two books in it’s entirety instead of the current. Splitting this book into two would do a very important exercise for the reader: allowing them to breathe.
There are few moments of downtime in GRACE OF KINGS. From assassinations to airships to gods bickering, the world is infinitely flushed out and because of it’s length is a long winded story that forgets to take a breath. In fact, there is such a well placed point of divergence between the first and second half of the book, I admittedly stopped and said aloud: “This would’ve been the perfect ending point for a Book 1.”
This is a minor complaint, abbreviated more by my overlapping complaint about it’s existence as a modern epic. I don’t mind that and I think epics as they are are just as important as the standard novels that have become the norm of the 21st century. GRACE OF KINGS fully embodies all the necessary characteristics of a modern epic. This, to me, is the primary culprit behind my lack of enjoyment. Held side by side to the Iliad, it exists almost more as a functional tool of education than a story of entertainment. I remember in my junior high English A.P. classes recognizing and analyzing the various tropes behind Achilles and Agamemnon. Not once though did I ever feel connected to Achilles’ plight, or Hector’s nobility. I feel this same apathy here.
When a character was introduced, within a few paragraphs I could correctly deduce their fate. This isn’t terrible, as these tropes and stereotypes are perfectly designed. A half century down the road I can imagine a book like this implemented in a classroom to identify character ideologies and motives, as they are so well lined out. So well lined out, that they seemed traced.
There are two primary characters: the brash rogue Kuni Gari and the headstrong, albeit close minded Mata Zyndu. These characters are dynamically written and change throughout the course of the story, providing a stark dichotomy of how quickly friends can become enemies. I wish there were other characters that evolved as well as the two primary protagonists. I will say that I was ultimately disappointed with the depiction of Kuni’s wife Jia, who stands strong in the beginning of the story and then falls flat on her face in the second and third act.
Ken Liu’s prose is simple, but pays attention to the details that are required. There were a few set pieces that I felt could have been brushed up but were ignored, and other events that were wound up in intrinsic detail that I felt could have been skipped. Overlooking this however, Ken is a writer who knows how to convey a story. Though he may never read this (there are much more extensive reviews on the Amazon page of this work, both for and against) I hope he hones his penmanship to bring Book 2 of the Dandelion Dynasty a little closer to home.
Bonne journée, mes amis.