He felt, in a way that he not explain, that he was meant to live more than the life he was living, destined to one day soar high into the air like these dandelion seeds, like the kite rider he had seen long ago.
-Ken Liu, the Grace of Kings
The story of ancient China; the rise of powerful rulers in the Hawaiian Islands; the daring legendary prowess of Miyamoto Musashi mixed with even more. That is the only way to really begin to explain the hodge-podge of a world that the reader is briskly dropped into. The world created by Ken Liu is original in that it comes off as entirely of its own creation, and much more than what it seems. This is not at all the usual northern European fantasy we’re use to, perhaps a similar story, but its not one that is often told in the West.
The Grace of Kings is a fast paced novel that is reveals the story of two opposite minded men who in their quest for greatness will form a fast friendship, and then sorrowfully end up against each other. When one kills Tyrants, or moves to unmake the wrongs of the past there are often differences of life that set us on different paths. Enter Mata Zyndu, the scion of an ancient Clan of Generals and Marshals of the grand Kingdom of Cocru. When the Xana Unification came about Mata’s grandfather stood against the invaders and paid for it with his life. Opposite and beside Mata Zyndu then stands the gangster known as Kuni Garu. A man whose easy going life is shaped by his experience with others, and a desire to set things right.
There are more players in this epic than one can count. From generals made from tax collectors, to women who sacrifice their very name to save their people. Each member of the grand play appears and their story is told in an orderly manner. Paramount among these players are the gods of the land themselves. If you like Game of Thrones, and the variety of figures why not see how the motives of the divine shape the destiny of entire nations. But this is a fast paced stories. In a way the pacing can take a while to get use to as the PoV’s can change in rapid fashion. WHen i first read the book I was enthralled, but at times had to reread paragraphs t omake sure what I saw actually happened.
In a way the stories sinuous pacing is what creates some of the strongest twists and turns within the story. People die in the blink of an eye, and great movements of political intrigue are done in a manner that are not always evident. The battles in this story are grand in the fashion of their size, but the focus more on discussing statecraft, and the maneuvering of political opponents. Anyone who is well entranced with the romanticism of the Three Kingdoms will find a beloved home in the Grace of Kings.
Yet while the novel does have a Chinese edge to it, this is far from the typical stereotypical Fantasy East often portrayed in western culture. The world of Dara itself is filled with unique animals from the massive Mingen Falcon of Xana, to the great scaled whales known as Cruben. The land itself has a decisively Polynesian flavor with natives growing Taro, and the mention of Thousand Hammered steel creates a semi-Bushido edge to the tale. No, this is a world that while drawing on the competition of the Chu-Han Contention of History quickly drops off the beaten path to explore its own ends. Magic is mystical, and rare. Abilities are often portrayed in a casual fashion that seems more like the actions of a half-god, or sorceress, or magician in old fairytales, or even the Odyssey than mages from a modern Table Top setting.
No, this is a story of not only revolution, and statesmanship, it is a story of revolution. Not only does Grace of Kings attack the old notion of “women constrained by history” it then proceeds to tear it up in a twist that makes sense and created one of my favorite characters. But in the end as the Gods sit back and contemplate their moves upon the great game of thrones, the Grace does a few things. Its a fast paced story, and its sometimes concise style can leave details up to the imagination. Those seeking a detailed slog similar to Game of Thrones will not find it in the same manner as GRRM’s style. Nor will you get the overtly detailed writings of Robert Jordan. Instead, you are introduced to a world where one must be patient, and enjoy.
This is a tale of dynasties, and while the tale is over, there is a definite sense that more is to come.