The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty) by Ken Liu
|The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty) by Ken Liu|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A fascinating start to the silk punk Dandelion Dynasty series providing multi-layered fantasy with an additional take on transposed Ancient Chinese history. We may need to concentrate a bit more than with run of the mill fantasy novels but this is rewarded by something just a little different.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 640||Date: December 2015|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
|External links: Author's website|
Mata Zyundu is on the way down in life having been born into an aristocratic family deposed and burdened with all the resentment that goes with it. Meanwhile the charming Kuni Gara finds fame and success as a bandit leader after a lifetime surviving on the streets. The two form an unlikely friendship that's torn asunder as the Empire crumbles and they find themselves on opposite sides for better or, indeed, for worse.
Chinese born and American adopted Ken Liu has garnered fame and awards along with deserved fame for his novellas and short stories. Now, in bringing us this, the first of The Dandelion Dynasty he not only brings us an intense, longer work, Ken also hurls us readers and critics into marmite mode. Personally I love marmite!
For the background of the novel Ken has taken the real history of the Chinese Han Dynasty and remoulded it into a fantasy setting. This definitely adds a feeling of authenticity but comes with a complexity that needs concentration and a cast list to match at the front of the book. Indeed the population of Xana and its Islands of Dara takes a little while to sink into our imaginations but I didn't begrudge the effort as their tale is enthralling.
It may seem slow in places to some but this is history with a fantasy coating. This means there aren't battles on every page but there's always something going on. When we aren't submerged in back story, we're fascinated by machinations, manipulation and politics in all its forms – friendship, families and governance. (All of a sudden taxation planning becomes rather engrossing entertainment!)
Goran Pira is someone who is a great example of the jiggery pokery that goes on. Baddies don't come much crueller or more devious than our Goran. In fact it's terrifying to think he may be based on a real historical equivalent. Having been instrumental in some judicious miscommunication and euthanasia of someone not considering old age or illness, Pira gets to choose the next emperor as well as pulling a few strings.
Ken also provides us with a chorus of argumentative gods as well as a greater depth of philosophy and every day dilemma than many fantasies provide. There are moments of the not-so every day too. For instance once you get into a position of power and the adrenalin dissipates, how do you cope with the boring bread and butter ruling?
We open the book expecting some engineering feats as this is all part and parcel of silk punk's profile but in this case the author proves he has a great imagination for them. The menacing airship scenes are a great example.
There have been mumblings that the story's two main women Jia and Princess Kikoni are ordinary fantasy fare who aren’t used to their or the story's full potential while the men have the adventures. In fact the mumblings were so loud that Ken made a statement in response, telling us that the story arc he wrote stretches over three books and we should perhaps wait and see what happens. He's promised us surprises that may change the bloke-ish feel to the novel that those on the other side of the marmite divide have complained about. Although I can see what they mean, for me it hasn't affected my enjoyment and so, if it is going to get better than this, count me in!
(Thank you to the folks at Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you enjoy silk punk with a more considered politically depth, then we heartily recommend Black Wolves (Black Wolves Trilogy) by Kate Elliott. If you prefer silk punk that just takes you to a different place and submerses you in rollicking entertainment (although with a darker side) it has to be the exemplary Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty) by Ken Liu at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty) by Ken Liu at Amazon.com.
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