Ken Liu has had a hell of a year. You may recall my review of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which I loved, and which I note seems to have grown in my estimation since I wrote the review. Ken Liu, who is not related to Cixin Liu, translated that book, meaning he was at least partially responsible for (at the moment) my favorite science fiction book of the year.
And now he is solely responsible for my favorite fantasy book of the year. His debut novel The Grace of Kings is a genuinely remarkable work, one of the most inventive and interesting fantasy stories I’ve read in years. It is billed as Book One of The Dandelion Dynasty, but tells a complete enough story that it doesn’t feel like it needs a sequel to be complete. This is a good thing; this is a weighty tome (640 pages) with a complicated list of characters, a map in the front that is absolutely critical to a clear understanding of what’s going on, and a timespan that covers at least several years and may actually stretch out to close to a couple of decades. This book demands that you pay attention to it, but is crazily rewarding to those who do.
Liu calls the genre of the book “silkpunk,” meaning a fantasy-science fiction hybrid heavily infused with Chinese culture, but I’d say for all that the book is squarely in the fantasy genre anyway– it’s just fantasy featuring airships, battle kites (yes, battle kites,) giant mechanical whales, and a few other awesome things I won’t spoil here.
But it also has a main character who is eight feet tall and has two pupils in each of his eyes, who fights with a sword in one hand and a giant tetsubo in the other, a magic book, and a subplot involving the gods that is the only real hint that there are more books coming in this series. My sole reservation is to point out that you really do need to pay attention while you’re reading, as the book is chockfull of characters with unfamiliar Chinese names and keeping them straight can be a bit of a challenge at times. Other than that? I loved this fucking book and you should buy it and read it right now. If this isn’t still my favorite book of the year at the end of 2015 it will have been an outstanding year for reading.
6 thoughts on “REVIEW: Ken Liu’s THE GRACE OF KINGS”
I read The Three-Body Problem based on your recommendation, and I really liked it. It’s always interesting to get the perspective of another culture, I didn’t get lost in the science, and I felt like a proper nerd for being aware of the three-body problem in advance. I look forward to the next volumes.
I’m intrigued by Grace of Kings, but I’m massively burned out on fantasy – mainly because 90% of the time, women in fantasy novels don’t exist. Tell me Liu’s book is not all boys all the time and I’ll check it out.
Hmm. All boys, all the time? No. But the two main characters are males, and the adversary they’re struggling against for the first bit of the story is also male. There are definitely a number of interesting female side characters, but they’re definitely side characters.
Passes the Bechdel test, though, for whatever that’s worth. 🙂
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Saw him writing about his own book on boingboing.net when he had never written for them before and I was wondering who he knows to get to do that or if he paid them to get to do it. Either way, seemed kind of fishy to me. But if you liked it then maybe I’ll give it a shot.
He won a Hugo, a Nebula and a World Fantasy Award in the same year for one story. He’s kind of a big deal. 🙂
[…] speaking of Ken Liu, you might also remember me highly praising his The Grace of Kings, which also came out this year. I loved the hell out of it while I was […]
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