I have praised Howard Andrew Jones’ writing here before– his The Desert of Souls was on my 10 Best list for 2017, and I also enjoyed its sequel The Bones of the Old Ones, although I don’t think I reviewed it here at all. So when I got a chance to land an ARC of the first book of his new trilogy, For the Killing of Kings, I jumped on it. This isn’t out until February 19, so when I’m done telling you you should pre-order it, you can just go do that and have it on release day in a couple of weeks! Great how this works, isn’t it?
The word “Conan” always comes up when I’m discussing Jones’ books, and his work always does a great job of scratching that particular itch for me– straightforward sword & sorcery full of magic and violence and cool worldbuilding and prophecies and scary villains and interesting monsters. Jones’ flavor of sword and sorcery is decidedly more modern than the traditional Conan model– you’ll notice that the woman on the cover is wearing clothes, for example– and not only is the main character a woman but so are several important members of the supporting cast.
That said, this series actually feels a bit less Conan-esque than his previous books, despite being set in a more European-style setting than The Desert of Souls and The Bones of the Old Ones, which were both deeply influenced by the Arabian Nights. In a lot of ways, For the Killing of Kings has the feel of a murder mystery for a decent chunk of its length– it’s not quite a true murder mystery, because the reader knows who did the killing, but the book splits its time among three distinct groups of characters, two of whom are pursuing the third, and no one really has the full story about what’s going on until close to the end. The characters are the best thing about the book, honestly; everyone who gets screen time has their own motivations and goals, and most of the time those motivations and goals don’t overlap perfectly with everyone else in the story, so the conflicts keep multiplying and mounting until all the sudden at the end of the book we’re pretty sure that the government all of the main characters are supposed to defend is at least partially the bad guys and oh by the way there’s a whole invasion thing going on and the scope of the book widens rather quite a lot. This is a great rollicking landslide of a book; every little plot-pebble that happens sends a bigger rock rolling down the hill, and Jones never lets up on moving the plot relentlessly forward.
It’s tricky, when writing a trilogy, to set up the first book so that it tells its own story but introduces story threads that will continue into subsequent tales, and For the Killing of Kings does a great job of keeping the scope smaller until the end and then abruptly pulling the camera way back and massively upping the stakes for the remainder of the series. I will be buying my own copy of this to put on the shelf next to my ARC. You should too.