When I read the first book of Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty last year, I had nothing but praise for it. The setting, a (very) loose retelling of the Han dynasty with giant whales, magical books, airships, battle kites, and two-pupilled warlords, was like nothing I’d read before, and the entire thing was fantastically inventive and entertaining as hell.
I read the book in April, and between April and writing my Best Reads of the Year list at the end of the year I read several fairly cogent critiques of the book that led to it not holding up as well as I’d expected. Chief among the complaints was the rather minimal role that women played in the text. There were more, but that was the biggest one.
Well, Liu either took that to heart, or had already planned for women to take a much larger role in the sequel, The Wall of Storms. One way or another, this book is stuffed with fascinating women characters. Hell, if anything, the men get shortsighted, as one of the main male characters from the previous book is dead (although his influence is felt throughout) and the other is not as foregrounded in this as he was previously. The book also shows why the series is called the Dandelion Dynasty, as Kuni Garu’s children move to the fore, and there are plenty of hints that the next book (I have no idea how many are planned for the series) will be moving down another generation again.
As a result, and because it doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting of creating the setting that Grace of Kings did, this book has a lot more room to breathe and stretch. It’s longer than the first, which wasn’t a short book, and while this one clocks in at around 850 pages it’s somehow a fast read at that length. And it introduces an entirely different culture, the Lyucu, who have antlered, fire-breathing dragons.
Garinafins are very cool, guys.
There’s also a great emphasis on scholarship and scientific advancement, particularly one great leap forward (pardon the pun) late in the book that allows the good guys a chance at victory in the book’s culminating conflict. Many of the main characters are scholars, and when the book occasionally allows itself to delve into, say, garinafin biology, it’s done for a reason and isn’t as much of a wanky infodump as you might expect. It’s true to the characters.
I loved this book, guys, and I loved it as much as I loved the first book. This book doesn’t have the first book’s flaws, either. I’m not sure yet whether it’s going to end up edging out The Girl with All the Gifts as the year’s best book, but I’ve got a month to let it marinate before I write that post. Either way, you should be reading it, even if you were scared off a bit by the first book.