The Grace of Kings has been on my radar for some time now, and though I was excited about it I wanted to wait a little bit in order to have a chance at getting the whole series at once instead of waiting, forever, between books. I didn’t quite make it, the second book is out but the third is not. Ah well, such is life. Anyway, this book was featured on Unbound World’s list of 100 best fantasy novels of all time, making it the book to fill my Listicles slot.
The Grace of Kings is a fairly typical epic fantasy, there are rebellions and wars and kings and soldiers and one special nobody who rises through the various ranks to prove his worth. It is light on the fantasy elements, there’s no overt magic for example, but the interfering gods and made up location are enough to slot it into the ranks of fantasy novels. I’m kind of eh on it to be honest. It was fine, the characters were interesting and plot moved along quickly, but I’m just not a war novel kind of person and that’s really what this was. The generals of the various shifting sides of this war each got a point of view from which to tell the story, and I enjoyed reading about how they used their strengths to gain the upper hand. For example, the over his head accountant made general who approached the war like some kind of math problem. What makes the book unique is the distinctly Chinese influence on the story, it’s pretty uncommon in epic fantasy and for that I think the book is worth reading.
However, I had trouble connecting with the characters. The book covers quite a bit of time, and feels more like a history of a war then a novel of a war, so a character is occasionally introduced and then killed off in a short space for what seems like no real reason and doesn’t add much to the overall story. This makes sense when you’re reading a history, as life doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t quite work in a novel where one expects things plot threads to be tighter and better woven. There is also a distinct lack of female characters. I think there are five named women and in very large cast that is a pitifully small number.
As for the list, and does this book deserve a slot on it? Well, I have issues with the list to begin with. I think it’s too heavy on very recent books to proclaim that it is the ‘best of all time’, so that is kind of suspect. There are also a couple of books I would have left off the list in favor of other books (that’s to be expected I suppose). As for The Grace of Kings? I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure it does deserve a slot in a Best of Fantasy list. It was good but not great. I’m just not sure that the unique, non-European influence on the book is really enough to deserve a ‘best of’ tittle.
My personal doubts aside, I do think if you’re like epic fantasy, and war based epic fantasy in particular you’ll probably like this one. I will probably continue on with the series, as I’m curious as to where Liu is taking his story but I’m not in a rush.