To begin, I should disclose that I have no intention of telling you what this novel is about, for The Grace of Kings must be experienced firsthand. If you want a general plot, visit Amazon.com, but there’s something to be said for taking my word for it and just diving in with a clean slate. Second, a caveat: I love seeing written work adapted for television or film. Some of my absolute favorite television series are adapted from novels - Outlander, The Red Tent, Game of Thrones, and The White Queen immediately jump to mind. Extraordinarily written, these on-screen adaptations of the novels of the same name only enhance the portrait that the author and my imagination created.
The Grace of Kings is a completely different story, for it is so perfectly written a novel and so exquisite a landscape that no justice could possibly be done by transferring the words off the page.
As a performer who takes pride in bringing a written story to life, I can hardly believe I’m writing these words. But, it’s true. Art comes in many forms, and The Grace of Kings simply writes (or rather, rewrites) the rules of epic fantasy. Typically, most stories of this nature progress linearly, following multiple key characters on their journey towards an often frustratingly ambiguous goal. We track their interactions with each other and the world around them, exploring the history of their realm through recollection - that is, one character is telling another character the lore of their world while we, the audience, learn the history of their world by association, almost secondhand.
Ken Liu, on the other hand, lets the characters tell us their stories directly. No long discussions of history while traveling on horseback, no tales of heroism recounted over drinks. Instead, there is an entire chapter devoted to the story of a man who ends up dead by the time the chapter closes. We’re taken out of the linear “present” and thrust into his past, tracking his life and experiencing his culture, his mythos, and his land through a span of a few pages until we reach the devastating end. I found myself mourning his loss, having only known him for a few pages, because his story doesn’t end there. Rather, it weaves its way seamlessly into the the tapestry of the world Ken Liu’s created and into the story surrounding our main characters. This happens often, as we live the lives of countless men whose experience are imparted upon us firsthand, a type of storytelling unusual in the epic fantasy world. Unusual and utterly refreshing.
Of the plot itself, there are plenty of twists and gut punches, as well as genuine, heartfelt, and laugh-out-loud moments. Of the characters, the heroes are endearing, the villains are repugnant, and the line between the two is often distressingly blurred. Of the world, I shall only say this - there is nothing like it.
For nothing could ever be like it.
Rating: 5/5 Stars