The Grace of Kings by Ken Lui is the first book in the Dandelion series. It is an epic fantasy that pretty much rolls a whole lot of everything into one. Do I know who Ken Lui is? Do I remember reading any of his previous books before? Do I know of the various awards that he’s won? The answer is a definitive no. And it’s a shame because this guy definitely seems like he was born to write these kinds of novels. It was really fun reading The Grace of Kings but unfortunately, I was left disappointed when it all finished. It had a strong beginning, which I personally think is very important in order to hold my attention, but it ultimately falls flat around 3/4 of the way in and it never recovers. In fact, I might even dare to say it was about 1/2 of the way through. The story definitely feels ambitious at first and sucks you in to the world but afterwards, you’ll begin to notice that it’s like the author just left you stranded where progression was concerned.
The story starts out with a boy witnessing an assassination attempt on the emperor. The other star consist of a man who is bound to restore honor to his former clan. Together, they set out to accomplish the impossible to overthrow the empire. While this plot may not seem very innovative at first, I decided to give it a chance because it’s always fun to read a story about rebellion and besides, it’s always up to the author to “create” the interesting piece and spin it however he wants to so that it doesn’t seem cliche.
Anytime you have an epic fantasy set in this period and concerning especially Asian people, there’s bound to be betrayals and more importantly, the outcome of a war/battle is determined by the strategies used by the commanders and generals. A wrong guess or a gamble can determine the fate of thousands and thousands of lives. Fear not because you’ll have plenty of that in The Grace of Kings. World building I would say is very average at best. Some locations the author put more time into describing while others is just mentioned in passing.
One of the bigger concerns I had deals with character building and progression. Once again, I had high hopes as in the beginning, the characters showed some promise. This was true for both Kuni and Mata. However, as the story progressed further and further, I found this was not so anymore. What I do applaud the author for is making the characters do things that make them seem the anti-hero. War is ugly and nothing gets that point across more than by having the main characters do things that makes your blood boil just a bit. I loved it and wished more authors would have the courage to also spoil the image of their main protagonist, if just for a bit.
Battle wise, you’d expect thousands and thousands of troops fighting on the battlefield. And well, that’s exactly what you’d get but the focus isn’t really on putting you in the front seat of the action. As mentioned earlier, winning battles consist of outsmarting the enemy and more attention is thrown there instead. There are probably 1-3 memorable fights throughout the book in my opinion.
While The Grace of Kings felt average at best, I still managed to finish it in a small amount of time. Great authors/writers can do that and I’ll admit that Ken Liu can write. I’ll probably check out his previous works instead. The Grace of Kings is not bad and in fact, it’s probably better than most of the other stuff out there.