What if you aren’t the hero of the story?
This is hands-down the best fantasy debut I’ve read in a long time. Having worked within a publishing publicity team, I usually don’t agree whole-heartedly with the comps or sales pitch, but in this case, it really does sum it up:
‘Uniting the worldbuilding of a Brandon Sanderson with the storytelling verve of a Patrick Rothfuss, debut author Jenn Lyons delivers an entirely new and captivating fantasy epic.’
I’ll start with the Rothfuss comparison because I think his fans are exactly the right audience for this series. Lyons, like Rothfuss, clearly likes to play with structure and starts her novel somewhere in the middle of the actual story, with Kihrin imprisoned by a suspect jailor. You’re plunged into his tale immediately, unsure whether he’s good, bad or something else; how he got into the situation; who you should trust etc. In short, it’s a fantastic beginning that knocks you off your feet right away, a little bit like The Name of the Wind. On top of starting in the middle, we also get two origin points of his story, one told by Kihrin and one by his jailor, Talon. Kihrin begins where he thinks his story started, while Talon takes you back further in his childhood and gives perspectives beyond the first person that adds unexpected layers and insights into Kihrin’s character. Not content with this addition, Lyons then also frames the whole narrative as a record kept by another character detailing what he has found, and who gives footnotes peppered throughout the others’ tales. The result is a labyrinthine story which reads like mythology but with a presence and vividness that brings it to life in an incredible way.
This brings me onto the world-building, which I thought was exceptional. There’s the world as a whole – an empire built on slavery, forgotten races, ancient religion and tavern-songs of history – as well as the smaller intricacies of underground societies, the ruling classes and a long-waged war. Everything is superbly crafted to give a true sense of another world steeped in logic and lore. On the political side I loved the construction of the ‘royal houses’, easily picked out by eye colour and each ruling over a part of the society. The focus in this book is mostly on the blue-eyed rulers of the medical world, but I suspect more will start to be drawn out as the series continues. There is so much scope for intrigue here and I’m looking forward to see what the future holds.
The magic system is also brilliantly constructed with an emphasis on its association with religion. Again, this is where the mythos comes into play with lots of the magic revolving around/tied to the use of the soul. Slavery is rife throughout the world, and imposed with the taking of some slaves’ souls – a term called gaeshing – which renders the slave unable to go against any orders given by the holder of the gaesh. This was a fantastic use of a magic system that is entrenched within a societal norm, and raises implications when assessing the morality of different characters. I also really enjoyed the idea of three realms with veils between them: life, death and magic. Many possess the ability to ‘see beyond the first veil’ including Kihrin, meaning he can interpret the magical essence of items and people, which is a very handy plot device!
Honestly, I can’t recommend this book enough and I am so excited to read more in this world. It’s creative, stylish and a riveting read, perfect for any fantasy fan.
The Ruin of Kings is published by Tor and is available here.
Jenn Lyons lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, three cats and a nearly infinite number of opinions on anything from Sumerian mythology to the correct way to make a martini. She is a video game producer by day, and spends her evenings writing science-fiction, fantasy and paranormal mysteries. A long-time devotee of storytelling, she traces her geek roots back to playing first edition Dungeons & Dragons in grade school and reading her way from A to Z in the school’s library. The Ruin of Kings is the first in the five-book series A Chorus of Dragons.
Reviewed by Amber Mears Brown
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