The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

LiuTheGraceOfKingsNarrator: Michael Kramer

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2015)

Length: 21 hours 37 minutes

Series: Book 1 Dandelion Dynasty

Author’s Page

This epic fantasy spans decades, starting with a corrupt rulership that has much of the population enslaved one way or another, plenty of folks plot and scheme for a better life. Folks get their wish, sort of, as factions break away from the old regime. Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu become leaders of two of these factions and eventually good friends. However, the glory of battle after battle and the resultant peace will test their friendship.

This was a beautiful, sweeping story. The characters were fascinating and the cast was well balanced. At first, I thought the story would be a kind of alternate Japanese ancient history tale with some mythology tossed in. I was a bit off the mark. While this story has that indeed, there is so much more going on. Various ethnicities are represented and while the story centers around a series of islands, there is plenty of back and forth with the mainland. The characters, by and large, know the world is larger than their immediate settings. Also, there are deities gambling on their chosen favorites, finding sneaky little ways to affect the world they watch.

I especially loved the fighting kites. Yes, these are kites that a warrior straps to their back and they are lifted into the air to do either reconnaissance or battle. There are several scenes that make good use of these kites. There are also airships in play as well!

There are plenty of ladies in this novel and they are not trivial bits of pretty fluff either. Gia is skilled at herb lore and administering her household. She’s a fit mind to spar with one of our heroes, Kuni. Late to the show we get a female warrior, Jin, and I hope we see more of her in Book 2. There are other ladies with large and small roles, but these two really stood out to me.

Kuni wasn’t my favorite character in the beginning but he grew to be so. He starts off as a bit of a wastrel and layabout. He gambles and drinks too much and refuses to work. Yes, he still lives with his parents, so they have to put up with his self-centered uselessness even as they see that he’s clothed and fed. Then things start to change for him and he becomes something else by the middle of the book. He kind of stumbles into his calling.

Meanwhile, Mata struck me as a fascinating character right from the beginning. He’s from a royal family and was raised to be a ruler, if not the supreme ruler. He has refined manners and tastes. Plus he is simply physically imposing with his 8 foot stature and his double pupils. Yes, double pupils. Go look that up. There’s plenty of mesmerizing images even if there isn’t a scientifically documented occurrence.

There’s one drawback to this book and that is all the rather long info dumps. The author writes beautifully, so often I found myself in the middle of an interesting info dump before I knew it. However, there are so many of them that I felt that a good chunk of this book was written like a history novel instead of an action-packed epic fantasy. Perhaps that is exactly what the author intended. Even with all the info dumps, I still really enjoyed the tale.

The Narration: Michael Kramer is a long-time favorite narrator and he doesn’t disappoint with this performance. He has a matter-of-fact voice for the longer info dumps and a variety of voices and accents for the multitude of characters. He’s also great with emotions for the more poignant scenes. 

What I Liked: Fighting kites!; great cover art; The story arc for the two main characters; the ladies are not ignored in this epic story; it’s bigger than an alternate-world Japan; the gods are watching… and sometimes interfering; the ending was bitter sweet. 

What I Disliked: This is minor, since the author writes so elegantly, but there are many, many info dumps.

What Others Think:

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The Book Smugglers

Fantasy Book Critic

The Speculative Herald

SF Signal

Fantasy Scroll 

6 thoughts on “The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu”

  1. I liked Michael Kramer’s narration in the Mistborn novels, but can’t get into the narration in the Stormlight Archives. I’mt taking a break from him now, and maybe his narration in the aforementioned books will grow on me again. This book sounds like just up my alley, but I have so many other books lined up, I hardly know where to start as it is. 🙂

    1. I also enjoyed Kramer’s narration for Mistborn and for Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. Sometimes I do have to take a break from his narrations just so I can keep different series/books straight in my head.

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