I finished reading The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu recently and I’ve found myself thinking about it on and off ever since. I’ve been trying to figure out how I felt about it and, ultimately, I think I can say that it wasn’t my favorite novel, but I will certainly acknowledge that it’s different from any other epic fantasy novel that I’ve read.
What I liked:
- The story was uniquely told, in a way that reminded me very much of oral traditions. I could very easily imagine the story being told around the campfire by an elder to children.
- The story was truly epic, spanning several years and the entirety of the world.
- The novel was based on Chinese history and mythology, which we don’t see very often in fantasy novels. It was definitely nice to read something a little different.
What I didn’t like:
- The “oral” style of the narrative was certainly unique, but I felt it oversimplified things a bit at times, especially the emotions and motivations of characters. As a result, many of the characters felt unrealistic.
- It also resulted in very simple language. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it allows for many levels of reader to comprehend the story, but it just felt a little too ordinary to me.
- The story was also told from a very distant perspective, basically the gods’ view. Although that was interesting in some ways, it meant that the novel didn’t really go into the head’s of the characters very often and that made it difficult to connect with them. I will admit that I connected with Kuni to some degree and he was probably my favorite character.
What I don’t get:
- Why is this going to be a series? I thought the ending would have been perfect for a standalone novel.
I think 2015 is going to be a really great year for speculative fiction, especially novels that break the mold and try to take genre fiction in new directions or tell stories from new perspectives. This is a great think in my mind, but it’s going to be really challenging to give out awards. I think The Grace of Kings will certainly be in the discussion for a Hugo Award and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it makes the final ballot, but I really have no idea today if it is really a contender to win.