Monday, April 11, 2016

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Have you ever read a book that pulled you in so deeply that when you resurfaced in the normal world everything seemed just a little off kilter? That's what reading The Grace of Kings was like for me. I started it in a McDonalds, over lunch, and when I finally had to leave, it took me a while to realise I was back in Japan, not in Dara.

I basically picked up The Grace of Kings because I heard it was Chinese-inspired steampunk fantasy. The keyword here is Chinese. How many big fantasy novels (in English) have you seen that are inspired by Chinese history? This is my first. But if you know of others, TELL ME.

About the actual story: the lands of Dara have been united under the rule of Mapidere, but the people are discontented. In the uprising, two rebels come to prominence - Mata Zyndu, the son of a disposed duke, and Kuni Garu, a loafer turned bandit. They start of as close friends, almost brothers, but as the rebellion succeeds, they end up pitted against each other. Oh, and there are gods squabbling about some pack too. It's like an alternative version of 三国演义 (the romance of the three kingdoms), although I don't remember the gods being there.

When I first heard that this was based on Chinese history, I was a bit scared to read it because, hello, I'm the girl who barely made it through higher Chinese. What I know comes from my grandma's stories, TV dramas and the occasional book my school made me read.

But I'm very proud to say that I recognised quite a few of the incidents! True, I had to look some up to confirm it, but I remembered them! The book rang true to me in a way that most Western-myth based books didn't (even Lord of The Rings and Narnia, which I love very much).

And that is why I loved the book. It brought me to another world that felt sort of, but not quite, like my childhood, watching the Condor Heros and other Chinese dramas. Yes, the world building was gorgeous and the cast of characters was varied, but I love this most for giving me a link back to my past (even if I wasn't the best Chinese student).

Now, let's talk about characters. I suspect everyone will have their own favourite but mine is Kuni Garu, not Mata Zyndur.

Why? Because Kuni wants to make the world into a better place, while Mata wants to make the world into his ideal place. Plus, Kuni has that streak of kindness that Mata lacks. Other characters I liked were Jia, Kuni's wife, Soto, Jia's housekeeper with a secret, and the kickass Gin Mazoti.

I know that this is the start to a series, but honestly, to me the book is complete the way it is. I want to imagine the characters moving to a future with uncertainty and doubt, but to believe that they will move towards the best future. I don't want to read a sequel and see that my hopes were dashed.

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