What Do I Know About Books? The Ruin of Kings
For anyone that followed my Google+ account, I would, infrequently, post about books that I had finished, usually those that fell into the sci-fi or fantasy genres. I’m thinking of adding this to the blog now that Google+ is gone, and having just finished a book that fits those parameters, I thought it might be time to try this out.
With all of that out of the way, today, we’ll be looking at The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons.
The Ruin of Kings was published on February 5th, 2019. The physical copy of the book is 548 pages long, and for the purposes of this review, I listened to the audiobook format, which is 27 hours and 15 minutes long. While the initial version that I downloaded did not have this subtitle attached, the book is now listed as Book One of the Chorus of Dragons series.
This book contains the following content of which readers may want to be aware. There are references to sexual assault and non-consensual sexual content, but no active scenes portraying this activity. There are several graphically violent scenes, and the book also contains scenes depicting slavery and the loss of free will and agency by the perspective characters.
The story is told as two intertwining narratives, two by two separate characters, with a third character adding points of clarification throughout the text as he reviews the other accounts. All three characters are narrating the events in the life of the protagonist, who is also one of the three voices telling the story. The two primary narrators split the difference between the protagonist’s life from several years ago, and a perspective that is closer to the “modern” time of the setting.
While this was initially a little jarring and made it harder to for me to get engaged with the story, after a few chapters I was invested, and looking forward to the interjections from the third party reviewing the accounts.
Much of the story revolves around locations in a fantasy world that appear to be in a more southern climate. The environments tend to revolve around a city, lost ruins, islands, and the sea. There are some standard fantasy staples in the setting, such as dragons and demons, as well as some elements that fill similar but slightly different niches, such as a race of spined and tentacled creatures that almost fills the orc or goblin niche, and a race of very long lived humanoids that fill the elf niche, although they are more “long lived and in the know” than “eternal and wise.”
The book touches various fantasy tropes, from local thieves’ guilds and gangs, to organizations of assassins, secret societies, and prophesy. Much of the book plays with the concept of prophesy by introducing it as a plot element while also emphasizing how much almost every character referring to prophesy hates the concept.
The concept of geas is very important to the overall story, although it has its own nuance in this setting that grows the longer the narrative continues.
The language of the book is very fluid–it conveys a fantasy setting while using a lot of modern terminology, but that terminology never quite feels out of place, especially as some of the more underlying details about the setting are revealed.
Khirin could have been a very tiresome “chosen one” template, but his sarcasm helps smooth this over, as does the changing context of what a chosen one even is in this narrative.
While it was a difficult start for me, I eventually loved that entangled past and present storytelling construction and was actively looking forward to the interjections by the third party reviewing the account (and was happy when that character’s role in the story changes and expands).
Khirin is a white male protagonist. A lot of the important people seem to fall into the Caucasian range of appearance, and it feels a bit like the people of color in the book fall into “exotic” territory. While there is some subversion, especially with the most powerful goddesses in the setting, a lot of the women in the book fall into the roles of spellcasters or social manipulators, and those that are skilled assassins or thieves tend to do their work “offscreen.”
I’ll also admit, part of that feeling about Caucasian seeming characters versus characters that are people of color may be a little off on my part, because there are so many nationalities and descriptions thrown around, without being tied too closely to individual characters, that I may have lost track of who had what traits. It gets to be a little too much to follow at times.
I’m not sure if it’s a plus or a minus that the royal bloodlines are noted as magically changing their appearance to have similar features, because it moves away from “bloodline superiority,” but still establishes a social class with those features.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
The narrative does a great job of creating unique origins for dragons and gods, and putting a new spin on how magic works and the importance of geas, and with all of that new or traditional with a new spin on it, I would have loved to have seen that with less slavery, sexism, and sexual violence. I think having a young male protagonist helps insofar as part of the story is subverting expectations for a “chosen one” narrative and leaning into it before leaning away from it is a nice touch.
While the narrative structure is a little different, and it is not directly following the same template, something about the story feels a little reminiscent of the Kingkiller Chronicles. Maybe it’s the naturally talented young boy with musical ability, or the switch between modern day and the character’s past. Depending on how you feel about the Kingkiller Chronicles, this may or may not be a welcome comparison.
Given that my most recent reads were either much grimmer and more cynical, or much more casually misogynistic, I enjoyed this book, despite a few too many “standard” fantasy pitfalls. It may even be possible that as the series unfolds, some of these tropes will be recontextualized, but I can’t review future installments until they happen, so this book is going to have to stand on its own for now.