The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu
[Image courtesy of Goodreads]
I feel cheated.
Maybe it’s because of the raving reviews, or maybe it’s because of my own expectations after The Paper Menagerie. I just don’t feel good after reading this book.
Okay, the world that Ken Liu “created” in the story had all the elements one needs in an epic fantasy series – heroes (both male and female), believable characters, sufficient motivation, strange beasts, lots of battle scenes, meddlesome gods. Yet, I can’t help feel that it was but a clever adaptation of the Chinese history before, during and after the Qin dynasty.
Many of the characters, including the protagonists, were replicas of notable figures during that era (think Liu Bang vs Xiang Yu). Even the events, war tactics, battle tricks and political developments described in the story had the same key elements as the stories from that time. I couldn’t help wondering, halfway through the book, whether I was reading an original fantasy story, or an English (albeit entertaining) translation-cum-adaptation of a historical account of the escapades of two famous characters in Chinese history.
To be fair, Ken Liu tried to pump in new ideas of his own, like the use of airships, the enlightened attitude towards women and a behind-the-scene involvement of Gods. But they were not done well, especially the Gods bit. I couldn’t see how the Gods fitted in. Sure, they were treating the developments in the human realm like a game, to see whose champion would eventually emerge as the final King, and there were instances whereby one God would cheat and interfere with events. But if I were to remove all the parts containing the Gods bits, it wouldn’t have dismantled the story. In fact, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
I was so excited about this trilogy before. Now, I don’t think I’ll even move on to Book Two.
VERDICT: If you’re familiar with Chinese history and prefer to read original stories, don’t bother with this book.