Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

May 21, 2015 3.5 stars, Book Review 9 ★★★½

Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken LiuThe Grace of Kings by ken Liu
Series: The Dandelion Dynasty #1
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 7, 2015
Genres: Adult SFF, Fantasy
Pages: 623
Length: 21 hours, 37 minutes
Narrator: Michael Kramer
Source: Publisher
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*This book was provided by the Publisher for review. No compensation was provided and all opinions are strictly my own.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, soaring battle kites, conspiring goddesses, underwater boats, magical books, as a streetfighter-cum-general who takes her place as the greatest tactitian of the age. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.


The Grace of Kings was unlike other fantasy novels I’ve read before. The writing, setting and culture were very great and I enjoyed the characters immensely. The main characters had great character development and the struggles they went thru really intrigued me. The way events were shaped by them to form the bigger picture was fantastic.

And oh dear what a bigger picture it was! All too frequently epic fantasy novels are set in an almost stock medieval world. So seeing this Eastern inspired land was such a nice change.

BUT! Now here is my downside – The first half of the book was such a huge chore for me. The pacing was a big problem for me and at times I seriously struggled to continue. It was like a huge boulder that took a long time to get going but once rolling couldn’t be stopped. There was so much historical and world building information dumped so frequently in between character scenes that my brain wanted to shut down from the history lessons. It stole my thunder every time. There was also big flashback personal background histories given as each new character was introduced. These personal backgrounds essentially included their entire life (almost) from childhood and I grew tired with that pattern quickly. I’ve never experienced the amount of character background info given in one book as I did here. In my opinion a better balance needed to be struck between character background, plot and world building.

Due to the type of world and cultures present women didn’t have strong roles. One wife, Jia, did influence Kuni strongly but ultimately she was still just a wife. There was another one that comes along in the second half who was very prominent, but ultimately this was a very male dominant world. Perhaps the female presence will get stronger in the next book but I am not looking forward to the court intrigue that seems to be what will be the focus for much of that. I don’t hold this against the book but I would have loved to see stronger or more female characters.

Here is where I admit I was very emotionally moved. This was by Mata and his wife and the love that develops between them and ultimately the sacrifice she makes gave me the tears eyes. I was also very invested in Kuni and Mata’s relationship and how it changed over the course of the book. Both were good men that end up at odds because of their different beliefs and goals. My heart broke for both of them and their misunderstandings.

Ultimately, I had a love hate relationship with The Grace of Kings. It was a great epic fantasy that suffered under the weight of major things that didn’t work for me but was saved by beautiful writing and ambitious characters. I’d recommend this to epic fantasy readers who are fine with a very slow, more tell, less show type of storytelling.

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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9 Responses to “Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu”

  1. Sara L.

    More tell and less show? Hmmmm. I”m not really a fan of that approach, but I’d still like to check out this book. I’ve heard some interesting things about it.

    Do you think the fact that you listened to an audiobook instead of reading a hard copy might have emphasized the slower pace? Or influenced your opinion in other ways? Just curious, that’s all.
    Sara L. recently posted…Field Trip: Heritage Museum & Gardens (Sandwich, MA)My Profile

  2. [email protected]

    “Grace of Kings” is next in line after I’ve finished “A Crown for Cold Silver” that I’m reading now: what attracts me more is the different background for the story, one that somewhat reminds me of the “Long Price Quartet” from Daniel Abraham, that also employed an eastern-like setting. I’ll admit being a little worried about the huge amount of buildup you mentioned, since I know I sometimes have little patience to wade through tons of information, but I guess much will depend on the writing…

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂
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  3. Valerie

    I’ve heard that this is supposed to be like the NEXT epic fantasy (I guess it still is), and I mean because it’s an epic fantasy I expect info dumping, but I don’t think I could handle that for the whole first part. There needs to be a balance between plot and info dumping :/ ANYWAYS. I’m glad you enjoyed it though! Sucks that it’s not like AMAZING good 🙁
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  4. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    Yeah, this is the problem I have with many fantasies, the unnecessary details that would really make the book drag for me. I mean everything about each character from childhood, is that really necessary? Couldn’t it have been weaved into the overall plot? I do like the Eastern theme though. Lovely review Tabs!
    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence recently posted…Indulgence Insider #29 – My Library Book HaulMy Profile

  5. Dragana

    I was looking forward to ‘The Grace of Kings’ but I have a feeling from your review that I will have a problem with pacing too. Especially since I am less patient lately and more of an adrenaline junkie (only in books lol). I am not sure if I will brave this chunkster.
    Nice review as always. (Sorry if I sometimes forget to write that at the end of the comment) 😉
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