I am absolutely loving the number of awesome epic fantasies that are coming out this year! I read the extract of The Ruin of Kings when it was available on NetGalley last year, and adored it so much that I actually shouted ‘NO!’ when I realised I couldn’t turn the page any more. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to read a full proof, and let me tell you, this book is even more astonishing in full.
Book: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
Read before: The first 100 pages
Ownership: Physical ARC sent free of charge by the publisher. All opinions my own.
Oh, this book. It’s so good! I’m deliberately going to be vague about the plot, because I really think this is one that you need to go into knowing as little as possible. The book opens with Kihrin, a young man, having a conversation with his jailer, Talon, a young woman. Together, they piece together the events that have led to this point… And those events create one of the cleverest, most exciting, most engaging fantasies that I’ve read in a while.
You need to pay attention while reading this book. I actually think some people will end up DNFing it and calling it ‘confusing’, but it isn’t, really. You just need to watch everything that’s going on as carefully as you can, because there is not a single wasted word here – the tiniest detail can become important 400 pages later. I am a super fast reader, as you know, but I read this about five times slower than my usual pace, to make sure I was taking everything in. And even when you understand… Well. Imagine that in a normal book, you might have the rug pulled out from under you once or twice by revelations. When you finish The Ruin of Kings, you’ll realise that you started off standing on a twelve-foot tower of rugs, and your entire life has become Jenn Lyons whipping them out from under you one at a time until you don’t even know your own name.
It’s a total (excuse language) mindfuck, but in a deliciously fun way. You know Ron Weasley’s assessment of Harry’s tea leaves? You’re gonna suffer, but you’re going to be happy about it. This book involves revelation after revelation that will make your head spin to the point that it’s hard keeping up. I kind of wanted to make notes as I went along about each new piece of information and how everyone fits into the puzzle – if I were a more obsessive person, I’d be making string diagrams. I made great use of the family tree and the glossary at the back, but these are spoilery, so be aware of that if you try to read them before you read the book (some of it won’t make sense til you reach certain points in the narrative anyway).
The narrative structure is unusual, with Kihrin and Talon both telling the same story, but starting and ending at different points – Talon starts at ‘the beginning’ and ends where Kihrin begins, with him being sold in slavery; Kihrin starts there and ends with him in jail, where their conversation begins. With me? There were just a couple of moments where Kihrin mentioned something in the later timeline that didn’t make sense until you’d read one of Talon’s later chapters, but on the whole, I really liked this double narrative, and it stopped any of the particular stages of the journey from getting too repetitive (I love a training montage, but there’s one that lasts several years, which would have been too much to read straight through!).
The characters are complex moral nightmares, with deeply conflicting politics and ethics; the world is huge, lush, and really intricate. You get the sense that this is just one tale from a world’s history, rather than a world created to tell this story. There are so many amazing female characters, of all varieties – despite the brothel-set opening scenes, it’s really not that sort of fantasy. It’s classic, and epic, but modern, feminist, and so, so clever. It’s a masterpiece. I’m already itching to read it again to see if more nuances and tidbits open up on a second reading. The second book is out in October, which is surprisingly, and pleasingly soon – I think I may just have finished processing everything by then… If you’re a fantasy fan, this is mandatory reading.
It couldn’t be anything but five out of five cats!