Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu

Writing Quality: 5/5
Appeal/Enjoyment: 5/5

I picked up The Grace of Kings because I've heard so much amazing stuff about it. At first, though, I was a little hesitant about this book. The language brings to mind the stiff, impersonal style of a legend or a myth, with crystalline moments of poetry, like, “He was like a seed still tethered to the withered flower, just waiting for the dead air of the late summer evening to break, for the storm to begin.” These are characters who are almost gods themselves, and it's difficult to care about characters like that. As the story progressed, though, the themes started to emerge, and Ken Liu's ideas brought me back to the book every time I set it down.

The Grace of Kings is about war, empire, and revolution. It's also about the idea that war cannot be governed by the same moral code as life, because it cannot be won that way. In the same manner, life cannot be governed by the loose morals necessary for success in war, because peace cannot be maintained in such an environment. Ken Liu also writes about love, marriage, and fidelity, and his ideas are surprisingly feminist and progressive in nature. Maybe I'm only surprised because I don't know anything about Ken Liu other than the fact that he's Chinese American, he wrote this amazing book, and he translated The Three-Body Problem, which won the Hugo Award for best novel this year. Liu writes about equality in relationships, he writes a very liberal interpretation of marital fidelity, and he uses a misogynistic society to show how elevating women to positions of equality can improve an entire nation.

I'll be nominating this book for a Hugo next year. Frankly, I wish I could quote every single page of this book, but I'll stick with these:
“The heart is a complicated thing, and we're capable of many loves, though we're told that we must value one to the exclusion of others...You can be loyal to your husband at the same time that you take a lover for your own sake, though the poets tell us this is wrong. But why should we believe that the poets understand us better than we do ourselves?"
“I've always thought it nonsense to believe something true simply because it was written in a book long ago.” 

I'd recommend The Grace of Kings to readers who are interested in Imperial China (the inspiration for the setting of this book), fantasy where magic doesn't fix everything (or even take a major role), and readers who are in the mood for excellent writing and a slow, epic pace.

Recommended ages 16+. New York: Saga Press, 2015. Print. 640 pages. ISBN: 978-1481424271.

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