From beginning to end, the worldbuilding is excellent, layered and intricate, developed by an author who knows everything about the place she’s created.
Kihrin is many things: orphan, thief, long lost son of a prince, destroyer of the world? Whatever else he is, he’s also having a really bad time of it. Everything he’s ever believed is lies, new truths discovered through violence and death. But since his new life involves evil magicians, a death cult, a war between gods and demons, the kind of family that epitomises the whole keep-your-enemies-closer philosophy, and dragons…. well, his chances don’t seem like they’ll be looking up any time soon. After all, he’s in prison when we meet him.
Right from the outset, it’s clear this book isn’t set up in the usual fashion. Kihrin languishes in a jail cell, bullied by his captor into narrating the events that led him to this point. Into a magic rock no less. His tale is told in alternating chapters, while his jailer, Talon, accounts for the other. But here’s the hook, she has some very particular skills that means the story she’s telling is also his, adding parts of the plot not only on a different timeline, but from varied perspectives too. If that isn’t complicated enough, the resulting recoding (magical rock, remember?) from which this book is supposedly drawn is then provided with somewhat snarky commentary in footnote style from a whole other character who is also involved in the story at various points. It’s an interesting premise, but one that nevertheless has its own challenges. When it works it creates an escalating tension as the chapters flip, each one ending on a cliffhanger, so that it’s impossible to put the book down. The chapters are short, high energy, and thrilling.
But that’s when it works. The dual storyline of Kihrin in first person and then in third from differing perspectives sometimes created a strange dissonance, almost like it was two different people, and not just because of the character development acquired in one half or the other. There’s a constant need to remember which Kihrin knows what and when he learned it, especially because the overarching plot is seriously convoluted. Not only is there high stakes politics, ethnic and religious wars, and familial infighting on an epic scale, there’s body-swapping. So people might not be who you think they are. Or were. Or whatever. To say it brings about some dodgy familial connections is a bit of an understatement. When the format fails, bogged down in detail and unnecessary complication, things end up needing to be explained a bit too much by one person or another, making it feel unnatural. Even if, because of the complexity, they probably really do need to work through it themselves. This happens a bit too much at the beginning and then again with the finale, which felt rushed and threw in some curve balls to conform to the prophesies which underly the action.
So at this point, you might be wondering how it got 4 stars at all? (Another of our reviewers, James Tivendale, has read this also which is why the rating is higher than the 4-stars Emma mentions- Editor) Let me go back to the whole ‘when it works’ thing I was talking about before. Parts of this book are blindingly good. As in, 5-stars-are-not-enough kinda great. Pretty much all the middle in fact. If you’re one of the people that read the preview, it starts right at the end of that and lasts all the way till the stories converge in the final segment. This is where Jenn Lyons’ creativity shines. From beginning to end, the worldbuilding is excellent, layered and intricate, developed by an author who knows everything about the place she’s created. It’s never less than believable, from the systems of government to history, cultural norms and values to religion and magic. There’s diversity of all sorts, including both underlying and overt dialogue about sexual identity/choice that surprised and pleased me. Of course, it’s not all hearts and rainbows, variation brings hostility and this is a dangerous world. All of the abhorrent aspects of human society are here: slavery, racial wars, rape, incest, murder, human sacrifice. People have dark stories and even darker motivations. Even our lead has a real attitude, though considering his circumstances I can understand where he’s coming from, and in any case, it’s done with comedy rather than angst. It’s not just him either. The book had the same kind of humorous banter and point scoring backchat that reminded me much more of Urban Fantasy. The exchanges between Kihrin and Teraeth were exceptional, transforming from genuinely funny to moving and emotional and back again with ease. Such humour provided a very necessary lightness in pretty dire circumstances and gave Kihrin the kind of appeal accorded to those who respond to the shit shovelled in their direction with two fingers and a smile. Yet he’s only one of a whole cast of memorable characters, so well conceived and vibrantly portrayed that they carry the book even when the plot loses itself a bit. Most of the true character development came predominantly in that middle section and was by far the best part of the book, managing to maintain momentum whilst deepening the relationships between characters and expanding our knowledge of the world. I raced through it, loving every minute. There were questions answered and even more asked, a labyrinthine game that has been played for thousands of years. And even though the ending didn't hold quite the same thrill, it held enough surprises, enough possibilities, to whet the appetite for more.
Despite my quibbles, I’m intrigued about where this will go. The dual storyline format doesn’t seem to be one that can be successfully repeated, potentially giving the next book an entirely different feel. Certainly, the final scenes include some you-can’t-do-that moments that I can’t wait to see explored. If you thought things were going to hell here, the future seems like it’s already on fire…. I'll be there to see it burn.
ARC via publisher for fantasybookreview.co.uk
Additional notes by James Tivendale - I think Emma summed up most of the points perfectly.
I agree with what Emma said about the point of views switching between 1st and 3rd person sometimes being confusing and the reader having to readjust. The beginning and middle I rated 10/10. The ending occasionally felt forceful and rushed until the final 30-40 pages which I found absolutely stunning. There are a lot of characters and many of which have very similar names and there are very complex family trees. Lyons kindly includes a Dramatis Personae as well as explaining difficult or uneasy context to help us understand the deepness and complexities in her amazingly crafted world.
Following on from there being many characters it does get confusing with the two timelines. One being Kihrin's 1st person perspective which is his recent antics and the other being his jailor Talon's descriptions of what happened before his sections. Many of the cast are in both timelines and with short, sharp and often very thrilling chapters and I believe only 4-years difference between the action of both segments it does sometimes take a few minutes to work out, or it did for me if this is before or after what happened last. First of my two further negatives is that I didn't really grasp the reasons for the whole prophecy about our main character and I never thought he wasn't the hero as the tagline states. Also, the 80-90% section of the narrative is too swift, and however amazing it is, pardon my french - it's a bit of a 'head-fuck.'
I sound like I've been negative here but I'm really not. Emma summed up perfectly what I enjoyed about this book. I still believe this will be an instant classic and TOR have got an absolute winner on their hands. My comments might have been the harshest but I've pushed the rating up because of how great I think this book is, albeit including minor issues. The Ruin of Kings will be in many top-10 lists next year and I cannot wait to see what comes next because I'm 100% here for the whole ride.
3 positive reader review(s) for The Ruin of Kings
An Onymous from United States
The book is incredible. The world building is so creative and in depth that you feel like you could walk out of your front door into their world. The characters are also incredibly real, with deep emotions and drives. The only complaints I have with the story is that, like the second book the ending feels strangely rushed. Along with that, the prophecy aspect of the story does not seem to have been fleshed out enough. Lastly, I would warn that it is less Harry Potter and more LOTR in terms of certain parts of the pacing, not bad but keep that in mind. To go along with the last point, the timeline is a little bit non-linear and the cast is so big and diverse that you do have keep your wits about you, but over all this book is simply genus.
Thomas from America
I loved this book. The only thing that bothered me was that as the timelines kept switching while prophecies were being revealed, it was confusing at times to know who the villain was and what the importance of some characters were.
8.9/10 from 3 reviews