Kings of Heaven by Richard Nell (Ash and Sand #3)

“A man fails in only two ways. He quits, or he dies.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but 2017’s Kings of Paradise marked an important moment in my reading career. Before reading Nell’s work, my mind was clear and carefree, unaware of the existence of Ruka, son of Beyla, brother of Bukayag, the demon-spawn, the eidetic barbarian genius, the God-tongue. From that day forward, Ruka’s story has been a constant in my own mind-grove, haunting me with the possibilities of how his story will play out, what his purpose is, how his mind truly works, and the fate of those that love and abhor him. There are other anti-heroes I’ve involuntarily compared to Ruka in recent years and have found them all wanting. No other character has captured my attention like Nell’s creation, and have deemed him the most interesting anti-hero out of the fantasy I’ve read.

It’s safe to say that Kings of Heaven, the conclusion to Ruka’s story, was a book I was looking forward to reading very much. But a few chapters into it, I realized this wasn’t Ruka’s story anymore. 

"Every man has his use." He whispered the words like a prayer. "Every man should have a choice."

After two novels of headaches and heartaches, broken dreams and broken spears, it was finally time to reunite the lands of Ash and Sand. Farahi’s presience, Dala’s maneurvering, and Kale’s determination has helped propel Ruka into the endgame with the Narianians, with the rest of the world watching. But as the story threads laced together, we were spending less time with Ruka than I'd have originally guessed. I admit that at first, I was hesitant on the concept. But certain tertiary characters were given a much bigger spotlight, and we got to experience the world through new perspectives: we are treated to the songs of skalds, touch upon the cultures of the horse riders of the steppes, and infer what lifelong sailors value most. We gain a much deeper and colorful understanding of the surrounding cultures, therefore the stakes of what Ruka is fighting for carries more weight than ever. 

“Ruka stood with the men and gripped iron, resisting the urge to pray. He looked at his mother's kinsmen, bare chested and burnt, standing with continental men of peace and island sailors, all in common purpose. The tide swelled at their waists, the sky cracked and thundered with a growing storm, and Ruka wished all his life could be spent like this.”

It has long been established that Ruka’s mind is like a DVR in which he can watch any piece of his life on demand, with perfect clarity. And all the pain from the past never has the chance to heal over time; each emotion can be recalled to feel as fresh as when it occurred. A life full of painful memories that never has the luxury of dulling over time effects his ability to cope with trauma like average human is built to do.

As powerful and strange and wonderfully mad our beloved Ruka is, I think it’s safe to say that all this pain has led to a crippling inferiority complex. No matter how much good he achieves, anything bad that he can glean from a situation becomes his fault. He is simply unable to take sole credit for something positive, yet he reveres his enemies as heroes when his own deeds are far greater. Being born cursed and deformed hangs heavy on his shoulders throughout his life.

I’ve been holding out hope that he sees the value of his deeds before he meets his end; not just for his purposes fulfilled, but as a retroactive change in his lifelong perspective. Figuring out what kind of peace Ruka was able to achieve by story’s end was one of the themes I enjoyed exploring the most in Kings of Heaven, as I think it helped determine how he would value his worth when it mattered most. It was one of many well-written, stunning moments of character depth that elevates Ruka's story into rare heights. 

"Only broken things know the hollow tragedy of victory. Success is a cheap balm slathered over a festering wound. It's never enough."

One of the only issues that popped up in my head while reading this story was that I wish there were a bit more of it. Not out of selfishness because the trilogy was ending, but because I felt that there were a few scenes that could have been included to flesh out the story a bit more. There’s a couple of timeline jumps that I thought the reader would be privy to, but I also understand why Nell would want to keep a steady pace toward the climax without too much divergence. There’s also some revelations-by-omission potentially hinted at which will garner some discussion among the fan base in the weeks and months ahead. But this is already a long trilogy, so I know how wishing for more chapters of it sounds. 

Kings of Heaven concludes one of my all-time favorite series in riveting fashion. My expectations were exceeded and my anxieties were dismantled. It surprises and it saddens, and it gives the cast the ending they deserve. When I turned the final page, I was elated and drained, yet entirely fulfilled. Kings of Heaven does everything a good finale should do, while still leaving me craving for more stories from this era. And while Ruka's story might be over, he has left behind a legacy of a changed world that will suffer his impact for generations to come. In some small way, I count myself part of that legacy, as I will undoubtedly keep Ruka's story in my mind during my own long journeys ahead.

Note: Please head on over to to discover their next Kings of Heaven review, posting on Wednesday, Aug 26th

9/10 Kings of Heaven concludes one of my all-time favorite series in riveting fashion.

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