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Review: The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu


The Wall of Storms
Author:  Ken Liu
Series:  The Dandelion Dynasty 2
Publisher:  Saga Press, October 4, 2016
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 880 pages
List Price:  US$29.99 (print); US$9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:   9781481424301 (print); 9781481424325 (eBook)

Review: The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
In the much-anticipated sequel to the “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR) Grace of Kings, Emperor Kuni Garu is faced with the invasion of an invincible army in his kingdom and must quickly find a way to defeat the intruders.

Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, runs the archipelago kingdom of Dara, but struggles to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people and his vision. Then an unexpected invading force from the Lyucu empire in the far distant west comes to the shores of Dara—and chaos results.

But Emperor Kuni cannot go and lead his kingdom against the threat himself with his recently healed empire fraying at the seams, so he sends the only people he trusts to be Dara’s savvy and cunning hopes against the invincible invaders: his children, now grown and ready to make their mark on history.



Brannigan's Review

Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings was one of my top books of last year. The Wall of Storms is the second book in his Dandelion Dynasty series and I have to say it is an amazing sequel. Liu does everything right for his sequel, he expands on the cast of characters, the world itself and the conflict.

When it comes to characters, Liu knows how to bring complexity. I thought he had a lot of characters in The Grace of Kings, well I was wrong. He added even more for this book and spends plenty of time giving them time on the page to develop their own stories. Something I really enjoyed with this second book is the fact that so many female characters got so much attention and development. The Emperor Kuni Garu, the main protagonist, has two wives (or a wife and a consort), and a daughter--not to mention the leaders and scholars in the court that are also female. Each of these female characters play major parts in this story as they all want to have as much influence in the court as possible and go about it in different ways and even work against each other to accomplish their goals.

Some things that I really enjoyed about the first book that continue over into this book is the way that Ken Liu does writes his characters in such an equitable way. There are never any truly good or evil characters. They all seem to do the wrong things, even if they've justified them to be right in their minds. Yet because they stay true to their needs, I find myself forgiving them or at least feeling empathy. The antagonists in this story have plenty of relatable aspects to their personalities and yet they do some really horrible things even if you can understand why they do it. I love the complexity Liu gives them.

The world expands a lot in this second book as we see how the islands react after the rebellion and the new Emperor starts his rule. Once again the gods spend a lot of time in the story popping in and out, taking sides with different factions and generally causing as much chaos as possible. I've never been a huge fan of deities in fantasy fiction. We see the mixture of technology and magic development much more in this second book, which I found very entertaining. We are also introduced to the Wall of Storms, which I don't remember ever being mentioned in the first book. Basically, the islands are protected or separated from the mainland by a wall of cyclones that keeps ships from crossing it. This aspect of the world plays a major part of the conflict in the story.

I love Ken Liu's writing, but I always try to point out one or two flaws I find in the book to be fair. Liu is a master storyteller and mixes in some beautiful poetic lines in his prose. His descriptions are breathtaking. However, this is not a short book. It's 858 pages and it's a very slow read with a lot of political dueling and the introduction of many new characters while balancing the already large cast. Things don't really pick up speed until the last 1/3 of the book. This is not to say I didn't enjoy every part of the book, but it took me much longer to read. Much like the pacing of the book, the number of characters and plots going through this book can become very confusing. Once again, you have to know your limits as a reader. If you prefer your cast of main characters to be under ten, this isn't the book for you.

The Wall of Storms brought everything I wanted in a sequel. I spent a good month enjoying myself in this one book and would love to do it again. I can't wait to see where we go from here and even though I'm not a huge fan of stories lasting longer than three books, I'll be sad if it ends in the next book. If you love an immersible Asian Fantasy with a large cast of complex characters, you're going to be in heaven with this one. You really need to read the first book in the series to enjoy this book, but you won't regret the time you'll spend in Liu's world. Frankly, they would be the perfect two books to enjoy over the holidays.





Previously

The Grace of Kings
The Dandelion Dynasty 1
Saga Press, August 9, 2016
Trade Paperback, 640 pages
Hardcover and eBook, April 7, 2015
Mass Market Paperback, February 23, 2016

Review: The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. Hailed as one of the best books of 2015 by NPR.

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, and shapeshifting gods. 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.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.


See Brannigan's Review here.

Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu


The Grace of Kings
AuthorKen Liu
Series:  The Dandelion Dynasty 1
Publisher:  Saga Press, April 7, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 640 pages
List Price:  $27.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781481424271 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

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, and shapeshifting gods. 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.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.



Brannigan's Review

The Grace of Kings, like the dandelion, isn't all it appears to be at first, and you'll be rewarded if you take the time to invest in the story. I have never read nor have I heard of Ken Liu, but I must say I was intrigued after I saw that he has won so many awards.

The story is set in a realistic fantasy world. There are a few elements of the story that have the feel of magic but nothing that is so far fetched I would have to believe a magical spell would be the cause. The gods of this world play a part in the story and use their godly powers from time to time, but I don't consider that the same as magic in the sense of spells and enchantments. There are several islands with Asian nation states that have just recently been conquered by the first emperor.

The story quickly shows the evil acts of a megalomaniac ruler who subjugates the people to build the world as he wishes. The common people of the islands suffer the most under the hand of the emperor and several different rebel groups spring up to fight against the new empire. Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu start off in two separate paths of rebellion but soon find each other and work together to defeat the Emperor. They become as close as brothers in their fight to end the empire.

This is where Ken Liu showed me what an award-winning writer can do. From this point on, there are no longer true heroes or villains. Liu shows how power corrupts some and how others have the strength to resist power. He shows several times how far a good person must bend their moral beliefs to win if it means saving the world. These are things we've all learned before, but Liu does it so smoothly, without immediately drawing attention to the lesson, that it feels more natural. There are countless sacrifices by almost every character in the story. Liu explores honor with its many different rules and etiquette and how each character interprets it differently to serve his or her own purpose. Liu is a master of political intrigue, there are so many plots, deals, betrayals and rescues that kept me engaged.

This is an epic in every sense of the word. Liu's characters and the world they live in captivated me. I learned so much about each of them that it doesn't matter if I labeled them a hero or villain, I related to each. The world they struggle to free or control is fully realized. Liu spends time on every island and gives the history of so many characters both important and not. This can be good or bad, depending on the likes of a reader. I haven't had the chance to read a true epic in awhile so I feasted on each page and was satisfied by the end of the story. Most of the battles are only briefly described or summarized with most of the action taking place in the political arena.

The Grace of Kings is a brilliant start to what will be, without a doubt, an impressive series. It forced me to reexamine how I look at historical figures and the men and women leading the world today. There is no true good or evil in the world. We flow back and forth between the spectrum. There are acts of violence, mild language some adult situations. I would recommend it to older teens and adults. This is the dream of any fan of epic fantasy. It's also a great book for people who love strong male and female characters, politics and fully realized world.

Interview with Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings - April 6, 2015


Please welcome Ken Liu to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Grace of Kings will be published on April 7th by Saga Press.



Interview with Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings - April 6, 2015




TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Ken:  I’ve been writing fiction in some capacity or another as long as I can remember. I suppose I finally became “serious” about writing when I was in college, and it was largely because I wanted to tell stories that I wasn’t seeing being published. I wanted to write stories about pieces of history that weren’t being covered in high school textbooks, to give voice to perspectives that weren’t represented, to present worlds that weren’t shown.



TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Ken:  I think all writers are influenced to some degree of another by everything they’ve ever read, and I have too many favorite authors to list all of them. So I would answer this one by listing some choices that might not be often invoked: I really enjoy the craft with which Supreme Court Justices like Blackmun and Frankfurter crafted the narrative portions of their opinions to lay out the “facts” of the cases in their decisions. It is not often that we pay attention to the rhetoric used in these “stories” though they’re critical to the reasoning that follows. An awareness of the importance of storytelling to the law is critical for a lawyer, and quite useful to a writer.



TQ: You've written many short stories/novellas and you've won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards. What was the most challenging thing about writing a novel vis-à-vis short fiction? Did your writing process change?

Ken:  The biggest challenge is keeping track of all the choice that I made in the writing process. For a novel, there are many, many more worldbuilding decisions that must be made, and details of character, plot, setting, etc. that must be recorded and tracked and looked up later. I ended up having to learn how to use a wiki to track these things to keep basic continuity straight. For a pantser by nature, this was a tough transition.



TQ: Describe The Grace of Kings in 140 characters or less.

Ken:  A silkpunk epic fantasy in which two unlikely friends rebel together against tyranny only to find themselves deadly rivals near victory.



TQ: Tell us something about The Grace of Kings that is not in the book description.

Ken:  It is, without a doubt, an epic fantasy that pays more attention to the details of taxation than any other I know of.

I think the tax sections are pretty awesome and fun. And if I can make taxes fun for the reader, imagine what I can do for everything else …



TQ: The Grace of Kings is epic fantasy with "...magic, the gods, and silkpunk technology..."1 What is silkpunk? What is your inspiration for The Grace of Kings?

Ken:  By analogy with steampunk, silkpunk is an aesthetic that straddles the boundary between science fiction and fantasy. It features a technology vocabulary derived from East Asian antiquity which relies on organic materials and biomechanics, and includes things like silk-draped airships with women warriors, soaring battle kites for honorable duels, underwater boats powered by steam engines, and lodestone-based metal detectors. It it also contains magical elements like tomes that describe our desires better than we know them ourselves, gods who regret the deeds done in their names, and giant sea beasts that bring about tsunamis and storms but also guide soldiers safely to shores.

The Grace of Kings is a re-imagining of the rise of the Han Dynasty in a new, secondary fantasy archipelago setting. This is a foundational narrative for Chinese literature much as the Iliad and the Odyssey are foundational narratives for the West. By re-imagining this story as an epic fantasy using tropes and narrative techniques drawn from Chinese and Western epic traditions, I’m trying to create a new, blended aesthetic that transcends the Orientalism and colonial gaze that tends to hobble many “magical China” narratives.



TQ: How does being a poet affect (or not) the narrative structure of The Grace of Kings?

Ken:  The overall structure of the novel draws from the oral traditions of Western epic poetry and Chinese pingshu storytelling. As such, I deliberately do many things against the conventions of contemporary epic fantasy: the main narrative will sometime be “paused” as we shift into a character backstory, and the POV shifts at multiple scales in a way that is reminiscent of pre-novel literary forms. The goal to make the story feel “new” by harking to the old.



TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Grace of Kings?

Ken:  I read the Sima Qian historical biographies of the early Han era, and consulted various secondary history sources as well as books about the evolution of technology. I also studied theories of technology and the history of epics (and re-read them!).



TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Ken:  The easiest character was probably Kindo Marana, the tax-collector-turned-general. A lot of his musings on the nature of the tax system and how it applies to the rest of life are drawn from my own experience as a tax lawyer. The hardest character was Mata Zyndu, the honorable, martial hero whose view of justice seems out of step with the times. He’s a complicated character because his values and motivations feel alien to modern sensibilities. Trying to re-imagine him in a way that allows a contemporary readership to see why he was appealing and beloved in a different value system was challenging.



TQ: Which question about The Grace of Kings do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Ken:

You talk a lot about “fundamental narratives” and “epic traditions,” but I don’t know anything about Chinese history or epic literature. Is the book fun?

Yes, oh yes. The whole point of a novel like this is to entertain. If you don’t know anything about Chinese history and the source material I’m working with, and you find that you don’t enjoy this book, then I will have failed utterly. It is meant to be fun and cool for all readers.



TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Grace of Kings.

Ken:

“Sometimes we live up to the stories other tell about us.”

“I think I wield power, but perhaps it is Power that wields me.”



TQ: What's next?

Ken:  Working steadily on the sequel, which is going to be bigger, cooler, and feature lots more exciting silkpunk technology. I don’t want to give it all away, but the daughters and sons of Dara do some amazing deeds that make me laugh with glee.



TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ken:  Thank you for having me!





The Grace of Kings
The Dandelion Dynasty 1
Saga Press, April 7, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 640 pages

Interview with Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings - April 6, 2015
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

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, and shapeshifting gods. 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.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.





About Ken

Interview with Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings - April 6, 2015
Photo by Lisa Tang Liu
Ken’s fiction has appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, among other places.

Ken is the only author in the last forty years to be the recipient of the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and The World Fantasy Award for one story. That story is "The Paper Menagerie". He has also been awarded another Hugo for his story "Mono No Aware", and was just nominated for yet another Nebula Award this year for his novella "The Regular", alongside the Nebula nomination for his translation of Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem, which is up for Best Novel of the year.

Ken’s debut novel, The Grace of Kings, the first in a fantasy series, will be published by Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s new genre fiction imprint, this April 2015. Saga will also publish a collection of his short stories in Fall 2015.

Ken is busily working on the sequel to The Grace of Kings and expects it to be out in 2016. He is also busy working on short fiction and translation projects.

He lives near Boston. Besides writing and spending time with his family, Ken loves to repair vintage typewriters, patiently taking them part to learn how they work.

Website  ~  Twitter @kyliu99

2015 Debut Author Challenge Update: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu


2015 Debut Author Challenge Update: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu


The Qwillery is pleased to announce the newest featured author for the 2015 Debut Author Challenge.


Ken Liu

The Grace of Kings
The Dandelion Dynasty 1
Saga Press, April 7, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 640 pages

2015 Debut Author Challenge Update: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

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, and shapeshifting gods. 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.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.

Review: The Wall of Storms by Ken LiuReview: The Grace of Kings by Ken LiuInterview with Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings - April 6, 20152015 Debut Author Challenge Update: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

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