I am not sure entirely what led me to picking up Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings a year ago. It certainly was not the goodreads description, because it certainly does not do it justice. In fact, that description should have definitely given me second thoughts about the book –I don’t really enjoy “war themed” books. But something drove me to read it, and it was one of my most satisfying reading experiences ever! Ever since then, I have been waiting eagerly for the sequel, The Wall of Storms and luckily was able to receive a review copy via Netgalley. And just like the first book, it has left me amazed, entertained and eagerly awaiting the next installment to this epic fantasy.
At the end of The Grace of Kings, Kuni Garu, our hero, is emperor and has two wives, and the stage is set for palace politics. I was curious about how Ken Liu would handle this and where the story would go. It was clear even then, that the story would be about his successors, and that is precisely what The Wall of Storms is.
A lot of my favourite characters from the first book are back here, and most of them have a lot to do in this book. However, is all about Kuni’s children.
The first part of the book is heavy on palace intrigue and politics. Jia and Risana are pitted against each other, as they attempt to get Kuni to choose their respective sons as his successor. Timu, Jia’s son is scholarly and very unlike Kuni, with whom his relationship is not very close. Phyro, Risana’s son is impulsive, extroverted and much more like Kuni. However, it is Thera, Jia’s daughter who is the true leader, as she balances Timu’s patience and sense of right and wrong with Phyro’s drive and energy. It is to the author’s credit that the dynamics between the two queens and between the siblings are not stereotypical.
Also in the first part we are introduced to Zomi Kidosu, the daughter of a poor fisherman, who under the mentorship of Luan Zya, becomes an esteemed scholar, and has an increasingly important role to play as the book progresses.
The tone of the book changes in the second part, when Kuni’s kingdom is invaded by members of the Lyucu tribe who have come from beyond the Wall of Storms. I really wish I could tell you more here, but well..spoilers! So I will just say that it is filled with more strategic battles and action sequences.
However, the author manages the shift in tone beautifully, and the transition from palace to battle field is graceful. Given all that is happening however, this certainly is not a quick read. The book is pretty bulky and it took me two all-nighters plus day time reading to finish it! I’m not complaining though, because the reading experience is just so good that I did not feel tired or bored. I wanted to keep reading.
Ken Liu weaves philosophy and science into the narrative with amazing skill, sneakily teaching us a few things! Some events and ideas in the book have parallels in the real world, such as globalization or affirmative action/reservations. The author includes these in the narrative very cleverly and at no point does the book become a drag or an infodump. In fact, one of the things I loved about the book is its “sciencey” nature. Engineering is magic in Ken Liu’s world and concepts are put forward with such clarity and simplicity that even people not inclined towards STEM will enjoy it. But yes, it definitely is high fantasy for science nerds, who will find a lot to love in this book!
Another thing to love about the book is that it has more women characters and stronger women characters. It is a wonderfully feminist fantasy, with each woman in the book shining in her own light. Each of them have different personalities and motivations, proving that there is no one mould for a “strong woman.” And there is also disability rep and lesbian rep, both handled with great sensitivity.
The Wall of Storms is better than The Grace of Kings. Ken Liu has outdone himself here, and leaves the characters at some very intriguing crossroads. I cannot wait to see what happens next!
Are you following this series? Have you read any other books by Ken Liu? Let me know in the comments!
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.