This post is sponsored by Tor Books. All opinions expressed in this post are based on the writer’s personal views.
Narratively, The Ruin of Kings has everything you could want from a fantasy epic: Dragons! Demons! Krakens! Gods! Prophecies! Body-swapping! Ghosts! All of these elements might make it sound like The Ruin of Kings makes for a busy tome, but author Jenn Lyons weaves the tale beautifully, parsing out narrative information at a masterful pace through the story’s cleverly-structured frame tale.
You see, The Ruin of Kings is designed as a conversation between a prisoner, Kihrin, awaiting his death, and Talon, a shape-shifting demon who tells her own side of Kihrin’s life story—all of it into a magic, transcribing rock that I need in my life for interview purposes.
The Ruin of Kings follows Kihrin, a boy thief and musician raised by a blind minstrel and a brothel madam in the slums of the city of Quur. The stakes of the story quickly escalate when Kihrin witnesses a horrific murder while he is robbing a house, unwittingly becoming the target of a group of powerful sorcerers. #epicfantasyproblems
If things weren’t already complicated enough, Kihrin is then claimed as the missing son of a treasonous prince, unwillingly pulled into the political machinations of a quite terrible royal family. Kihrin eventually escapes the royal household, only to be pulled into an even larger struggle for power—one in which he is part of a prophecy, sought after by gods, demons, dragons, and mages alike.
In alternating chapters, Kihrin and Talon give us a greater understanding of the context that informs Kihrin’s, frankly, tragically unlucky life. Talon starts at what she considers “the beginning,” when Kihrin first robs the wrong house, and ends where Kihrin begins, with his sale in a slave market. Concurrently, Kihrin ends with his jailing. The strucure creates a fascinating tension between the timelines, between what the reader knows and what the characters know. Paired with the frequent action of the tale, the structure propels the reader forward. This book is unputdownable.
The story is tightly-plotted with a rich setting that expands off of the pages and beyond the narrative, but this book is rarely intimidating. (Near the end of the 560-page story, the twists and turns involving the many, often similarly-named characters can get a bit confusing and expository. At this point, however, I was invested enough in the story that I was willing to make the extra effort.)
For the most part, Lyons does a fantastic job of leading the reader through a dense plot, making The Ruin of Kings a supremely-accessible epic fantasy experience that doesn’t sacrifice moral ambiguity, structural creativity, or textured worldbuilding in the process.
While The Ruin of Kings includes so many fantasy favorites, Lyons avoids falling into potential pitfalls of The Chosen One trope that can give fantasy protagonists too much power and/or glory, robbing the larger narrative of its sense of stakes. Like The Name of the Windbefore it, The Ruin of Kings questions the limits of storytelling perspective and challenges some of fantasy’s laziest tropes in the process.
Structurally, the only aspect of the frame tale that didn’t work for me were the footnotes, included by a third point-of-view character. While they give added context to this world and this story, I found them distracting—though, I will note, I have never read a footnoted fiction book in which the footnotes didn’t frustrate me, so this may speak more to my preferences as a reader than the success of this narrative device. (See also: Tal M. Klein’s The Punch Escrow.)
The Ruin of Kings is the first in a planned five-book series called A Chorus of Dragons and has been optioned for development into a TV series. With the next book in the series, The Name of All Things, slated for an October 29, 2019 release, we won’t have to wait long to find out what happens next in this story of gods and magic, greed and betrayal, dragons and death. Thank Taja for that!
The Ruin of Kings is now available to purchase via Amazon, Macmillan, or your local independent bookstore. You can read the first 11 chapters of The Ruin of Kings here.