The Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons #1) by Jenn Lyons

ruinofThe Ruin of Kings is an impressive, if somewhat convoluted, start to a promising series set within a fantastically imagined world and just rife with unexpected twists and turns.  I enjoyed this but, at the same time, I can’t deny that it turned me into a hot mess at certain points, it was a total head mash and I literally became Gollum-esque arguing with myself about the pros and the cons *it burns us, it freezes us, preciousss* – make up your mind already!  Does it burn or does it freeze.

This review is going to probably be mostly incoherent and more than likely a rambling stream of consciousness but, in spite of some niggles that will be outlined below I found this an exciting book to read in terms of the scope and vision and I look forward to seeing how the author progresses the story, particularly as I think the mode of storytelling employed in this first book is highly unlikely to be used in the next instalment.

The story begins with Kihrin in prison and persuaded (quite forcefully) by his jailor, Talon, to tell his story.  Talon also narrates part of Kihrin’s tale – but from a quite unusual perspective and an earlier time frame.  Added to this we have a third pov that takes the form of an unknown narrator who comments on parts of the story as well as providing information in the form of footnotes.  Between these three different povs we eventually piece together Kihrin’s history, his humble beginnings, (an orphan and musician residing in a brothel), his night time exploits as a thief that lead him into trouble, his dizzy rise and his abduction and sale into slavery.

I don’t think I’m going to elaborate on the plot as I really don’t think I could do it justice in this review and on top of that there’s such a lot going on that this could end up turning into a dissertation.  I’ll leave you all to your own devices in that respect.

So, here are my thoughts.

Well, firstly, I have to mention the world building.  The creativity and imagination employed here is just amazing.  This is a world that the author has fully immersed herself in and it shows.  There’s history, politics, scheming nobles, mysterious islands, fantastical beasts, necromancy, magic, body swapping – well, let’s just round up by saying there’s a lot going on in this world and the way the information is delivered to readers is well thought out and just really impressive.  I loved this world and found myself totally absorbed. There are no huge expositions, although the footnotes do assist with relaying tidbits of information here and there. Did I mention I loved this world?  Yes?  Well, a second time can’t hurt, it’s an absolute tour de force and this first novel feels like it barely scrapes the surface of what’s yet in store.

The writing and dialogue are also equally impressive.  I think when you’re reading a book of this size it’s very easy to become bogged down or find the pacing slow at certain points but I think the author’s style is so easy to engage with that I really didn’t feel like this was ever an issue.  Plus, the story is intriguing and the pace is driven by the constant switches in narration.  Okay, every now and again, I didn’t want to be pulled out of one part of the story quite so quickly but at the same time I do also find myself appreciating the style of shorter chapters and the fact that these chapters all usually swapped during  one or another crisis definitely kept me reading when I should have been sleeping.

There are plenty of characters and a lot to take on board – often with very similar sounding names and I did find that I had to really pay attention to prevent them all becoming something of a blur.  I really enjoyed the dialogue and felt it flowed naturally and I found myself becoming attached to Kihrin and feeling quite sorry for all the trials and tribulations he encounters along the way.  Although, I wouldn’t say that I absolutely loved any of the characters in particular – in fact, strangely, I found myself drawn to Talon’s chapters because she is so unabashedly herself in all her glorious nastiness.

So, the bad and the ugly?  Well.  I think telling the story in this way will probably cause readers to be split in opinion.  I found myself at first wondering why we had the two different timelines/povs – it just puzzled me.  Why didn’t Kihrin start from the beginning of his story instead of what felt like the halfway point.  Part of me wondered if this was because the narrator’s, or one of them, was going to prove unreliable but in fact I don’t think that was the case – although the two did have some small arguments in terms of accuracy every now and again.  I think the main idea here was not only to help show events from a different perspective rather than all from Kihrin’s pov – but also to show the extent to which Kihrin had been manipulated along the way.  Plus I think Talon was trying to shock Kihrin with some of her revelations in that he was himself in the dark about such a lot of his own history.  The problem that I had with this style was that I couldn’t always easily distinguish between the two voices and in fact sometimes, particularly at the beginning, lost track of who’s pov I was reading.  Okay, I’m probably not as quick on the uptake as some!  As it happens, I ended up really enjoying reading both Talon and Kihrin’s versions although it might have been more useful to stay longer with each of them at the beginning when the constant shift in timeline and perspective, coupled with all the different people and events was a bit much to take on board.

The only other thing that I would mention is that the twists in the story here, the casualties along the way, the deaths that weren’t deaths, the people that weren’t who you thought – well, it became too heavily relied upon at one point and left my head spinning a little in terms of keeping up with who was who.  Sorry, I appreciate that’s very vague but it’s necessarily so in order to avoid spoilers.

Criticisms aside, this is a thoroughly intriguing world full of hateful characters and practices, different Gods, demons and scheming families that are then balanced by people trying to do the right thing.  The political machinations going on here were well thought out and entertaining and the scope was just amazing.  This is indeed epic fantasy.  It’s entertaining, it’s engrossing, it’s well planned and executed.  It reads like a labour of love and criticisms notwithstanding it feels like this is only the tip of the iceberg.  I think the only piece of advice that I would give to others is that this is a book that demands your full attention, don’t pick this up with the crazy notion of blasting through or flipping the pages with dizzying speed.

Oh, and one final note that I nearly forgot about – dragons!  Stands to reason given the name of the series but I thought I should give them a mention.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.