Tuesday 10 March 2020

Ruin Of Kings

Ambitious and compelling, Jenn Lyons’ debut novel Ruin of Kings plays with modes of narration and
Image via Amazon.com
structure in ways that enrich what might otherwise have been a standard fantasy adventure. The ambition and quality of the book makes a compelling case that Jenn Lyons should be on the short list for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

Ruin of Kings introduces readers to Kihrin, a lower-class child from Quur’s slums who is raised up to the highest echelons of a medievalist fantasy kingdom.

In Quur, noble families have lost the right to rule but retain the direct power they lost by becoming merchant princes, each noble family owning the rights to some sector of the economy. The emperor — an immortal mage who fights demons — has also lost the right to direct authority. It is in fact a council that does the day-to-day business of government.

Anyone can be voted into the ruling council, but councilors almost always are the unacknowledged offspring of the merchant families (another way the merchant families skirt the law about not ruling). All of this information comes out naturally and shapes motivations and behaviours throughout the story.

Of particular interest is how Lyons frames the narrative through Kihrin’s recollections first to his jailer, and then to a magic rock that records his words. Because of this framing, the story is told in alternating chapters that flip back and forth between past-tense third person, and present-tense first person.

The fact that these two narrating voices — younger Kihrin and older Kihrin — are in different tenses serves to highlight the mutability of selfhood. He is not the same person he once was, and he therefore thinks about himself differently.

Those of us who had read the dust jacket felt that this marketing copy had spoiled major revelations
We look forward to reading further
works from Jenn Lyons.
(Image via Twitter)  
of how these two time frames relate to each other, and this did unfortunately take away from the enjoyment of puzzling it out.

Despite having a whole new world to describe, at no point does the world building feel extraneous to the plot. Instead, the mechanisms of the political structure do a lot to move the plot forward while introducing a strange yet believable political structure.

A well-developed and unique portrayal of religion is integral to the story — gods are not omnipotent or omniscient and they are not limited to the odd deus ex machina. The gods are immersed in the story as characters, powerful and flawed with their own motivations.

Ruin of Kings is at times confusing. Especially when starting off the book, readers may be perplexed by the switching narrative voices and the jumping back and forth to different points in the story. Several members of the book club failed to finish the novel, giving up in the first 100 pages.

Although it is the first in a five-part series, Ruin of Kings stands on its own. In fact, given its length, and the depth to which Lyons explores the setting, we wondered whether there was any need for subsequent volumes.

We’d be quite keen to discover how Lyons’ approaches some other settings, and what else she might imagine. But with her schedule filled with writing 2,500 more pages set in Quur, it unfortunately seems unlikely we’ll get to see this for several years.

Excessive marketing hype and exuberant comparisons to classics of the genre gave us some trepidation when approaching The Ruin Of Kings. It is nonetheless an intriguing book that has ended up on some of our Hugo nominating ballots, and earned Lyons a spot on all of our Astounding Award nominating ballots.

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