“There’s a prophecy.”
Our story begins in a cell, where Kihrin, our supposed protagonist, is awaiting his execution under the watchful eye of Talon, a shapeshifter with a sadistic sense of humor and a taste for human flesh. To pass the time, Kihrin and Talon pass a recording stone back and forth, detailing the events leading up to this moment. Kihrin begins in one place. Talon begins at an earlier one. Through their perspectives, readers are treated to an ancient world full of gods, goddesses, demons, and magic. There is political intrigue, intricate magic, compelling characters, and driving mysteries that compel you to turn the page...or in my case, to listen to the next chapter.
To be honest, there are a few moments where it feels like a Dungeons & Dragons world, which I have zero problem with (it would be an incredible world for a campaign).
What struck me first about The Ruin of Kings was the narrative convention Lyons’ establishes early on that makes this book feel like a historical account. The first page of the book is a letter addressed to a royal, explaining the purpose of this account, and how he hopes leniency will be given to the person partially responsible for the burning of the capital. As mentioned above, the vast majority of the story is told by Kihrin and Talon, in first and third persons. However, the author of the letter, Thurvishar D’Lorus, offers his perspective throughout in the form of footnotes and in the story’s final act. These three voices are given the perfect amount of time to convey the story. It’s really quite something.
The magic system is interesting and mysterious, and while there is still so much that isn’t explained, there was enough to give the world magical flavor in a way that simultaneously reminded me of Evan Winter’s The Rage of Dragons and John C. Wright’s The Last Guardian of Everness (though strictly speaking one is a dream world and the other is…ya know…Hell).
My one minor complaint is that death feels extremely surmountable. With a temple to the goddess of death right around the corner and the ability to reunite dead souls with their bodies, mortal injuries become much less mortal. There is a whole cycle of reincarnation, and I suppose the threat of perma-death is real and present, but with accessible resurrection on the table, it makes the stakes feel lower than they are in some moments. But then again, there are some fates worse than death (looking at you, Old Man).
The history…gods, the history…is of biblical proportions. There are a number of fascinating original races and their biases and conflicts intermingle with marriages, body swapping, and reincarnation to form an extremely complicated tapestry. I can only assume Lyons has actual physical tapestries keeping track of everyone’s family trees. Furthermore, our narrators are terribly unreliable so they contradict each other and outright lie in instances so the reader is left guessing every step of the way. It really makes it hard to trust anyone, which I think is kind of the point.
I don’t know how Lyons did it, but there is something magical at work in The Ruin of Kings. I have not been so charmed by a story since the first time I read The Way of Kings, and Lyons now has a fan for life. I already have the audiobook of The Name of All Things lined up to read, and I’m going to convince my wife to read the *cough cough* autographed copy I picked up in San Diego last year. Now, I’m really kicking myself for not just buying both like SHE TOLD ME TO. *Shakes head* Anyway. This will be a book I recommend to…everyone. Yes, everyone. Well, readers of any kind of fantasy, I suppose. If you absolutely loathe fantasy, don’t read this. For everyone else, even the most casual of fantasy readers (including those who’ve only ever read The Lord of the Rings), try this. There were moments where it reminded me of Rothfuss, Hobb, and Sanderson while still being completely fresh and original. I’ve been struggling the last month or so to really dig in to a book, and this broke me out of that.
The Ruin of Kings is a truly spectacular story, and you owe it to the economy to find a copy of it.