The Ruin of Kings is the first book in the A Chorus of Dragons series by Jenn Lyons. It is, in my estimation, epic dark fantasy. It releases in the US on February 5th, 2019 from Tor Books. Tor provided Booknest with an advanced ebook of this title for review.
Note of content: I’ve yet to formalize my notes on content in reviews but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. This work deals with domestic abuse, slavery, and (offstage)rape. There is also the occasional use of profanity. I found nothing that did not fit the story that was being told.
I really have been on a lucky streak lately. And while my tastes seem to span a great deal of the fantasy genre, it is rare that I read a book like this. For one, until the very end of the book, I felt like I was just barely keeping my head above the narrative waters. This book is not afraid to get complicated in the way I feel epic fantasy should dare. Immortality, reincarnation, body swapping, shape-shifting, slavery—these are just a few of the ways that make nearly every relationship in the novel complex.
There are Dragons and Demons and necromancers that will make your skin crawl and your brain struggle to fathom a full picture of what is described. Even now as I try to wrap my head around everything I feel like I only see a shadow on the wall as I inherently resist the scale of those big moments in the story. There is a sense that all the fantastical creations and action set pieces live on the back of the reams of history that Jenn Lyons has somewhere on her hardrive. We as the audience only get small necessary glimpses behind the curtain, but this intuitive worldbuilding attests that she knows the rules of her world and doesn’t break them.
That’s not to downplay the more quiet intimate moments either. We truly care for our hero Kihrin and those he cares for. We are afraid of who he is afraid of. This thread of his personal loves and fears takes the reader though moments that don’t make complete sense until later–if ever. We learn to live with a comfortable discomfort.
The novel is built on this paradox. It’s about the bonds of family, both of love and domination. It’s about ambition and heroism. Revenge and redemption. Slavery and freedom. Godhood and mortality. The power of a wizard, of a dragon, of a thief, and of a bully.
The format of the story also mirrors this as it is setup as a conversation between our hero and his jailer. We tumble further and further toward ends of the story that we know from the very beginning... or do we? These alternating narratives in different points in Kihrin’s life are further punctuated by a third voice who makes corrections and annotations for our benefit. This paradigm illuminates and obfuscates, daring us to connect the dots while sometimes purposefully having the chapters mirror each other at beginnings and endings- not unlike a clever camera cut. Your conscious mind has to take a second to recover that you’re no longer in the time and place you were previously.
Which brings me to my final point. I felt completely captivated and transported. I really think that the complexity of this story worked to an advantage in this regard. I sometimes felt like I didn’t fully grasp everything but I felt compelled to continue on and understand things by moving forward rather than trying to go back. Though now that I’m finished I know that a reread of this book would be vastly rewarding.
The Ruin of Kings is a dense work of opposing forces that rewards and awes. It elicited many verbal reactions from me as I found myself racing through the labyrinth of history, deceit, and intrigue. Highly recommend to readers who crave excitement and empathy twisted up in a complex and meaningful story.