Review: Ruin of Kings

4 min read

by Alex Khlopenko

Hanging around the publishing business for some time you learn a couple basic trends – like the Tuesday-Thursday releases, amount of control everyone has at different stages of the process, proportionality and cost-effectiveness of every project. For example, you can reverse-engineer the cost of translation, writer’s advance, and more, simply from the size of the marketing campaign.

“Ruin of Kings” has been pushed down my throat for a long time and there is nothing that Tor would not do – excerpts, targeted ads, hundreds of Instagram posts, ARCs all over the place. They have spared nothing. Blurbs from Glen Cook, Lev Grossman, John Gwynne, and Janny Wurts. Comparison with Abercombie. Only a liar and fool would not be all hyped up by this book.

Yet sometimes the hype backfires and people come in with too many expectations from a mediocre book that can’t possibly deliver.
Jenn Lyons’ novel tells of Kihrin – an orphan, who grew up on tales of dragons and who turns to be a bastard son of a long-lost prince, turned slave, turned savior, and is ultimately chosen by the gods to destroy the evil empire that oppresses everyone everywhere. The plot of the book is as cliched and convoluted as the previous sentence sounds.

The story is told from two POVs – Kihrin’s and his captor’s Talon’s. Both apply a lot of effort to look appear as unreliable narrators of the same stories, yet it proves to be impossible since they are telling different parts of the story and their narratives are not overlapping. And both provide so many (maaaaaany) details that establish a promise of something better, something grand in the future and never deliver on their promises. With the exponentially growing number of dragons, demons, krakens, myriad of cultures, histories, families, and endless artifacts, reading the book feels like what the living classic John Fogerty might’ve described as “run through the jungle”.

This is a Brandon Sanderson book, with all the things that make a Sanderson book an unbearable brick for some of us and without everything that makes them fun.

With the amount of detail connected to nothing, adding nothing, at some point the plot reaches the levels of absurd that if this was a satirical work, it would be making fun of Brandon Sanderson. To be precise – this is a Brandon Sanderson book, with all the things that make a Sanderson book an unbearable brick for some of us and without everything that makes them fun.

All the colors in Lyon’s palette feel like a weird mix of all the fantasy from the last thirty years, with scenes directly taken from Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones, Skyrim, and the Temple of Doom, that have turned into a muddy cocktail of old tropes and cheap tricks, with none of the subversion or deconstruction one might expect from a modern fantasy book. At times this cocktail leaves you with an aftertaste of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, but more often “Ruin of Kings” tastes like the Greta Van Fleet of epic fantasy.

My biggest issue is with the protagonist – Kihrin. Next time some reddit nerds will be fighting over whether Rey from Star Wars is a Mary Sue, they might go look it up in the dictionary and see Kihrin’s photo there. He can’t do anything, and stresses on it throughout the book, and yet luck (literally) is always on his side. He knows nothing and yet learns everything immediately without any added costs or significant effort.

Kihrin’s adventures and his subjective perception of them is that of a Harry Potter – a cardboard cutout, mindlessly following the orders from above. Only that Harry Potter was surrounded by interesting, complicated characters, with interwoven stories and interested relations, and they were worth the reader’s time and attention.

Lyon’s style is daring and even interesting in places – formatting of the story, inner dialogue, and story structure are eye-catching and immediately grab the readers’ attention. But they are eye-catching in a sense that Cormac McCarthy’s or Zadie Smith’s prose is eye-catching – it tries so very hard not to let you ever forget that this a book was written by a writer, “look at all the writerly stuff I know and use” to no other end except as to pat itself on the back.

In other circumstances, I would consider “Ruin of Kings” a pretty solid epic fantasy that brings nothing new to the table. There is a reader for this sort of book and I’m happy for people who enjoy it and will be looking forward to the next installment in The Chorus of Dragons series. But the publisher’s corporate machine aimed towards the sales and the bottom line has overkilled with the marketing of the book – it worked, I wanted this book, but I came into this novel expecting too much.

The risky bargain of immediately signing the five-book deal for the series and the size of the marketing campaign scares me and seems like a dot com bubble in 2000 – ready to burst any minute now.

The Ruin of Kings is enjoyable if you pick it up because you liked the cool-ass cover design, but is not advised for newcomers or returning readers to epic fantasy.

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