Review: The Grace of Kings - Ken Liu
The Grace of Kings is the first book in Ken Liu's Dandelion Dynasty series, described by the author himself to be "silkpunk". "Like steampunk, silkpunk is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. But while steampunk takes as its inspiration the chrome-brass-glass technology aesthetic of the Victorian era, silkpunk draws inspiration from classical East Asian antiquity." - Ken Liu
What’s it about?
In summary, the story is a re-telling of the fall of the Qin and the rise of the Han Dynasty of ancient China, set in the silkpunk island world of Dara, which parallels the fragmented principalities of China in the 200BC period. Its main character, Kuni Garu, is modelled after Liu Bang - founding Emperor of the Han dynasty.
The infusion of silkpunk and fantasy elements into the story certainly gave it a novel twist, with the appearance of bamboo kites, airships (a -punk staple) and submarines masquerading as the large whale-like creatures called crubens. The introduction of these types of technology opened up new strategic options for the characters that made things more interesting than a regular military campaign.
Besides the technology, there was also the involvement of a merry bunch of squabbling gods who threw their weight behind their respective champions, oftentimes intervening in discreet ways to influence decisions of characters. The role of the gods provided an interesting look at the concept of personal agency - and how much of that is in fact a direct consequence of the influence of the people around us.
The cast of characters for this story is large, many of whom only appear for as little as one chapter, but despite the multiple POVs the story does not get lost in the mix and flows extremely smoothly throughout.
Those who are familiar with the events of Chinese history may find the plot of this story relatively predictable as it follows actual events quite closely. That said, I still found it enjoyable picking out recognisable characters from the book and matching them to their real life counterparts. Emperor Mapidere as the infamous Qin Shihuang, Kuni Garu as Liu Bang, Mata Zyndu as Xiang Yu, Jia Matiza as Lu Zhi and Mira as Yu Ji.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, particularly those who are interested to delve a little deeper into Chinese history. The prose is absolutely beautiful (#writinggoals). Looking forward to moving on to the next book - The Wall of Storms! Sidenote: So I read some reviews on Goodreads complaining that the book didn't do justice to female characters and how females should have been given larger and less stereotypical roles. I don't really agree with this criticism, considering the story is based on Chinese history from a time period that was definitely patriarchal, so to artificially inflate the roles of female characters (which the author arguably already did by introducing the character of Gin Mazoti as a female marshal) would not have been true to the source material, and instead just be pandering to modern sentiments. It would be akin to saying that Romance of the Three Kingdoms should have more female characters in it for the sake of gender equality.