I read Ruin of Kings so you didn’t have to. You’re welcome. Now buckle up, we are in for a bumpy ride and it’s almost all downhill from here.
You know how sometimes a mediocre thing is made even more mediocre. For example, have you ever had a lukewarm bath ruined by a leaky tub that you don’t quite fit into? Have you ever grabbed some french fries from your least favorite fast food restaurant and they were over cooked? Have you even been so hungry/daring that you decided to buy gas station “pizza” and it was cold? Well…do I have the book for you!
The Ruin of Kings
Now, to be perfectly honest, I went into The Ruin of Kings excited. This book had ALL THE HYPE. Tor was pushing this book like they’d just found out they had free rein in Hamsterdam and Marlo was nowhere in sight. It had a blurb by Glen Cook (aka the Godfather of Grimdarks). It had good reviews by The New York Times, The L.A. Times, and Kirkus. Book Review said (and I quote):
“With the scope and sense of fatality of Patrick Rothfuss, and well-choreographed action sense of Brandon Sanderson, Lyons leaps into the big leagues of epic fantasy and sticks the landing.”
In this one sentence Book Review raised the bar to unimaginable heights. If you’re a fan of the fantasy genre, Sanderson and Rothfuss are two unimpeachable names. Sanderson, whose body of work contains The Mistborn Saga, The Stormlight Archives, and Elantris as well as the last three books of The Wheel of Time, is enjoying a stretch of writing that I don’t think will be challenged by anyone soon. When you read a Sanderson book you know the character development is going to be first class and you know (without a shadow of a doubt) the magic system is going to be new and intriguing. When you name drop Rothfuss you are bringing The Kingkiller Chronicles into the conversation. I cannot adequately express or overstate how good that series is. In fact, if you haven’t read it, stop reading this, go read that and we can continue this conversation later.
Book Review wasn’t just telling us that Jenn Lyons is in the ballpark with those other great writers. Book Review was telling us Jenn Lyons was up to bat and pointing beyond the back wall. I was overjoyed and eager to add yet another great author to my collection. I was expecting world-class worldbuilding, intricate attention to character development and a first-rate magic system we haven’t seen anywhere else.
After reading the book and then re-reflecting on the Book Review statement I am reminded to the wise words of one Mr. Luke Skywalker:
Amazing. Every word that you just said is wrong.
Much Hype Comes to Nothing
The Ruin of Kings is not well paced, nor well written, neither is it particularly engaging. It is needlessly packed with twists, turns and the type of moments that would have had M. Night Shyamalan’s suspension of disbelief waving a white flag. The magic system was not really a system, so much as just a thing that happened. The character development lacked originality and leaned heavily on gotcha moments to push the rhythm of the writing. I saw neither well-choreographed action nor amazing scope. What I did see was a book that was eager to please but fell well short of that simple goal.
Let’s start with the pacing. It is a shambles from the get-go. The Ruin of Kings takes a small page of out Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles and goes with the “story within a story” mode. The story is told from the viewpoint of the protagonist and one of his antagonists. This causes the plot to ping-pong back and forth from different points of view and different timelines. Which in and of itself should not be a problem — George R.R. Martin plays with timelines all throughout his books and I have no problem keeping up. That’s because Martin leaves markers along the way so you can keep track of the action. In The Ruin of Kings I haven’t decided if it was bad writing, bad pacing, or some combination but I found the timeline not so much confusing as it was muddled. Part of the problem was the extreme shortness of the chapters. The author doesn’t allow you the time and space to get invested into a scene before whisking us away to the next one.
Doing Too Much With Too Much
Next, there were too many characters, doing too many things. In Wheel of Time there are about 20 main characters, another 30-side characters and an additional 40 (or so) random characters. But each character is distinct enough and the writing is good enough that nothing seems rushed or incomplete. The characters don’t get lost within each other. In The Ruin of Kings, there are people splashed across the pages for no apparent reason. The book has shapeshifters who may or may not have been people, and gods that may or may not have been doing the Zeus thing and pretending to be people. There are dragons and people that were demons and demons that were gods. It was just… a lot. A lot isn’t bad, if it’s done right. A good gumbo can have 30 ingredients. In the hands of many a southern grandma it can be delicious. This wasn’t delicious, this was just a lot.
Another thing: significant events happen “off screen”. The Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks was notorious for this. I didn’t enjoy it in that series, and I don’t enjoy it now. There is no excuse within a sprawling epic to have 2 years of someone’s “training” take place on a mysterious island and not show the reader this training. We are just leapfrogged years into the future while our protagonist is buffing himself up. We need to see this development. I would have been fine if Lyons had taken out 3 gratuitous twists and given us more of our protagonist’s time on the island. Stop throwing desserts at us, give me some salad, some steak, put some meat in this meal!
Speaking of twists (since you brought them up), there were too many. It seemed as if everyone’s character was someone’s secret father/mother/goddess or grandfather/assassin, oops I meant cousin/brother, or god/prostitute/murder madman, or was it secret wizard/assassin/god? It got to the point where I got disinterested in the twists because the whole thing was a twist. A twist isn’t particularly interesting if there is never a straight section to set it up. When the whole book is one perpetual turn you have no basis by which to judge. It starts to feel like the twists and turns are more of a crutch as opposed to a device used to push the story into uncharted or unexpected territory. Even by the time you get to the FINAL TWIST (emphasis mine), you are desensitized by all the preceding twists and it’s easy to be blasé about it. Which is a shame, because the FINAL TWIST contained the good writing, good set up and good follow through that seemed to be missing in the rest of the book.
Honestly, I was so annoyed by the book, I got a second opinion to see if I was being too harsh. I talked to fellow reader, BookWyrm, about my feelings. He summed it all up nicely. He said, “At best, it’s a mediocre book that leaves some potential for the follow ups”. And after 560 pages that felt more like 1200, I wanted and expected more than mediocre from an author who was hyped as the next Sanderson or Rothfuss. Maybe part of the ruin of this book was the unworldly expectations, but the pacing, the ridiculous twists stacked on top of twists, followed by lack of any real system of magic and shortened chapters didn’t help. I award this book no points and may god have mercy on its soul.
Something Similar: Nickelback or the “docks” season of The Wire
Written by guest writer Joseph Harris. You can follow him on his Instagram page.
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