Book Review : The Ruin of Kings

Book Review : The Ruin of KingsThe Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons #1) by Jenn Lyons
Published by Tor Books on February 5th 2019
Pages: 569
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Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew up on storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn't what the storybooks promised.
Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family's power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.
Then again, maybe he's not the hero, for Kihrin is not destined to save the empire.
He's destined to destroy it.

The Ruin of Kings, the first novel in The Chorus of Dragons, provides me with a unique review challenge. I really loved the book, with its conversational dialogue, banter, dark world filled with dragons, krakens and other mythological creatures, interesting world-building, but found it incredibly confusing. Surprisingly, my confusion was not due to the complex narration, which was concerning to me when I initially read about it and picked up the book, but mainly due to the fact that characters, quite literally, are often not who they appear to be.


The Ruin of Kings follows main character Khirin, in three different periods of his life. His story is told from the present, when he is in jail, also from another perspective, when he tells his story to his jailer, and lastly, when shis jailer tells parts of his story to Khirin, because she is dissatisfied with his telling of it and doesn’t want to leave any parts of his tale out. If this sounds confusing, it is, at least at first, or if you set the novel down for any period of time. Ruin of Kings is not a light read, it requires you to keep these three separate narratives straight, but the novel does help by keeping parts of the story told by Khirin’s jailer, in third person, while Khirin’s story is in first. When I initially read about these narrative devices, I was a little concerned that I would hate them.


To my surprise, I found this method of writing masterful, creative, and that it really added to the tension of the novel. Gone were the frustrating cliffhangers of many fantasy novels that skip from character to character, and instead, I had cliffhangers of what happened to one single character. As I always wanted to know what happened to Khirin in every timeline, I really enjoyed the changing of narration. Plus, I could sort of piece together or puzzle out what was going on based on the other storylines. It was really impressive how the author, Jenn Lyons, constructed this story.


“Who are you, Scamp?” I turned back to Tyentso. “Come on, Ty. You know who I am.” She shook her head. “No, I don’t. And I don’t think you know either.” She waved a hand around her. “This shit doesn’t happen to the runaway children of fourth-ranked Houses.”


Though I was usually able to keep what timeline in Khirin’s story I was in straight, I had much more trouble keeping track of the cast of characters. Even with footnotes, a genealogy chart, and a very large appendix in the back of the book, I was often lost at who was whom. This in large parts due to several facets of the story that allowed certain people to reside in the bodies of other people. There are creatures known as mimics in The Ruin of Kings, who consume the brains of people to allow them to take their form, and one of them features prominently in Khirin’s story. Another device in the novel is a necklace known as the Stone of Shackles, which protects its wearer from death. Anyone who kills the bearer of the necklace, dies themselves, and becomes possessed by the original wearer of the necklace.


You would think this soul/body transference would be something of a rare occurrence, as there is only one of these necklaces in the entire world, but it happens quite often throughout not only Khirin’s tale, but throughout the entire history of the world in The Ruin of Kings. I had a lot of trouble remembering the true identities of characters who had switched bodies, and why, when, or how it happened. Plus, the appendix tries to keep spoilers out of it, so I didn’t find much to help me keep everyone straight there, which I found frustrating. I also found the continued revelations of true identities, past lives, and birth lineages impossible to keep up with to the point that I sometimes didn’t want to pick up the novel because I felt stupid for not being to comprehend it all.


“So? Does that make you more capable of besting him? Do you think fortune will favor you because your cause is just and your heart is full of vengeance? As you said yourself, he is a monster. One does not slay a monster with good intentions.”


That being said, I still somehow really loved The Ruin of Kings, despite ardently wishing I could get my hands on a Cliffnotes version of the novel to help me understand it all. Though the novel is set in a pretty dark world, filled with slavery, demons, conniving nobles, murder, racism, and plans to take over the empire, I never found Ruin of Kings depressing (except when I was lamenting my own ability to process the complicated web of characters, identities, and lineages, of course). The novel manages to constantly subvert many great fantasy tropes, like the power of friendship or a pure heart. And it is also filled with a great sense of humor, with Khirin having great wit, bantering with other characters, and sassing friends and foe alike. This constant humor provides a great balance between the darker aspects of the novel, which without this levity, could easily be depressing to the point of being oppressive.


“A hero who has never had a bad thing happen to him isn’t a hero—he’s just spoiled.”


Largely in part to this humor, I really grew to care about Khirin and what was happening to him and the people he cared about. I feel like so many times in fantasy novels, it’s hard to like the boy from nowhere who is secretly someone very important due to a prophecy, but it really worked for me in Ruin of Kings. I was relieved that Khirin was never as bratty as say, Rand al’Thor from The Wheel of Time series, as he possesses a certain level of self-awareness, instinct, and intelligence, which many other heroes don’t possess. Thankfully, I liked him throughout the entire novel, even when he was making stupid decisions, as heroes are often want to do. I am excited to see where his journey will take him in future entries of the series and how he will grow as a character.


The dragon was sooty black, the color of thick coal ash. The cracks under its scales pulsed and glowed as if those scaly plates barely contained an inferno. No forge glowed hotter than its eyes. No story I’d heard of a dragon—of how big they are, how fierce, how deadly, how terrifying—did justice to the reality. This creature would decimate armies. No lone idiot riding a horse and carrying a spear ever stood a chance.


I’m also very excited to see more of the mythological creatures in future entries of A Chorus of Dragons. The Ruin of Kings had a really interesting characterization of a dragon, which has me quite invested in meeting others. I am always very floored by any depiction of a dragon, so the fact that Ruin of Kings had such a unique portrayal of this one was very exciting for me. And dragons aren’t even the only mythological creatures in the series, there are majestic creatures known as firebloods, which are similar to horses, but more intelligent and deadly, krakens, witches, mimics, witch-hunters, demon princes, and drakes. Plus there are other immortal races of people known as the vané, vordredd, and the voramer. And there’s even a Black Brotherhood of assassins that worship the god of death.


Honestly, despite finding The Ruin of Kings incredibly confusing at times, I loved the book. There’s just so much to love about it, the unique way of storytelling, the interesting and dark world-building, an actual likable protagonist with a smart mouth, fantastic creatures, secret organizations, and so much more. If you love fantasy novels, and aren’t afraid of challenging, intricate reads, pick up The Ruin of Kings immediately.

Book Review : The Ruin of Kings - Blogging with Dragons

Posted April 5, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy


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