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 things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.
Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin isn’t destined to save the empire.
He’s destined to destroy it . . .
This is a book that has everything in it and the kitchen sink–dragons, necromancers, wizards, immortal races, super powered characters, magical artifacts, demons. It’s like someone put Rothfuss, Lynch, and Erikson in a blender, sprinkled some D&D on top, and this is the result. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of this book, but I can totally see it not being a fit for every reader.
Let’s start out with the iffy. The structure of this book is non linear in an interesting way. For most of the book the story alternates back and forth between two different POV characters, each one telling Khirin’s story, each one in a different timeline. First we have Khirin himself telling his story from a certain point up to the events which lead to the end, and then we have Talon telling Khirin’s story from an earlier point up to the point where Khirin’s tale begins. Easy, right? Nope! Because we’re constantly switching back and forth between the two timelines this makes the story hard to follow. Even in audio where there are different narrators for the different timelines, I quickly lost track of which timeline was before the other and found myself questioning which events were taking place before the others. (I’ll be honest, even now I think I’m right about the order but I could still be wrong.) Further complicating things there is also a third POV who is notating the two stories being told and interrupts in footnotes throughout the tale, taking over the story completely near the end.
And if the structure wasn’t enough to complicate things….well, everything else is complicated too! There are a lot of characters who aren’t who you think they are for one reason or another. There are people/creatures that are mimics that can shape shift into other people. There are magical items which cause people to swap bodies. There are people who are maybe dead but maybe not. There are people who manipulate others and lie about all kinds of things. Trying to keep track who is who and how everyone is related? Good luck! I need a chart or a graph or something. I think by the end it’s sorted for the most part but at this point I don’t know what to believe. The thing is, if being able to keep track of all of this is something that is important to you as a reader then you’re probably going to have a rough time with this one. But. If you let yourself go and just enjoy the ride thinking ‘well, it’ll all come together at some point’ then you’ll probably have a much better time with this book.
The Ruin of Kings is convoluted as all get out and I spent much of the time thinking ‘what the hell is happening? who is that? wait, what?’. And yet, I had a fun time with it.
The world-building in this is really fun because it’s so busy. You get information but I don’t know if we’re expected to remember any of it except for the most important things. Like I said earlier, this world has A LOT going on. It does, in some respects, remind me very much of D&D–the magical artifacts such as swords and jewelry, the types magic users and spells. At one point I think someone accidentally cast lightning bolt! But also within the world is a lot of politics among powers within the Empire. There are various lands with different kinds of people, there is slavery, there’s an assassin’s guild (pretty much). Also, did I mention politics? Yeah, there are a ton of people vying for power within this structure of important families. Oh, there are also gods. AND A PROPHECY. Yup! But, even with there being so very much of everything, it all felt familiar in some ways because these are the types of things you expect as a fantasy reader–maybe just not all at once. Again, somehow the blender worked really well for me here in taking the familiar and creating something new and fun.
The other thing that really held me to the story is Khirin’s character. He was just so utterly likable to me. You want to see him win in the end, defeat the Big Bad and save the Empire (even though the Empire hasn’t always treated him well, if we’re being honest). There are other characters that are fun too. I particularly loved the dragon! What a crotchety, powerful, old thing. He’s a crazy killer beast but also kind of hilarious. Speaking of, there’s a good amount of humor sprinkled throughout, some of which had me laughing out loud.
Overall, I really did love this book. It’s a book that puts the epic in epic fantasy, if not for the length, then for the breadth and ambition of the work. 4/5 stars.