June of 2017 has been a crazy month of great book releases, and I have a ton of interesting reviews coming up for the many books that have come out. However, before I get to any of these hot potatoes, I need to take a moment to talk about a big release from the end of last year: The Wall of Storms, by Ken Liu. Ken Liu made a huge splash in the fantasy world with his incredible short stories, in particular his story Paper Menagerie that I guarantee will make you cry. He then followed that up by translating a world famous science fiction novel, The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, from Chinese to English, before finally moving on to start publishing his own fantasy series. His series began with The Grace of Kings, a book that made a big splash for its original setting but has seemed to fade a bit from existence. I was a fan of the first book, and I was surprised more people didn’t seem pumped for the sequel because it is definitely worth checking out.
The Wall of Storms, much like its predecessor, is a very difficult book to review. I couldn’t really put my finger on it when I was reviewing Grace, but upon finishing Storms I have realized its because they are so damn large (almost 900 pages) that they are each really two books. Each half of the book tells a continuous story, but in two distinct arcs. The problem is I had very different feelings about the arcs making the book as a whole difficult to talk about as a collective piece. So, instead I am going to review them separately.
Arc I: When we left off with book one, the Dara empire had just be reunified and we had reentered a time of peace. The first part of the book is about infrastructure, and I never thought I would say this: I loved it. It felt like a really good look into Asian philosophies, allowed for some great character development of older characters, and introduced a fantastic new cast from the next generation in the story. It reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones, in the sense that we are now getting a look at what it takes to maintain a “happily ever after”. Seeing the small changes to the countries structure and government was thrilling, and watching people play political games in the peace that follows war was awesome. I have almost no negatives from the first half of the book and I feel like I would have given it a 9.5/10.
Arc II: Here is where we start running into some problems. In the second half of the story we go back to war, this time against an external threat. New villains have arisen from behind the impassable wall of storms that isolated the island of Dara from the rest of the world and it puts the new country to the test. While there was a lot of good in this second act, it did have some points I was not fond of. I thought that while some of the military engagements were awesome, a few felt lack luster. The Gods of Dara, which are part of the appeal of this series for me, are largely absent in the second arc. Finally, one of the things that Ken Liu does really well is impart a sense of impartiality in his books. The characters all feel like real people, and there is no plot armor to protect them from the ravishes of time and history. By doing this he makes his books feel like a blend of fantasy and historical fiction, which I really like. The problem with this is sometimes he WILL give a few characters plot armor, and it makes the events stand out negatively with how he treats the rest of the cast. It makes it hard to swallow when some favorite characters die “as that’s just the way the world is sometimes” compared to when some characters seem to walk-off having mountains dropped on them. However,I still found the second arc a great read, even with its flaws: 8.0/10.
This series continues to be one of the most original and interesting ones I have picked up. While I am sure some people are going to hate its style, I think it is worthwhile for all fantasy fans to try it out and see what they think for themselves. The story has some really great morals and philosophies that I love, and I really don’t know where Liu is taking the plot – which excites me. So considering all of that, it should be no surprise that The Quill to Live definitely recommends (a second time) you pick up The Grace of Kings or continue with The Wall of Storms.
Rating: The Wall of Storms – 8.5/10