Here we have one of the mega-debuts of 2019. Published by Tor, The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons has had one of the largest marketing pushes I have seen in years. I have seen advertising for this book literally everywhere, and it somehow already has a TV deal with Annapurna. As I picked it up it felt too big to fail, and I was extremely curious to see if this massive first entry would live up to the hype or fall short. After reading it, I feel like it surprisingly somehow managed to do both.
The Ruin of Kings is about Kihrin, a thief (sorta) with a destiny to bring ruin to kings (hence the title). Our story follows Kihrin in two timelines that alternate each chapter. In the first, we read about Kihrin’s present life as a slave and his attempts to escape bondage and death while pursuing his destiny with a mysterious order of magic users. The other timeline tells Kihrin’s backstory and explains how he ended up in his current predicament. The alternation of the timelines is one of the novel’s largest strengths, and I think Lyons did a very good job matching the two stories to feel relevant to each other at all times while evenly disseminating information about the world, characters, and plot. This is not an easy thing to do, and Lyons managed to instill a great deal of urgency in both timelines that make the book a fast read despite its 800+ page length.
The problem with the book is that despite its even storytelling, neither timeline has enough story, world, or character building to be satisfactory. The pacing of the book is extremely fast, often to the story’s detriment. Lyons moves Kihrin through the world at a breakneck pace, and I constantly felt like I didn’t spend enough time with any location or character to fully understand them. For example, we start the book in an interesting city with a famous slave market that Lyons builds up to be compelling and mysterious. Then before we can learn more about it, she ejects Kihrin via a metaphorical cannon into the surrounding ocean. Once there, he enters a giant maelstrom filled with enormous sea creatures that hunt him. We learn enough that I want to know more, but then quickly move past and never revisit. In the other timeline, we learn that Kihrin is part of an esteemed thieves guild, and get to see him go on a regular heist. However, we never get a sense that there is anyone other than him and one or two other members in this “giant” thieves guild before it is metaphorically burned down and Lyons moves on to a new plot point.
Lyons moves between ideas so fast that you never really get to sit with them long enough. The shame is I really like her ideas. Almost all the places and things she shows the reader are awesome. I just needed another 400 pages to slow the pacing down and learn more about these small pockets of the world. However, this segues into the other major issue that plagued me in this book: I really don’t like Kihrin. He is a spoiled, melodramatic, Gary Sue who whines so god damn much it is unbelievable. Look, I understand that this is supposed to be a coming of age story and that he grows into a better person, but 800 pages is a reallllly long time to put up with his annoying tendencies. He definitely improves by the end of the book, but I feel like there is still a lot of work to go.
I am actually glad that The Ruin of Kings is becoming a TV show because I think it has a fantastic setting that will do well in a visual medium. However, despite the river of creativity that Lyons has put to paper, the original source material leaves a little bit to be desired. I suspect that less picky readers will enjoy this book a whole lot more than me, so if it sounds interesting to you definitely give it a shot. As for me, I am disappointed that The Ruin of Kings’ fast pacing and exhaustive length greatly hampered my reading experience.
Rating: The Ruin of Kings – 6.5/10