Ken Liu has been quietly carving out a nook in the annals of epic fantasy, and not enough people are reading his work. The Dandelion Dynasty is enormous; a four-book series with installments that are roughly 1000 pages each. Book three, The Veiled Throne, is coming out soon, and it’s an absolute must-read. However, one thing I will flag early is that it’s been about five years since the last book in the series, The Wall of Storms, and there is no recap at the start of Throne. If you are new to the series and just picking it up you should have no problem, but if you are returning to the series know that I struggled immensely remembering people, places, and events at the start. You may need to reread Storms, but The Veiled Throne is worth the effort.
Going by what I have seen with The Veiled Throne, the series’ story seems to be divided into two segments following two different generations. Set on the silkpunk archipelago of Dara, The Grace of Kings first cataloged the rise to power of the story’s many protagonists. Next, The Wall of Storms detailed their attempt to form a cohesive country that placated the six core islands of the nation and settled their endless feuds. This plan is put on hold for a while when an outside threat invades the islands by passing through the impenetrable wall of storms that surround the islands. The Wall of Storms ends with most of the primary cast from the first two books exiting the center stage and ceding the spotlight to their children. Now, The Veiled Throne tells the story of a new generation who have inherited the benefits and problems of their parents as they try to navigate their way out of a war that stumped their fathers and mothers.
There is an initial uphill climb with Throne as you will be acclimating to many new faces. Some of the old cast is still around, mostly in supporting roles, but the story is very much driven by fresh blood. Yet, despite its slow start, Throne is a powerful story about generational drift, the relationships between slave and slaver, occupation and oppression, cultural melting pots, inherited will, cyclical violence, and a cooking competition.
Most of the book focuses on character growth as the children of the previous protagonists decide where they want to stand in the endless conflict between two nations. Some choose to follow in the footsteps of their parents and push the conflict towards victory for their side, as their fathers and mothers “would have wanted.” Others have been immersed in endless conflict since the time they were born and would do anything to avoid increased hostilities. Others have been steeped in cultural melting pots that include both nations at war and struggle to see the differences between the sides after growing up alongside both. Many lead characters suffer a crisis of identity and feel like part of who they are is at war with other parts. After setting up character stakes in the first half of the book, Throne becomes a fabulous cooking competition in the second half. The cook-off manages to cleverly encapsulate and represent the growing conflict and help characters work through their situation to find unorthodox solutions. Plus, the battle between restaurants was fun, original, and memorable.
Something I really like about the Dandelion Dynasty, which really shines through in Throne, is the characters feel very organic. Liu sets his POVs down courses that make contextual sense and have a lot of variety while refusing to give them any plot armor. By having a large roster of leads with diverse personalities and backgrounds, Liu is able to experiment with ideas and have very real consequences without hamstringing story progression or narrative integrity.
If you read my review of The Wall of Storms, you will see that my biggest criticism of the last book is that it felt like two separate stories were stuffed into a single volume and lacked cohesion. This is absolutely not the case with Throne, which tells a compelling and subtle story from start to finish. There is a truly astounding amount of content packed into this tome. On top of being much longer than most other books, Liu manages to absolutely stuff his pages to the brim with plot, prose, characters, and world. I recognize that these books are a little bit of work to read, but the sheer mechanical writing effort on display is enough for me to tell you they are worth the time.
The Veiled Throne had the unenviable job of building back up a story that had just been broken down. It succeeded at this difficult task beyond my wildest imagination, becoming in my mind the strongest entrant to this four-book series thus far. The wonderful themes and ideas, the powerful character stories, and the unconventional plot subjects all came together to make The Veiled Throne stand out as one of the strongest books of 2021. I recommend you make time for this well-written and under-read series.
Rating: The Veiled Throne – 9.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.