I apparently have a thing for military orders. Or, I guess not military, but organized groups of fantasy heroes. Maybe all of us who read the genre do, as most fantasy books have them. There always seems to be some group of warriors with a cliche name like “the Night Fighters” in every fantasy book. However, every once in a while you get a series like Malazan, or Bloodsong, or even Harry Potter that does these groups of heroes justice and tell you about a club that you would give your left arm to be a part of. This is one of those times. For the Killing of Kings, by Howard Andrew Jones, is the first book in his new The Ring-Sworn Trilogy. It is a phenomenal new story, whose greatest shortcoming is that there is not more of it, and it will likely be one of my top books of 2019.
For the Killing of Kings (FtKoK) tells the story of a post-war Darassus. Through the use of the Altenari, a prestigious military order, and its army, Darassus won a major conflict again its hostile neighboring nations. However, instead of pressing their victory, the royalty sued for peace – electing instead to focus their time upon studying mysterious magical artifacts they found over the course of the conflict instead of hunting down their enemies. This choice fractured the Altenari, with some losing faith in their leaders, and others holding fast to the nation’s new direction. Although the Altenari are somewhat reduced from their former glory, it is still a highly sought after order with many aspirants pledging to try and rise to the high rank of Alten. Our story follows two individuals, Elenai – a high ranking squire in the Altenari order, and Rylin – one of the newest individuals to reach the high rank of Alten after the war. Although both of these individuals are supremely talented, they find themselves in the shadow of the “old guard” of the Altenari (those who helped win the previous war). However, in the course of their duties both of our protagonists stumble over a mystery/conspiracy that threatens Darassus and find themselves working with the old guard to save the nation.
FtKoK has all the hallmarks of a fantasy great. It has an engrossing world, a top tier cast of characters, a fast-paced plot, and smart well-written prose that explores complicated themes through a fun medium. The world has your typical fantasy backstory – six gods each sat down and made a nation and became their patron. One went crazy and tried to murder the others, and got curbed stomped. While the gods fashioning the various nations isn’t too original, there are a number of details, like that the goods seemed to have built the word in some sort of giant unstable magical dimension, that gives FtKoK a distinguishing flare. While the land of the nations is solid and fairly “normal”, the borders and space between the various realms is this shifting morass of reality that essentially looks like a kaleidoscope that was tossed into a dryer. These shifting lands are extremely unstable, and magic users have learned to essentially build a reality around them as they travel through the lands. This leads to some super cool magic and magical fights in the story and really gives the world of FtKoK a lot of character.
Although the world is cool, it doesn’t hold a candle to the characters. The entire cast is fantastic and was really the high point of the series. Starting with our protagonists, both are intelligent, relatable, kind, warm, and show growth throughout the book. While they have a ton of differences, Elenai and Rylin are similar in they are both in roles where they feel they have been promoted above their station. Although they technically share ranks (or a rank below) with the rest of the Alten, they are new additions to this prestigious order and feel they still have a lot to do to live up to their ranks. They both have a level of self-awareness that is refreshing and speaks a lot to the virtues of responsibility and sacrifice. And speaking of the old guard, the most established Alten are all brilliantly written characters. Each of them is distinct, engrossing to read about, and improve the enjoyment of the book by their very presence. I love these characters and I want to read more about them.
The plot is also no slouch, and I found myself throwing out my regimented free time schedule in order to spend more time with this book. The mysteries in the story are well presented, and Jones has a real talent for teasing out clues and leads to build a larger picture. However, while I have a boatload of positive things to say about FtKoK, there were some places that could be improved. First, the book is too short and ends on an outrageously suspenseful cliffhanger. I feel like Jones couldn’t decide where to break up books one and two and just picked a place at random. I only finished the book last night and I am already dying for the sequel. Along a similar line, the pacing sometimes felt too quick. There were fights, dialogues, and expositions that felt a little rushed and I wish Jones took a little more time fleshing out and exploring. I really, really, liked this book and I didn’t like that I sometimes felt that I was being “rushed out the door”. At only 350 pages, I felt that FtKoK could have easily been 600 (a lot happens) and told the same story at a more luxurious pace.
At the end of the day, if the worst thing you can say about a book is that you wish it was twice as long it means you obviously loved it. For the Killing of Kings has raised the Altenari to one of my favorite fantasy orders in a single book, a feat that is no small accomplishment. With its brilliant cast of characters, smart explorations of the burdens of responsibility, and nebulous world and plot – For the Killing of Kings is sure to be one of the best books of 2019 and I recommend you check it out as soon as possible.
Rating: For the Killing of Kings – 9.0/10