Fantasy Review: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Here we are, just a few days into March, and I find myself staring at the last page of what may be the epic fantasy of the year. Granted, there's still a long way to go, and I would love nothing more than to find a book that tops it, but The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons sets the bar unbelievably high.

On the surface, this should be a mess. It's a story that opens near the end, and yet that fact robs us of not a moment's drama. It's an awkwardly twinned bit of storytelling, with a sadistic mimic (Talon) coercing her prisoner (Kihrin) into sharing his life story, and yet it is entirely fascinating. Half his life is related from his own memories, and half from the memories she's stolen, and it is in anticipating the moment they intersect that much of the appeal lies. The book is also riddled with footnotes from a third voice, for the character writing the book is someone else entirely.

This is a story where hardly anybody is who or what they seem - even without considering the mimic who could be anyone - where the affairs of gods and mortals are inexorably intertwined, and where you need a scorecard to keep track of names, roles, and relationships. It does get frustrating at times, forcing you to reconsider everything you thought you knew or understood, but there are fantastic revelations to be found as each puzzle piece falls into place.

We are told in the blurb that, "he’s not the hero", that he "isn’t destined to save the empire," and that in fact "he’s destined to destroy it," and yet he is one of the most engaging, intriguing, exciting protagonists to come out of epic fantasy in years. There's a mix of intentions here, some good and some bad, some selfish and some altruistic, and they are all equally important. Revenge not only looms large over everything, it reaches deep into the past, the mythology, and the history of the world.

There are so many familiar tropes to be found here - lost heirs, assassins, secret sorcerers, dragons, gods, sea monsters, fathers and father figures - but none quite where or how you might expect. I was . . . well, delighted is the best word I can think of . . . by how Lyons spun her tale. It's an exceptionally dark story in places, with rape, murder, and torture at the heart of so much than happens, and yet there is wonder, amazement, and humor to be found along the way. It's a complex book full of complicated characters and convoluted relationships, one that demands a lot more attention than your average epic fantasy, but it's well worth it.

There was an extended lull in the center of the tale, with a dragon keeping Kihrin trapped on a tropical island of assassins, but that would be my only complaint. I worried about what would happen when the twinned storylines intertwined, and I feared there would be a triumphant conclusion despite the warnings about destroying the world, but this had one of the strongest final arcs in any fantasy I have ever read. Seriously, the story just keeps getting bigger and bolder in those final chapters, with developments that top everything we've read so far, and the only thing stronger than the climax is the suggestion of what's left behind.

The Ruin of Kings is the best epic fantasy I have read in ages, a complex story that is so much more than the sum of its parts. I'm hooked - October, and The Name of All Things, cannot come soon enough.


Hardcover, 560 pages
Published February 5th 2019 by Tor Book

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

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