Crown of the Sundered Empire by J. C. Kang – Book Review

This review was originally posted over at booknest.eu.

I approach the review of this one with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I enjoyed much of the story (after a fashion), loved the characters and found several of the plot threads nothing short of riveting. On the other, dozens of typos pulled me out of the action very often, much to my annoyance.  Further, I admit to some confusion on account of the blurb of this novel only concentrating on a third, at most, of the story it tells. The much more significant conflict, which embroiders four out of the five point-of-view characters of Crown is described by the succinct sentence, “A coming war,” and perhaps by the following line “a broken land where conquerors dream of empires”.

J. C. Kang’s world is multifaceted. History and mythology are one and the same, with fragments of once-corporeal gods empowering the mortal might of broken and aspirant empires both. There’s enough here to be daunting to a new reader to the world of Tivara – at times, I felt lost, uncertain of which of the characters were being introduced for the first time and which of them had starring or supporting roles in Kang’s previous works.

I was entranced by Tomas’ story, the point of view which deals with the eponymous Crown of the Sundered Empire and with an invasion by the disgusting Bovyans, a race of large, militaristic males who procreate by forcing themselves on the women of those territories they subjugate through force. Tomas’ sharp wit is easy to grow fond of, and he goes through a dark hero’s journey, which sees him turn far more ruthless, at a very steep price. Only two instances come to mind as somewhat “off” in terms of his PoV sections, one of them when a soldier intent on not trusting the boy has a change of heart after stating very clearly he wouldn’t trust Tomas; the other involves a mid-wife in his village, of whom Tomas only ever thinks of as “the midwife.” This last one feels bizarrely archetypal and not at all like everyone in this tiny fishing and diving village has intimate knowledge of each other.

Our other characters, princes, princesses, bastards and a half-elf assassin, deal with the fallout of  Crown Prince Elrayn’s attempt to unite two broken kingdoms in order to further his own power. At its best, this part of the novel reminded me of the plots of some Shakesperean comedies, with men and women desperate to get out of arranged marriages, falling in love with exactly whom they shouldn’t and creating plenty of amusing conflict. At its worst, however, I just didn’t buy into the casual stupidity the Crown Prince exhibited in the midst of crisis – there’s incompetence, there’s short-sightedness and then there is whatever Elrayn suffers from. His early successes came across as no more than a stroke of luck, and his later failings appeared to me too artificial. Thankfully, he’s not one of the PoV characters – rather, the engine by which most of them come into the conflict.

I was familiar with the high-elf, Jie, from a short novella by the name of “Thorn of the Night Blossoms” and I enjoyed seeing her all grown-up and experienced but also struggling between duty and love. Her affair with Elrayn’s brother, Aryn, was a source of amusement and some well-appreciated tension, which ultimately didn’t come up to the sort of resolution I would’ve liked.

Alwrynn, royal bastard and brother to Elrayn and Aryn, whose overwhelming use of naval terms chafed during several instances, was otherwise an entertaining protagonist, skilled at sea but almost as helpless on land as in the world of politics. His connection with Alaena, the third PoV character and one of the princelings Elrayn attempts to marry into his family, is a source of plenty of tension that pays off really well towards the end of the story.

The action was fantastic, nothing less than what I’ve come to expect from Kang, based on my limited experience with his work.

Crown of the Sundered Empire is an intriguing read with plenty of positive elements. My enjoyment of it was mired by the typos and the extent to which I felt like a newcomer who lacked basic insight into some of the characters’ pasts and world events. Tomas’s story might’ve been a short novel of its own – and I would argue, it would’ve been a finer entry-point to the world for new readers such as myself. As it is, I liked J. C. Kang’s novel well enough, even with the issues I had, which is why I’m giving it 3/5 stars. I feel obliged to say that I’m in the minority – most of the readers who have scored this book over on Goodreads have given it either 4 or 5 stars. What didn’t work for me might very well work for you.

The Grimoire Digest, 15-22 July: 11/22/63, Thorn of the Night Blossom, Ch05en: Ivy

Hullo, dear reader! I’ve been blogging a lot this past week — unfortunately, none of it has been on my personal blog, The Grimoire Reliquary. I did put three new reviews out into the world, over at booknest.eu. I’ll toot my own horn here and share them with you, following the late, great axiom of #everythingiscontent!

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Thся was someting else, something special. A novel about an English teacher who goes back in time to stop Kennedy’s assassination should be challenge enough but King’s not about to deal with anything less than five different genres in this 850 page novel. For the full review, click here but if you’d like an excerpt, have at it:

Stephen King is the rare kind of author who does not allow himself to be bound by the staples of any one genre. He’s been writing a book or two a year for so long that the tools he once borrowed for his early works have now become so seamlessly his that in combining conventions of different genres he weaves stories quite unlike anything else out there.

Take for example the victim of this review, 11/22/63. I could label it as sci-fi, of course, because the central plot point of this novel is time travel. I could label it a thriller twice over, because during two—three, even—parts of the novel, it certainly borrows from murder mysteries, spy-craft novels and the like. I could easily call it a great romance because…I  think you can figure that one out. Hell, it’s an excellent introduction to the history behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy, with a number of artistic freedoms. It’s all this and beyond; an 850-page novel that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is one of those books that you owe to yourself to experience.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms (Scions of the Black Lotus #1) by J. C. Kang

This was a really fun novella because of the action and the China-inspired setting…but it’s also got a half-elven ninja-spy protagonist! A lot is done in a mere 93 pages, and I’m looking forward to digging into the next novellas in the series. Lookit here:

horn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it. 

Our half-elven main character is Jie, the finest (or at least, most talented) operative produced by the Black Lotus clan in recent years. To the eyes of the uninitiated, however, she’s a Floret, a young woman who is still a virgin. But even then, Jie is special; because of her exotic blood and looks, hers is the most valuable “virgin price” not only in “The Floating Wind” but in all the province.

And the last review I penned over this last week is, drumroll, please…

Ch05en: Ivy by William Dickstein 

I love superhero stories. This wasn’t quite what I expected and although I didn’t love it, I did have a decent — even good — time reading it! The review is here:

What is strangest about this novel is that I felt it was a prequel to the novel I came to expect based on the blurb. Here is a portion of the blurb:

“Ivy and Lochlan’s worlds collide in the small town of Choudrant, Louisiana—where the residents have more secrets than shopping malls. The lead Cape in Choudrant has defected, and an android might be the only one who can find out why. If he’s going to succeed, Lochlan will have to look for help in unlikely places and unlikely genes.”

This collision between Ivy and Lochlan takes place only in the last chapter of the novel. A lot of what happens before feels like inflated filler. This holds particularly true about Lochlan’s (he’s an android agent of the World Government) sections, which go into minute detail about anything and everything to do with android functionality, agent politicking and more. Well thought out, and I admire the effort…but it’s true what they say about magicians – if they show you everything about how their trick works, it’s no longer magical. Too many of the descriptions, in particular those that involved the android agent Lochlan, suffered from that; they made me conscious of someone doing the writing. Often, descriptions didn’t flow, leaving me aware of the words on the screen instead of allowing me to immerse myself fully into the world. Some of the dialogue between agents Lochlan and Khard (who seemed about as important to the overall Lochlan arc but slightly more likeable) came across as stilted, as well.

There you have it! What I was up to over the last week over at booknest.eu. If you’d like to check the full reviews, the links are above; and if not, I hope these excerpts might’ve given you a semblance of an idea as to what you can expect.

This week, I hope to write my review of Monstress Vol 2, The Blood! An essay on Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan is also in the works. Stay tuned!