Book Review: “The Ruin of Kings” (by Jenn Lyons)

As readers of this blog know, I’m always on the lookout for a new fantasy to really sink my teeth into, one that would allow me to lose myself in its world while also keeping the pace moving. I remembered seeing Jenn Lyons’ The Ruin of Kings at Barnes and Noble some time ago, but it was some time before I could actually sit down and read it, and even more time after that until I’d finished it.

The novel follows Kihrin as he struggles to come to terms with a destiny that is far grander–and far more dangerous–than he’d ever imagined. It toggles between three different timelines, as well as several characters, before they all come together in the sort of climaxes that are the hallmark of much epic fantasy. The novel ends with Kirhin fleeing into exile, while a horde of demons has been unleashed upon the land.

The Ruin of Kings has all of the ingredients that I love about epic fantasy. Kihrin is a very sympathetic hero, and there are enough side characters with their own personalities to flesh out the story. There’s an extensive cosmogony, and the world that the characters inhabit is a once beautiful, deadly, and cruel. This is the sort of novel in which you can truly lose yourself, as you become invested both in the hero’s journey and in the world in which it takes place.

What’s more, it’s told in a very lively and engaging fashion that actually had me laughing out loud a couple of times. It’s not just that Kihrin is an irreverent character–though that is true–it’s also that the other characters are as well. What’s more, there are footnotes scattered throughout, all of which come from the compiler of Kihrin’s story. While these sometimes provide useful context for what’s happening in the story, just as often they’re witty or amusing asides and commentary about what is happening. They are very amusing, but they can also be a bit distracting at times (as is often the case when people choose to use footnotes in fiction).

Much as I enjoyed this book, however, I do think that sometimes it does get a bit self-indulgent with its complexity. It can sometimes get a little bewildering trying to sort through the various social structures, magic systems, and goddesses. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that so many of them have very similar-sounding names, which can get a bit bewildering at times. Just as importantly, there are some aspects of the narrative itself that can get a bit bewildering, as there are quite a few twists and turns along the way. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but it is definitely something to keep in mind as you start to read.

While some reviewers have really come down hard on the choice to have the novel toggle between three different periods of time–the time of the compiler, the frame narrative, and the time of the main action of the story–I think that this is actually one of the novel’s more interesting moves. Admittedly, it does get a bit confusing at times, trying to piece together this fragmented story, and I’m not entirely sure I understand the point of telling the story in this way.

However, since ornateness is hardly unique to Lyons (Brandon Sanderson comes to mind as someone else who gets a little indulgent in this regard), I won’t hold her to account too much. It just means that, as you read, you want to either keep a running tab of the various mentions of characters (the book contains a glossary, but sometimes it’s helpful to keep your own notes), or actually outline what’s going on. Alternatively, you can follow my method, which is to just keep moving forward and assume (rightly, I think) that the numerous conundrums will be resolved in the end.

Overall, I very much enjoyed The Ruin of Kings. By the time that the novel ended, I was left hungering for more. Lucky for me, the sequel, The Name of All Things, has already been released, so I can’t wait to devour it and report back to you on my findings.

Stay tuned!