Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (2015)

Shhhhh... don't tell anyone... but....

I don't think I like fantasy anymore.

And maybe I never did.

Ken Liu came highly recommended by various review sources.  I read Tor on a pretty regular basis, and get reading recommendations from there frequently. That's probably where I read about The Grace of Kings and thought "that sounds really good."

Except, when I started reading, I just could not connect with it.  The writing was not bad (although I thought it was simplistic and stark).   But after only a few pages into it, I knew I was not going to ever fall head over heels into the book. In fact, reading it was a chore.  There were so many strange names of people and places, and history I had to remember, that I kept getting confused.

Perhaps my brain has grown rusty.  Also, research is (frighteningly) showing that smart phones are making us dumber.  Perhaps, like everyone else, I've become dumb.

But thinking back to my reading history, I've never, ever liked this type of fantasy.  Why did I suddenly think I would like it now?  

Tolkien was my launchpad into epic fantasy.  That is probably is true for many people my age and older.  I can't think of a single other epic fantasy, however, that I ever read and liked.  I belonged to a science fiction and fantasy bookclub for a while growing up, and I remember getting some of the Shannara series by Terry Brooks.  I would sit down and try to read the first book in that series (was it the Sword of Shannara?) every once in a while, and never be able to actually finish (granted, even then I thought Shannara was the poor man's LOTR, a cheap knockoff).  But I tried to read other epic fantasies too - usually suggested by other readers who swore I would like it.  My neighbor's dad tried to get me to read the Thomas Covenant series (nope).  Several friends my senior year of high school - my dungeons and dragons buddies (yes, I had those back then) - liked Roger Zelazny's Amber series (nope).  About 15 years ago, as a teen librarian one of my young adult customers got me to try to read George R.R. Martin (nope, and I don't really like Game of Thrones either).  Epic fantasy leaves me cold every time. I loved this book by Lawrence Watt-Evans called Ithalin's Restoration; but when I tried to read others in the epic series - nope.  Robert Jordan always looked too damn big - extra nope for that.  David Eddings - nope.  I had some of those Dragonlance books growing up as well, and never could get into them completely either.

Why Tolkien and not all of these other authors? Maybe Tolkien holds a nostalgic place in my reading history.  Actually, the more epic Tolkien gets, the less I like the books:  The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring (and parts of The Two Towers) are the least epic in the series.  It took me years to be able to get beyond the first book of The Two Towers and finish the entire series.  I know for a while, I was a mad Tolkien-phile - but that didn't change the fact that The Return of the King was always my least favorite and (gulp) sometimes felt like a slog.

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