A surprisily powerful dark tale. Full of desperation, blood, and sacrifice.
A deformed genius plots vengeance while struggling to survive. A wastrel prince comes of age, finding a power he never imagined. Two worlds are destined to collide. Only one can be king.
Already well into reading Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell when SPFBO4 opened and I was delighted to see it appear in the entrants for this year’s competition. Richard Nell had contacted me through the TBRindr database set up at The Weatherwax Report to match potential reviewers with authors whose work fits the preferences of each. So far, it’s been funneling books my way that I have genuinely enjoyed and Kings of Paradise fit the bill, then surprised me with the quality of the work I found within the pages. I can’t wait to see how the SPFBO judges, The Alliterates, find the novel.
Told from three major point of views, Ruka is the main core of the story, and it’s his actions that result in the entwined paths of the cast. The Grimdark rating on Rukas’s story arc is fairly high. His world, and his actions, are by far the harshest and most violent of the three. Deformed of face, known as Noss touched, with an eidetic memory and such genius that he spoke before he could walk. He and his mother lived on the fringe of survival where she gifted him with the Book of Galdra, words of the prophetess and all the legends of old, and taught him the runes within its pages. His journey from adoring child to ruthless killer is riveting. Outlawed and alone, he now seeks to defeat the Gods.Ruka stared at the corpse of the boy he’d killed, and his stomach growled. He built a small fire despite the risk, cutting off the limb-flesh with his sharpest knife, placing it in his iron pot with thyme. He added the heart whole with salt, and water from his sheep-skin, slicing off the cheeks to cook on sticks at once. He closed his eyes and chewed as the heat and juices quieted his stomach. Not the plan, he thought, but meat is meat.
Dala’s story begins with her crossing paths with Ruka. She is also Noss touched, and left to die in the harsh wilds by her own father. Her situation is as desperate after the encounter as Ruka’s in her dire need, but the matriarchal power of the priestess ruled land of ash is her way out of destitution. For Ruka, seeing the destruction of the priestess’ ancient hold over men is his driving force. For Dala, becoming a part of their ranks is the only way she can fight against their power and privilege.
Kale’s story arc is also deeply revealing. The wastrel prince, a disappointing fourth son of the Sorcerer King in the tropical island of Sri Kon, he finds a lonely and harsh life as a lowly recruit of the King’s navy. He must learn to make allies to overcome an officer determined to ruin him still further in the eyes of the King. The bonds of harsh military training and brotherhood with the other recruits will change this boy to a man. He still manages, in his own way as an impetuous teen, to anger the King further at every turn. He learns too late that his actions have the impact of ruining lives, and endangering the safety of the kingdom itself. When he aids a waylaid emissary, he unknowingly steps into a political scheme that will take him on a strange path of learning and power.
The novel is told from these three major points of view characters, in the beginning unrelated, but headed for an intricately told arc gradually bringing them together. The book is divided into sections based on point of view, the time line distinguished by the seasons. The land of Ash is home to Dala and Ruka, with the land of Sand being the islands of Sri Kon where Kale’s story has a decidedly asian theme in it’s monarchy and life styles. The point of view changes may be the only uneasy point in the flow of this book. The changing points of view which may spend a great deal more time with one character arc than another. That pacing is irregular and seems unrelated at times. The reader may not figure out why they’ve been taken from one character arc to another, but these little jolts are better spaced the further into the book one reads and the closer the threads weave together. Patience will pay in this case, as it is worth it as the story draws the protaganists tighter together.
That these characters are so compelling that you don’t want the POV to change is a plus. For others, POV chapters with a character they can’t connect with, may detract from their reading experience. I found them all quite absorbing. The writing is excellent, the book has been well-edited, and this is a very compelling story.
The main characters have been placed in situations which require the most despicable of actions for them to survive. Every circumstance is quite different from the others, and seems unrelated initially, except in their level of desperation. As the book opens with an act of cannibalism, the tone is set at the very beginning for this truly dark epic fantasy.
The world building is done through the experiences of the protagonists, and is detailed enough to be an ever-present threat to their existence. The dark, freezing lands of the south of the continent of Ash, with the priestess ruled cities of the northern parts of the land, and the tropical oppressive heat of the sandy islands of Sri Kon across the sea. When these two worlds collide, there will be only one who can triumph.
Recommended for lovers of Grimdark, with highly developed characters and an epic scope.
About the author:
Kings of Paradise is Winner of the 2018 IRDA for fantasy #1 Best Seller in Canadian Dark Fantasy,
Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to ‘write full-time’. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes sure he eats. His novel, Kings of Paradise, is the first of an epic fantasy trilogy. It’s officially a Canadian Amazon bestseller in dark fantasy, and available now on Amazon.