The Wall of Storms.
5 stars out of 5.
In the much-anticipated sequel to the magnificent fantasy epic (NPR) “Grace of Kings,” Emperor Kuni Garu is faced with the invasion of an invincible army in his kingdom and must quickly find a way to defeat the intruders.
Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, runs the archipelago kingdom of Dara, but struggles to maintain progress while serving the demands of the people and his vision. Then an unexpected invading force from the Lyucu empire in the far distant west comes to the shores of Dara and chaos results.
But Emperor Kuni cannot go and lead his kingdom against the threat himself with his recently healed empire fraying at the seams, so he sends the only people he trusts to be Dara s savvy and cunning hopes against the invincible invaders: his children, now grown and ready to make their mark on history.”
I received a free copy of the book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Wall of Storms is the second book in Ken Liu’s ancient Chinese inspired steampunk/silkpunk epic fantasy series The Dandelion Dynasty trilogy.
To briefly explain the story, the book starts off sedately with the royal children Timu, Phyro, Thera and their younger sibling Fara in a tavern, they have sneaked out of the palace and are listening to a storyteller regal them with tales of the legendary warrior Hegemon Mata Zyndu. The Hegemon was one of the legendary figures in the uprising that took place against Emperor Mapidiere until he was betrayed by his closest friend Kuni Garu and the now Emperor Ragin. Due to the nature of the stories and the fashion in which they are being told a fellow tavern patron attempts to start trouble by claiming that the stories are treasonous towards the new Emperor and that the storyteller and everyone in the tavern should pay him to keep quite lest he report them all for treason. This is used as the set up to bring in a new character to the series, Zomi Kidosu, a young women who also happens to be in the tavern and is in Pan to sit the newly formed Imperial Examinations.
Zomi’s story predominantly takes up the entire first half of the book as we alternate between flashback chapters of her past and childhood as a peasant, her subsequent meeting and travels with Luan Zya and finally the journey she takes culminating in her getting into the Imperial Examinations. With current chapters that focus on her and the other main characters involved in the story which are used to show how both Dara and the characters have changed and developed over the years since the first book took place. There’s also explanations for the events that transpire in the second part of the book as Mapidiere’s quest for a longer life comes back to haunt the whole of Dara.
The second part of the book ramps up the action focusing both on a rebellion taking place within Dara and on an unknown invasion force that have come through the wall of storms and is also attacking Dara. Meaning that Dara is being attacked from two separate fronts and Emperor Ragin, Empress Jia, Consort Risana, the Emperor’s children, Zomi and others have to defend not only Dara from the rebellion from within but also this strange fleet of invaders attacking from across the sea.
The characters and their characterisation and development within the book are top quality. Liu has created a massive cast of characters to populate Dara and his trilogy and he manages perfectly to make them all different, giving each of them their own unique voice, thoughts and reasons for doing what they do with added history between the various characters and their intertwining relationships adding to the complexity. That’s no small feat with so many characters taking up page time and Liu deserves praise for accomplishing this. And, for giving you the reader characters that you really care about or dislike in equal measure, you have those that you will root for and those that you will want to see get their comeuppance.
There’s many standout characters that the story revolves around and to choose from in the book but I’d have to pick Zomi, Thera, Luan, Kuni and Tenryo as my favourites.
The world building, history and lore is of the highest standard you could want. I read alot of fantasy and the world Liu has created is grandiose and sprawling in scale, epic and richly detailed in every way, it truly is one of the best that I have read.
The wall of storms of the title is an ingenious idea, it is an impenetrable wall of typhoons that separates the world of Dara with that of the Lyucu and is only briefly opened allowing the Lyucu passage through on their way to conquer Dara. With this Liu yet again creates another new world, that of the Lyucu who have a very different way of life and living to Dara, creating a completely different culture to that of Dara.
On a whole the peoples of Dara are a civilised, philosophical and scholarly bunch with an intricate society built on the ways of thinking and beliefs of various ancient philosophers. Living in a land of luxury with abundant resources, technological advancement, food and amenities. Whilst the Lyucu are the complete opposite, if the people of Dara are soft then the Lyucu are hard, coming across as far less cultured, learned and more barbaric in nature who in their home land constantly struggle to survive. They favour stone and bone weapons and barbarian tactics of marauding hordes of large numbers to achieve their goal of the capitulation of Dara. They are led by the cunning and more than capable Lyucu equivalent of an Emperor in Pekyu Tenryo and his devious daughter Vadyu/Tanvanaki who are a more than able match for the great minds in charge of Dara’s defence. One of the main aspects of the Lyucu is that everyone who is able to including women, fights. This doesn’t happen in Dara with women being more like wives and mothers, though Empress Jia and Consort Risana are two exceptions to this rule as is Gin Mazoti the military genius but on the whole women don’t fight and suffer from some prejudice and objectification that both they and their ideas are not worthy. This is one of the many standout points during the book, the changing of Dara’s view on women, Emperor Ragin began to change the old Dara and move it forward with amongst other things the Imperial Examinations and Zomi and Ragin’s own daughter Thera help to break the stereotype of women in the book and in Dara by going against the grain and being integral defenders of Dara with valid ideas and voices. The Lyucu also have Garinafin, herbivore like creatures that breathe fire, these beasts turn the tides in the battles and counter the airships that Dara has. Leaving the minds of Dara to work together to come up with plans and strategies to negate the Garinafin, some of the plans are ingenious, coming from the most unlikely of sources and you see that sometimes you need to look to the past to see the future. With the rebellion already taking place in Dara, it has become fractured yet with the new threat of the Lyucu, the people need to unite together to face this grave new threat and save their way of life.
The writing contained within The Wall of Storms is excellent, it is a very long book with lots of words used to tell the story. It is at times slightly verbose and while that may detract from other books and be detrimental to the story being told in them, with this book it has the opposite effect as Liu’s poetic and loquacious prose and often vivid descriptions really draw you in to the stories being told. The pacing of The Wall of Storms is really good to. Not too much happens in the first part of the book, it’s very intimate and character driven, as I mentioned earlier in my review its main aim in both the present and by the use of flashback chapters is to introduce the new character of Zomi Kidosu, and also to bring you the reader upto speed on what’s been happening under Emperor Ragin’s reign. It’s a very interesting start and while it’s slow it never feels ponderous thanks to the deft writing and the little nuances that Liu adds hinting at the broader picture to come and pushing the story forward. With the second part of the book and the Lyucu invasion, this is when the action really picks up and from the descriptive, languid and sedate beginning your thrown into some truly epic fights and conflicts which are a pleasure to read as Liu shows he’s not just masterly writer of the calm before the storm but that he can also nail the all important in fantasy brutal action and battle scenes to. There’s also humour to be found within Liu’s writing to, one of the best bits canbe read late on in the book and involves too much boiled cabbage and yes, that had me smiling!
I have to admit to you all that while I received a copy of this book from the publisher it was in fact surprise book post that I hadn’t actually asked for, as revelation time……I hadn’t read the first book The Grace of Kings. That’s technically a lie as I started reading the book but gave up on it after a couple of hundred pages. So, it was with trepidation that I started The Wall of Storms, the Garinafin skull on the cover subliminally called to me telling me to read it! And so, I decided that I needed to give The Wall of Storms a chance. Well, boy am I glad I did! It even left me questioning why I didn’t finish The Grace of Kings, alas, I’m not as young as I once was and can’t remember the reason why I gave up on it.
It took me around 50 pages to become acquainted with the characters involved in The Wall of Storms but in a 850 page book that’s such a small number it’s trivial. If you do go into this book without having first read The Grace of Kings then I’d suggest that you browse that books Goodreads page and read some of the reviews found there to help you understand what’s previously happened, what’s going on and who some of the characters are. But, you can definitely read this book without having read the previous one first, it just takes you longer to understand the relationships between the characters and what’s going on. I’m sure there might be some of you out there who will grumble over the fact that I’m giving The Wall of Storms 5 stars out of 5 and the highest rating I can after not finishing the first book in the series. And, while you may technically have a point it needs to be wrote that I am reviewing this book simply on how much I enjoyed reading this particular book.
I do feel the need to apologise to Ken Liu the author as I know that my review doesn’t do this book the justice it deserves. For fantasy fans this book is a must read and you need to add it to your TBR lists now! Other book lovers to will also find alot to like in The Wall of Storms, with the ancient Chinese influence abounding throughout it’s also the ideal read for historical fiction fans as Liu merges together that ancient culture and fantasy to perfection. And, for anyone else just wanting to try a different genre and looking for something different, well look no further as there’s a great book right here that deserves your attention.
The Wall of Storms has everything you could want in a book from the fantasy genre, a huge cast of well-developed and engaging characters, a complex world, ingenious creations and inventions and finally to hold it all together a multifaceted story full of emotion, betrayal, philosophy, political machinations, meddling gods, war and change that spans years with an ending that leaves you yearning for the next book in the trilogy as you want to see where Liu next takes his story.
Winter is coming – yes, I went there! But, with the changing seasons, it’s getting colder, darker, the nights are drawing in and becoming longer. Meaning it’s the perfect time to pick-up an epic tome and lose yourself in a sweeping and majestic engrossing fantasy world.
The Wall of Storms is one of the fantasy books of 2016, simply put it’s not just a book that you read, it’s a journey that you take and is highly recommended.
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