Kings of Paradise was my first read of the new year, and it set the bar high for everything to come after. I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed this book. This is dark, epic, and intimate fantasy that will linger with you for a while. It will give you thrills and make you shudder; it will pose questions and make you ponder them.
This is self-published fantasy at some of it’s best. I just wish I’d read it sooner…
Click Here For Goodreads Synopsis: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. Ruka, called a demon at birth, is a genius. Born malformed and ugly into the snow-covered wasteland of the Ascom, he was spared from death by his mother’s love. Now he is an outcast, consumed with hate for those who’ve wronged him. But to take his vengeance, he must first survive. Across a vast sea in the white-sand island paradise of Sri Kon, Kale is fourth and youngest son of the Sorcerer King. And at sixteen, Kale is a disappointment. As the first prince ever forced to serve with low-born marines, Kale must prove himself and become a man, or else lose all chance of a worthy future, and any hope to win the love of his life. Though they do not know it, both boys are on the cusp of discovery. Their worlds and lives are destined for greatness, or ruin. But in a changing world where ash meets paradise, only one man can be king… The first installment of an epic, low- fantasy trilogy. Kings of Paradise is a dark, bloody, coming-of-age story shaped by culture, politics, and magic.
I’ve been trying to be better about keeping my reviews from running too long…but brace yourself because there was a LOT that I loved about Kings of Paradise.
What I Liked
- Dark, gritty, gory, and heavy
- World building
- Pacing (it builds slowly but the last couple hundred pages really flow)
- Theme: fighting corruption and oppression each by different approaches and means
- Theme: The lengths you’ll go to survive
I sat down in my recliner next to the fire in early January to start reading Kings of Paradise. I was comfortable. I was calm. I was eager to see what this book that so many reviewers had already raved about had to offer. I read the first paragraph, closed the book, and set it down. I immediately posted to Twitter and Goodreads, “yeah that got dark real quick.” It isn’t often a book opens with a little cannibalism as a means to hook the reader and Richard Nell doesn’t stop there. Kings of Paradise is dark, it’s gory, it’s heavy. If you don’t like these attributes you probably won’t like this read. But if you do, well…I think you’ll love this read. It has opening page cannibalism, murder, suffering, injustice, and a boy who creates a world in his mind to house all the people he’s killed…you know, in order to help him be a better killer. Some of you are asking me, “why would I want to read THAT?” and my answer is some of you won’t and that’s all good. I would also answer that it is what Nell does with all the darkness, what he presents with the characters, the questions he poses with his themes, that make this such a compelling read.
So let’s talk characters a bit. There are three main POV characters and a few others that get a POV here and there. These characters are split between two different parts of the same world. Ruka and Dala exist in a land that is cold and harsh. A matriarchal society where it is a struggle to live. They are outsiders, low born, who are just trying to survive any way they can and will fight in order to do so. Kale on the other hand is a prince in what is almost an island paradise. He doesn’t want for much but does want to be able to live life as he wants it, not as it’s dictated by his station. Nell does a fantastic job of imbuing each of these characters with desires and fears that are heavily impacted by their stations and lived history. They each want something something different and must fight to get it, just in different ways. They are complex and compelling. I loved each of them even while I at times disliked them.
The world building in Kings of Paradise is so well done and serves to undergird and frame the narrative perfectly. It is a world of opposites, a Land of Ash and an island paradise. The people of each are bound by history and circumstance. Nell uses these opposites to drive the actions of the characters and to limit them. But what I found equally compelling was the way I could feel these two lands as I read. I felt like I was experiencing them in some part as I read each character’s narrative; one cold and harsh, a realm that will grind you down until you die and turn to ash; the other warm and inviting, though with a cruel undercurrent for which you must stay ever watchful. There are old gods, mysterious magics, and deep power ready to bubble to the surface. This is a world where myth and legend and superstition still plays an important part in every day society. All of it comes together to weave together the threads of a complex world the characters inhabit.
The pacing is an area that might put some people off. This is a book that is basically 600 pages. It starts slow and builds as it goes. If you don’t like a slow build you might get a little frustrated. There is action and drama throughout and partial reveals sprinkled in here and there to push the story along. You spend a long time wondering how the story lines are interconnected as the events of the book occur in two completely separate lands a world apart. The gaps are filled in with character development and back story so that you get a better understanding of who these people are and their motivations and fears. This takes time to develop but it’s worth it in the end. As the story reaches the last couple hundred pages the pacing picks up speed and things get more and more exciting until finally you discover the connection between the story lines and things come to a dramatic conclusion. Though I spent some time wondering where things were gong and how the book would connect the two narratives it really paid off in the end.
“I will destroy this land of ash, and make my followers kings in paradise.”p. 509
Then there were the themes that undergird the story and the questions they raise. One constant is the idea of fighting corruption and oppression. Each of the main characters identifies with this theme and each goes about the challenge in their own way. You’ll admire them and despise them each for some of the methods they employ. Another predominant theme is the lengths one will go to in order to survive. It hits your right in your face on page one and really doesn’t stop until the very last. The dark elements I noted above are woven in and among these themes as the protagonists play out their part in the narrative and you the reader are left constantly wondering whether good or evil will win out in the story and in the character’s lives. Because fighting oppression can sometimes lead to more oppression, and some people will go to extreme lengths in order to survive. And then if you decide to throw a little revenge in the mix…well…who knows what will come of it?
What I Didn’t Like
- Some long POV sections
- Shifts between POV sections
First let me say there was very little I didn’t like about Kings of Paradise. The only thing I can really think of (if I’m forcing myself) were some long POV sections and the shifts between them. At times some of the POV narratives would go on for a while and I would find myself wanting to know what was going on with other characters. And at times the shift between these POVs would feel a little jarring with some time changes that took a moment to figure out. But these were not major issues for me and I quickly fell back into the read.
I LOVED this book. That’s all there is to it. From the very first paragraph where I said to myself “Ok…that got dark quick” to the very last I was just carried away by this story. At first I wondered if it was going to be too dark…I mean the opening page isn’t what I expected AT ALL. But I was very surprised how much I felt the darkness fit and made sense and it was broken up enough by periods of light that I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I was surprised at how much I was drawn to some characters I really didn’t want to like. But I did. There were times I went from liking a character, to hating them, to liking them once more. There were others I couldn’t get enough of. Then there’s the story as a whole. It’s was dark and visceral and intense. Yet it also gave me hope; hope that the evil in the world would not prevail, even when evil means might be used to fight evil, that somehow the good will shine through in the end. I’ll be picking up a copy of Kings of Ash (Ash and Sand #2) soon because I just HAVE to know where this story is going.
*I received a copy of this book from the author.
Author: Richard Nell
Series: Ash and Sand #1
Publication Date: August 8, 2017