My name is Wen Alder. My name is Foolish Cur.
All my life, I have been torn between two legacies: that of my father, whose roots trace back to the right hand of the Emperor. That of my mother’s family, who reject the oppressive Empire and embrace the resistance.
I can choose between them – between protecting my family, or protecting my people – or I can search out a better path . . . a magical path, filled with secrets, unbound by Empire or resistance, which could shake my world to its very foundation.
But my search for freedom will entangle me in a war between the gods themselves . . .
First, I’d like to thank Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for providing me the beautiful ARC – it in no way effected my review.
Hand of the Sun King is the brand new, erudite voice of an epic fantasy that sweeps you away into an empire reminiscent of ancient China, teeming with culture, doused in war, political intrigue, ancient proverb, philosophy, and a magic system that shares its roots with many others, but strikes out its own path in the genre. It’s for fans of the Poppy War who like their books a little more tame, and a little more hopeful, and for those who loved the Bone Daughter and its dive into traditional intricacies, and intricate plot.
Wen Alder, our conflicted main character, had two paths ahead of him: bend knee to the Sienese Empire that’s consuming all, or resist as his grandmother, uncle and some of the other Nayeni who now fight the clutch of an empire that’s waiting to control them, and consume their magic. It’s a plot full of magic and gods, and grand fights of flame and lightning, but the pace is such that it takes its time getting there. Not that it bores on the way, but instead it’s a wondrous treat of the inner workings of the empire; where we find, with Alder, that the empire may not be so bad. There’s a real depth of writing and worldbuilding here where we see Alder part of trade policy, wrapped in politics. I can appreciate the craft, but politics is never my cup of tea, not especially when I am trying to escape the real world – so when Alder swaps sword for pen, for a while, and the plot slowed, I found my intrigue waning. That’s not to say the writing wasn’t still amazing. Deliberate, simple yet effective prose that evokes crystal clear pictures in the mind is a strength of Greathouse’s so even still it gripped me. It pulled me through the mundane with a promise that it was not all what was to come. In the last twenty percent of the book, it really ramped up the magic, the gods, and everything a fantasy fan of my ilk was waiting for. And if you’re happy to spend two-thirds of a book wrapped in culture and character, it’ll certainly pay off.
Now, I mentioned character briefly and want to speak about it a little more as Greathouse has a fantastic way of making you care. The book is just over four-hundred pages long (well, the ARC is) and yet we cover spans of years. We see Alder go from boy to man and within that relationships that may be fleeting in page-count are not so in the mind of the reader. From friendships like he finds in Oriole and love or passion he finds with Atar and in companionship he finds in Doctor Shoo, it builds a picture of the boy who wants to belong. These moments are those you’re happiest for Alder, the way in which they act are real, human. And the way in which they’re used against the reader are effective and painful. I loved watching Alder wave his way through relationships while juggling the mundane and learning the supernatural. It’s not an easy balance to get, but one Greathouse achieved effortlessly.
The hero’s journey is very prevalent in this novel, since we see Alder grow from a little boy to a man who comes into the largess of his … responsibility? Should we say. Without giving too much away, he learns first magic and power, and second the way in such it should be wielded. Nearing the end, I loved how Greathouse paid particular attention to the way the magic system works and especially how world belief and having the right thought-process effects this. It’s not often we see a system where the character’s motivations can directly affect it in such an overt and blatant way – I really do look forward to where he goes with it.
Overall, if you love fantasy with themes, magic, and character-types of old, but with a unique voice of its own, this is the book for you. It was one of my most anticipate novels of this year, and it certainly didn’t let me down.