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Friday, May 3, 2019

Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order Kings of Paradise over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Richard Nell

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: 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.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A deformed genius plots vengeance while struggling to survive. A wastrel prince comes of age, finding a power he never imagined. Two worlds will collide. Only one can be king.

FORMAT/INFO: Kings of Paradise is 608 pages long divided over fifty chapters. This is the first volume of the Ash and Sand series.

The book was self-published by the author on August 8th, 2017 and it's available as an e-book. Cover art and design is provided by Derek Murphy.

ANALYSIS (Lukasz)Making me read a large, weighty book that counts more than six hundred pages is almost impossible. Even bribery doesn't work. And yet I reached for Kings of Paradise and couldn't put it down. 

It's brilliant. It's, undoubtedly, one of the best books I read this year*. The hype is real and high scores are well deserved.

Kings of Paradise is a dark and gritty coming-of-age story that follows multiple characters. Some of them are secondary and their chapters, while making the narrative more colorful, serve mainly to show three main characters through the eyes of others. 

Ruka is a beast. He's a deformed, twisted genius with an eidetic memory and bright, golden eyes of a wolf. He's a ruthless killer who won't hesitate to maim others or eat them when the food is in short supply. 

All of us experienced existential isolation before. The feeling that no other human being can comprehend who you truly are, no matter how close you become. Sure, it's depressing, but it's an experience that binds us all. Ruka, though, is alone in a way no other fantasy protagonist is. 

Born in the frozen, snow-covered wasteland of the Ascom—the land of ash—Ruka was spared from death at birth by his mother’s love. His childhood was cruel, he's lost everything he loved, and all he has left is a desire for vengeance. He struggles with psychological demons, and at times he behaves as a borderline schizo. And yet, he's one of the most complex and interesting characters I've ever met. In fact, he wants a better world, and he's ready to burn and break our wicked world to change the things.
I want a world where love is not a crime, where children are not doomed to misery because they are different. I want only laws with mercy, and justice, and wisdom.
I had goosebumps while reading the scene in which he said these words. 

Kale is a fourth son of the king Farahi. He's a good, innocent and likable protagonist. He has a high drive to be something, or do something, but he doesn't know what. He believes in people, looks for what's best for them and tries to make the world a better place. 

Unfortunately, his father, King Farahi is a cunning paranoid and Kale's life will soon become very dangerous and complicated. On the other hand, Kale may have some supernatural skills that come handy when he's in danger. I don't want to spoil it for you, but I loved Kale's Monastery trials and their unexpected consequences. Suffice to say, that he plays with the powers that can alter the very fabric of the world. I was literally glued to my Kindle when these powers were demonstrated**. 

Then, there's Dala. She's an intriguing heroine who goes through hell in her youth. When she joins a religious order, she hopes to make the world a better place. She isn't prepared for the godless, power-hungry people and their cold politics. But she learns fast, and to make a change, she's ready to stir a revolution and drown the streets in blood. I'm definitely interested in more of her story, and I believe my curiosity will be satisfied in sequels. 

Secondary characters were all done exceptionally well. They all have distinct traits and voices. Every single one of them. It takes some serious skills to make a reader feel this kind of visceral connection and, sometimes, dislike towards fictional characters, and Nell does it flawlessly. Damn impressive.

I find king Farahi fascinating - while he's not a caring parent role-model, his cold and cunning mind is impressive. Asna Fetlan Isha Fetnal is a killer, but his inner monologues, carefree attitude, and sarcastic remarks were humorous and made me crack a bit in the end. The scene was far from funny mind you, but Asna's voice was hilarious.

My favorite thing about Kings of Paradise was the amount of development the characters get and evolving relationships between them and their entourage. It's a surprisingly deep and layered story that pulls no punches. Despite things getting messy and gory, I never felt the violence served to shock the reader. Actually, it's the opposite - even the grittiest scenes helped the plot or character evolution. 

There's no single villain in the story; the conflict is centered around protagonists' beliefs and dreams colliding with the corrupted world and petty, power-hungry leaders playing politics. It was especially evident in religious orders pictured in Dala and Kale's storylines in which scholars, priests, and priestesses were sullying the sacred teachings with very mortal aims.


ANALYSIS (Mihir): Ruka Stared at the corpse of the boy he’d killed, and his stomach growled

As far as killer opening lines go, that one has to be one of the best ones. Not just in the epic fantasy genre but possibly all types of speculative fiction in the thirty-forty years. And yet with that singularly enigmatic line, Richard Nell introduces us to perhaps one of the most divisive POV characters ever written. Not only are we introduced to a brutal characters but also to a brutal world.

We get to see two world and through the eyes of three characters. The continent of Ascom and the Pyu islands along with its neighborly great continent. There three POV characters are:
- Ruka
- Kale
- Dala

We get to see Ruka as a young man and then we get to see why and what events lead to become a cannibal. We see Kale as a carefree prince who finds out truly where he stands in his father’s eyes and sets out to find himself. Dala is a girl forced to grow quickly due to the harsher living standards of the Ascommani and finds herself seeking change. These three characters are our three facets into these twin lands and the lifestyles within.

Right out of the bat, let me get this out of the way. This was my first Richard Nell book and it was such a stunning experience that I’ve become an ardent fan of his. The brutality within the characters lives, the ambiguity about the reason for conflict as well as the nature of the world. Richard skillfully raises questions and makes you wonder about the philosophical underpinnings of life and existence. All of this while giving us a rousing story and glorious, glorious characters.

First there was Joe Abercrombie, then came Mark Lawrence and now there’s Richard Nell but he goes above and beyond his peers by giving us characters who are perplexing to say the least. I couldn’t help but wonder who would survive between Logen Nine-Fingers and Ruka while between Jalan and Kale who would outwit the other. Such questions are inevitable but what’s not inevitable is Richard Nell’s ascent in the hallowed annals of epic fantasy along greats such as the aforementioned two alongside George R. R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker and others. His talent at providing human characters who perhaps do inhumane tasks and feeling the worse for it. None better encapsulate this fact than Dala and Ruka.

Ruka primarily is a wonderful case study as the author showcase all that has happened in his life and your heart melts at his plight during his childhood and teenage years. At the very same time, his brutality is scary beyond belief when he attains his Bukayag persona (like shit your pants scary). The author veritably plays with the readers hearts and minds as he makes us root for Ruka whilst he does horrible things. Very few can do such feats however Richard Nell is truly among the rare few folks such as Thomas Harris, and to a lesser degree Blake Crouch who make cannibalistic characters seem charismatic and scary. Ruka is very much a cross between Hannibal Lecter and the Bloody Nine in the sense that he shares Hannibal Lecter’s inexplicable brilliance while being simpatico with the bloodthirsty savagery of the Bloody Nine. To a certain degree he surpasses them both and is more complex than either character.

There’s also Dala who we learn is forced to undergo a different sort of hardship. A chance encounter with a killer makes her learn of her shortcomings and she understands what truly needs to be done for the salvation of the Ascomanni folks. She strives harder than ever and we get to see another brilliant mind at work whose zeal matches her drive to do what’s necessary to bring the required changes.
Kale in comparison to both of them, simply doesn’t shine to the same degree. That’s not to say this chapters or characterization is weak but compared to diamonds, a ruby or sapphire might not seem so brilliant. His chapters show his own struggle and eventual path realization. That’s what this 600 page book is all about, all of these characters recognizing what they truly are and all the steps that they take to get to their hearts contents.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this story would have faltered horribly or came of a very one-sided. Richard Nell is not one of those writers, he very carefully reveals each layer of the story while further twisting the knife on his characters. He doesn’t make them altruistic or heroic but he shows what they are truly capable of. Be it revenge, mass murder or societal change, no character is bereft of the their mental whims but they take the hard path and we the readers are rewarded for it. There's also the non-POV characters who are brilliantly etched and their actions certainly drive the story in interesting ways such as Beyla, Al Farahi, Amit, etc.

Lastly the world-building is definitely one to be highlighted. The author eschews the normal euro-centric pathways and gives us a culture that's slightly Nordic but has enough differing elements such as a matriarchal society to make it complexly unique. There's also the Pyu islands which distinctly has a south east Asian flavor and there's some Hindu names mixed in as well. All in all this book distinctly borrows from our world and the end product is a multivariate one that while seemingly similar is much different one. Kudos to Richard Nell for it and I can't wait to further delve in to the world and see how both the lands might be connected (if at all)

Is this a story without any faults, I don’t think so. The pace of the story due to its vast length cannot be said to be of a galloping kind. It’s not just possible within such a complex story. There are no vast battles or magic being thrown about by wizards. No but there’s action in it plenty of the personal kind. The savagery and brutality within makes this book one for adults and adults only. Perhaps my only complaint about this book is the lack of an eventual reveal about who or what Ruka is. However this is book 1 of a trilogy and supposedly good things come to those…

CONCLUSION (Lukasz): It won't be a surprise to anyone, but I loved the hell out of Kings of Paradise. It's not a joyous book - at times it's tragic and sad, and Ruka's story alone can make you reach for Prozac. It is, however, intelligently written and powerful book with stellar world-building and a fantastic cast of characters. The ending of Kings of Paradise can lead to numerous explosive developments. 

Which would mean little if I read, say, five mediocre books. This is not the case, though. So far I've read 102 books, and many of them were excellent. 
** A side-effect of my lifelong love for comic books and Marvel heroes

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