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Monday, August 31, 2020

Kings Of Heaven by Richard Nell (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order Kings Of Heaven over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of Paradise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Kings Of  Ash
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The God King's Legacy
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Richard Nell
Read Fantasy Book Critic's The God King's Legacy Cover Reveal Q&A 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. His books mix his love of history and ideas with the epic glory of fantasy, because reality could use some sprucing up.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: In the final book of the Ash and Sand trilogy, Ruka, son of Beyla, faces the emperor of the world, yet even victory may not save his people…

With the death of his ally, Farahi Alaku, Ruka ‘Godtongue’ is alone. Or not exactly… The island prince Kale Alaku now haunts his mind, rattling within his once peaceful ‘Grove’, promising revenge and growing every moment in power. Meanwhile, the Pyu isles are in chaos; the coastal kingdom of the Tong is still Ruka’s enemy, and every day that passes brings the empire closer to destroying his dream of a new world for his people.

Once again, the son of Beyla will need the strength of his dark twin, Bukayag. Perhaps together they can unite three peoples, gather an army of ash, and defend or destroy their way to peace. But in the end, there can be only one king of heaven…

FORMAT/INFO: Kings Of Heaven is 411 pages long divided over forty-three chapters with a prologue & an epilogue. Narration is in the third person omniscient view via Ruka, Kale, Osco, Dala & a few other characters. This is the last volume of the Ash and Sand trilogy.

The book will be self-published by the author on September 1, 2020 and it's available as an e-book and paperback. Cover art and design is provided by Derek Murphy.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Kings Of Heaven is the long awaited ending to the Ash And Sand trilogy. It’s a book which I was itching to read from when I finished Kings Of Ash in 2019. The trilogy ending was very unusual for a couple of reasons as the series’ genre had changed from low to epic fantasy in the last volume and also the proverbial Kane vs Abel storyline had come to its conclusion in the climax of Kings Of Ash. I was curious to see what the hell the author would do with this volume considering the monumental changes he had enacted in the preceding title.

For one, this book is mightily different than its predecessors by the fact that there are no dual timelines within it. It entirely takes place in a singular timepoint which is the aftermath of the climax of Kings Of Ash. Things are upended in the lands of the Ascom as well as the Pyu islands and there’s an imminent threat of an invasion from the northern continent. Ruka finds himself in a big bind as his plans with Farahi are now in tatters due to Kale’s actions. However the wheels of change are already set and there’s no going back. He’s got to try to prepare for the northern continent invasion as well as the inhabitant in his mental grove who’s causing him headaches. Overall this story gets as epic as possible.

Let’s talk about why this story is so spectacular. The plot is completely streamlined to where we as the readers are taken for a thrilling ride beginning from chapter one leading all the way until the fantastic epilogue. This book similarly to Kings Of Ash is all about Ruka however in this book we get a brand new POV character as well as a return of another POV character from book 1. My favourite character Dala also returns and gets a bigger role than the previous book and she gets another chance to show her pragmatic intelligence. We get a look into the horse tribes’ culture in the lands of the Ascom and that was an interesting interlude. The characterization is top notch as ever and beginning with Ruka, who has been working his body and mind to utter exhaustion with his plan to help his people escape the land of Ash for a warmer climate and more habitable lands up north. There’s also Kale who’s present in Ruka’s mental grove and has now slowly started talking back. This leads to some fun conversations between a killer and his victim and some very interesting thoughts about the nature of the Grove, its place in reality and how it interacts with the actual world. Kale is a more subdued persona but he still has his magic and his rage is ever present.

We get a brilliant new POV from Osco the mesanite who is back in his home city and is now shanghaied into helping the Naranian emperor lead his conquest towards Tong and the rest of the island nations. We are reacquainted with Egil who as we know has become a family man but yet hasn’t lost his thirst for adventure. While there are others who don’t get a POV but are thrilling to read, this list begins with Kikay who’s dangerous more than ever as now she’s lost Farahi’s calming guidance. There’s also Tane who finds himself atop the Alaku throne and has to rely on his supposed enemies to save him. There’s princess Lani who has the most to lose as she’s already lost her love and now finds her homeland in dire danger. There’s also Arun, deadly and ever in the mix of events. All of these folks and several others find themselves in the midst of a titanic struggle. The characterization singlehandedly elevates this (and the previous) volumes from its simple premise into something brilliant.

The book has a quiet buildup to a siege storyline and I love sieges. Richard Nell really does his best to build up an effective first climax with this plot line and we get to see the conflict from both sides due to the dual POVs utilized. I loved this aspect and believe me the siege gets very, very brutal but at the same time, it moves along quickly and there’s a fabulous end to it. I must highlight that here the author does something even cooler with Ruka’s powers and while it hasn’t been done before, the event will send a chill up anyone’s spine. Also that moment needs a soundtrack like this one.

This trilogy has had an interesting genre shift in terms of magic usage. Kings Of Paradise was a low fantasy story and it was in Kings Of Ash that the magic system really got a boost and the trilogy genre kicked into the “epic” gear with both Ruka and Kale. In this book, there’s some wild (and I mean WILD) moments that will have you saying WTF in the best way possible as well as some truly chilling ones. The author really does build Ruka up to be a superman of sorts but then we get a look into things from his perspective and then those same events don’t seem so superhuman.

The pace of the book is very streamlined and beginning with a quiet sort, the plot’s threads slowly start twisting into an explosive tapestry that come together brilliantly towards the end. This book is also the smallest of the entire trilogy and while that’s definitely going against the epic fantasy norms. I believe it helps with its streamlined pace as the book’s plot is kept on a linear track with everything building up towards its dual climaxes.

What I love ultimately about this trilogy is that while the nature of the world is definitely dark (maybe grimdark to some). The resolution is always about hope. Ruka’s hope towards solving all the life’s mysteries, saving his people and finally realizing that his birth isn’t a mistake. Dala’s hope for making sure that her people aren’t doomed to forever keep fighting and killing each other over small slights. Kale’s hope for keeping his remaining family safe and maybe even proving that he was a good person after all. Osco’s hope about saving his city state and his family from Naranian ambition. Kikay’s hope for saving the Alakus and finally becoming the savior she was meant to be. Egil’s hope for finally having a sound ending to his life and making sure his family are saved. These and many more of such hopes are tied along. Ultimately I think the author wanted to showcase that even when things are dark, it doesn’t mean that people should stop striving to improve their lot. Ultimately it’s about saving the Ascomi people from environmental doom and the Pyu islanders from imperial conquest. That has been the biggest drive for Ruka and Farahi and this book really pays off on those angles.

The series has never been much for humour except the gallows kind and in this book we get some gems here and there. One particular instance is about what Osco does to neutralize a possible future threat from Ruka and that bit was just hilarious to read. Lastly I do want to highlight the epilogue which is from a new character and I have to highlight uttermost Gemmellian in its scope. What I mean by that is the author does his best to tickle our heart strings as he shows what happens when the final killer arrives and does what’s bound to happen. Lastly the jerk of an author had the temerity to come up with an epitaph that rivals David Gemmell’s most heart-rending scene (cough*Jaime Graymuch*cough) from Ravenheart. After reading over 570K worth of words, he manages to put in a final blow to our hearts and open up our tear ducts effortlessly. He does this by humanizing Ruka/Bukayag, a complex monster-cum-savant who does horrible things and grand magic for the eventual goal of saving a people.

The only thing that didn’t quite pan out to my expectations was a proper explanation about the magic system namely the Nishad and the others. What was Ruka’s grove and who/what exactly was Bukayag? These questions don’t get answered neatly but such is life. This is a minor thing and very subjective.

CONCLUSION: Kings Of Heaven is a near perfect epic fantasy conclusion to one of the best self-published fantasy trilogies. Would I go so far to say it’s a classic in the making, yes, I would indeed. I hope Richard Nell keeps enthralling us more with his stories because if this debut trilogy is any indication, this guy is going to end up as one of the genre’s giants by the time he crosses 60.

NOTE: This review bring an end to the Kings Of Heaven blog tour and you can checkout the fabulous reviews at all the previous stops below. My thanks to Charles, Lynn, Petrik & Adam for their time, enthusiasm and commitment:

KOH blog tour day 1 = Adam at Fantasy Book Review
KOH blog tour day 2 = Petrik at Novel Notions
KOH blog tour day 3 = Lynn at Grimmedian
KOH blog tour day 4 = Charles at Booknest
KOH blog tour day 5 = FBC review



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