“I want a world where love is not a crime, Priestess, a world where children are not doomed to misery because they are different. I want only laws with mercy, and justice, and wisdom…but I will settle for your pink insides in my palm, and your brains on a rock.”
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Kings of Paradise is the story of Ruka, a deformed genius hated by his people since the moment he was born, and Kale, a wastrel fourth son of the king with no direction in life. These two characters are polar opposites in so many ways from the environment in which they were brought up, what their societies expected of them, and how they responded to hardships. What their stories had in common though was a theme of adversity and the suffering of people that don’t deserve it but they come at the same problems from very different perspectives.
This book had so many things that I absolutely love to read: an intricately woven plot that took its time to weave in memorable details, exploration of leadership and morality themes, and amazingly well-developed characters including a remarkably written sympathetic villain and an interesting, dynamic female character. From early on in this book, I knew I would not be able to anticipate everything and there was a good chance that in GRRM style, not every character was safe.
Sympathetic villains are a difficult note to hit just right. Too sympathetic and they aren’t really a villain anymore. Too villainous and the reader can lose the ability to sympathize with them. Richard Nell takes us through his entire life story, showing us in very emotional scenes why Ruka has chosen the path that he has. He is still a villain. The things that he does are not good things. But deep down, he remains the little boy that just wants his mother and I was easily able to sympathize with him for that.
Kale is a little bit more similar to many fantasy heroes but he is also amazingly written which made me love reading his POV chapters. Where Ruka grew up in a land where food is somewhat scarce, Kale is a prince and so never lacked for anything except his father’s love and attention. While he does suffer in the book, it is in a different way than Ruka. His trials come more in the form of passing rigged navy tests, getting the girl, and training with monks. While he did not suffer in the way that Ruka did, Kale had a tendency to look inward when faced with adversity which made him the light to Ruka’s darkness.
The world created in this book and all the various cultures that intersected in it were equally amazing. Some were Norse-inspired while others showed influence from southeast Asian cultures. One had a matriarchal society that was honestly fascinating to read about.
Kings of Paradise is ambitious and brilliant. This is not a book for the faint of heart and it is one of the best books that I have had the pleasure of reading this year.