Buzz has been building for months behind Jenn Lyons’ debut The Ruin of Kings, and along the way, the epic fantasy series-starter has drawn comparisons to just about every one of your favorite authors.
Yes, you will find here the complex political machinations of George R.R. Martin, as well as the staggering scope of one of Brandon Sanderson’s works. Yes, the novel follows the sort of compellingly flawed characters V.E. Schwab is so good at making us fall for, and its unique mode of storytelling will delight fans of Patrick Rothfuss. Maybe you’re looking for a readalike for Brent Weeks or Peter V. Brett? This is the book for you, too.
Yet while all of the comparisons are well-earned, it’s unfair to reduce The Ruin of Kings to a litany of “a la” descriptors. This complicated, bombs-away doorstopper—and the enormous world it introduces—more than deserves lauding on its own unique merits.
Truly, fantasy faithful, it will knock your socks off.
For starters, let’s talk form and format: largely, Lyons tells her story in retrospect, via a conversation between a thief, Kihrin, and his not-altogether-human jailer, Talon. We’re given little opportunity to orient ourselves at first, as in alternating chapters, Kihrin and Talon unfold the story of a life as glimpsed from different points in time.
Framing their respective retellings are correspondences and footnotes from a third source, one whose involvement in these events only becomes clear toward the end of the novel. The footnotes in particular serve as an invaluable element of the worldbuilding, expanding our understanding of the setting well beyond the concerns of the primary plot and revealing intricate facets of multilayered world rich in dragons and demons, gods and great destinies.
Crucially, Kihrin remains the star of this show. A burglary job turns his world upside down after he witnesses a gruesome, otherworldly murder. After fleeing the powerful sorcerers and the demon they unleashed, he learns he may be a long-lost princeling of a powerful (and shadowy) noble house. You’d think such news might herald a new, more fortunate future. Instead, Kihrin’s situation starts a steep decline, as he is buffeted on all sides by mysteries of the past and the competing occult plots of the present. At the heart of all these troubles is a necklace Kihrin has worn since birth—or at least that’s what the various sorcerers, dragons, devil, and deities he encounters seem to believe.
There is a considerable amount of plot to keep track of in this book, the first of a planned quintet, but the detail only serves to make the world, and the characters that people it, feel real. Seemingly every bit player is working from their own aims and twisted backstories, and the action zigzags from this plane to the next. Coupled with the unique story structure, the effect can be dizzying—but a frenetic vibe suits a story in which the protagonist’s troubles snowball with such rapid velocity.
The energy with which Lyons infuses the novel feels both tightly controlled and in danger of sending it careening toward the edge of a cliff. In less sure hands, and with weaker characters to guide the way, the resulting story might be a confusing morass. Instead, it’s exhilarating: a mile-a-minute charge toward a satisfying conclusion that leaves the door open to yet more exploration of a wide, wild, and fascinating world.
There’s no telling where future installments in the series—A Chorus of Dragons—will go. There is certainly no shortage of paths for the narrative to wander (or gallop) down. That should be endlessly exciting for fantasy fans in search of their next favorite saga—and terrifying for the likes of Kihrin.