It was the only thing in the world that I yearned to understand for its own sake, not because an authority had decided that I must learn it. Once I had mastered it, it would be mine, to do with as I would. Neither bound to my father’s dreams of a restored Wen family, nor my grandmother’s for a Nayen free of the Empire.
3.5 Stars out of 5
Thank you Netgalley and JABberwocky for providing me with an early copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Hand of the Sun King was a book I was super excited for and with other early reviews stating this was the “best debut of the year” I thought I was going to be walking into something that was going to blow my mind. Unfortunately I wasn’t blown away, and for me this doesn’t stand out as the best debut of the year. It’s a pleasing book with a lot of interesting ideas and themes but it lacked that mind blowing piazza that others had me thinking it contained.
Right from the start we met Wen Alder, a boy learning he is apart of two conflicting worlds, his mothers side of the family and his fathers side and these two sides are drastically different. On one side he is being tutored on how to be the best citizen he can be to uphold the laws and ways of the Sienese and to hopefully one day be honored enough to be chosen as one of the Hands of the Emperor but in the dark of the night he is taught the old ways of witchcraft that are considered wrong and forbidden. But Alder is a boy who wants to forge is own path, he doesn’t want others telling him what to do, and how to do it. The story focuses heavily on this aspect and as Alder progresses in the story he learns more and more about the world around him and how he won’t be able to forge that 3rd path he wants without going one of the two ways to get there. Everything he desires to know is kept behind locked doors and he is constantly struggling to find the answers he seeks.
Alder as a character didn’t stand out to me but he also didn’t bore me either, he is just kind of meh. He has his mind set on what he wants and at times comes off as rude, and brash, but other times his ability to understand and be sensitive to others plights shines through, along with his own internal struggles. He spends a lot of time trying to make connections with others and each one has bumps along the way, which make them more believable but for me the depth of each of these relationships didn’t hit. I believe a lot of this stems from the way the story was written.
The Hand of the Sun King is split into 4 parts and each part reads like it own book, almost as if each part is a novella and its all bound into one. This created a weird rolling shift in the narrative making it hard to stay interested. Each part started out slow and then the end picked up and was action packed. So I was constantly falling out of the story only to be pulled back in, which might be something that works for others but for me, when ever the story came to a dull portion it made it feel like a chore to push through. This and the first person narrative really make me believe this is why I had hard time believing the depth of any of the character relationships. The time frames spent with other characters are short livid in each separate part of the story so you don’t spend a lot of time with them, sure a few come back at the end but even that is short and I feel that made their moments suffer and are what contribute to the lack of depth Alder had with each of them. Between his teacher, his friend, his lover and more, I couldn’t really see or feel the depth of their connections to one another. So when something sad happened to them I was just left with this feeling of “oh that’s sad….anyways”. I would have loved to see more time with each of these “important” people in Alder’s life, they just didn’t feel as fleshed out as they could have been.
The magic and the plot around the magic in this world was the most intriguing part overall for me, it totally gives off Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes, and this is in terms of how the magic is dealt out. Each nation has their own type of magic that is specific to them. There are old gods of magic and humans with the ability to use magic with the use of pacts that are made with the old gods. And then of course there is that one super big headed jerk who takes this and just goes way to far with it. It’s a story steeped in nations being conquered and destroyed all for the sake of stealing their magic and running them out of the world so only one true way can be present. We learn the most about the Sienese people and were given small sights into the plights of the other nations that are or have already dealt with the Empire, and I can only hope there is still more to learn about the world, its intriguing and I would love to see it fleshed out even more.
The Hand of the Sun King is a well written, unique and a fresh story in its own way. It’s a debut worth checking out and I’ll be keeping my eye out for the follow up!