I wanted—and tried—to like this book, I swear. It received such a big marketing push in the months leading up to its release, I was excited to read it.
Unfortunately, the blurbs and the buzz deceived me.
The Ruin of Kings (more like Ruin My Month) by Jenn Lyons tells the story of Kihrin, a teen with a strange magical talisman and a dramatic family history. As he discovers the secrets of his past, he meets new people, some helpful and some threatening. However, this lengthy novel is more a muddled mess than an epic adventure.
Several elements have potential. Lyons’ narrative style isn’t bad; she seems to be emulating Brandon Sanderson. (However, she can’t really compare.) Still, her voice is engaging and easy to read. Several characters—Galen, Teraeth, and Tyentso—were interesting. Unfortunately, a decent style and handful of likable characters were not enough to save this book for me.
Firstly, the format is baffling. Two characters tell the story. One, a “mimic” named Talon who can absorb people’s memories, provides multiple points of view. Kihrin’s narrative covers the second half of the story, Talon’s the first. So not only are there constantly different POVs, the story flips between different points of the chronology every other chapter. This results in a convoluted, jarring read, which doesn’t have any payoff. It’s frustrating and perplexing for no reason. Significant plot points depend on dramatic irony or twist reveals, which lose potency when the reader isn’t sure what Kihrin knows or if certain events have already happened.
Also, Lyons includes footnotes made by another character who serves as a third narrator. Now, I’ve read fantasy where footnotes enhance the story and make it more immersive. Sadly, the footnotes in Ruin either served no purpose or intensified my confusion.
Furthermore, the genealogy is a nightmare. Kihrin’s parentage is long a source of mystery or at least contention. First, he is told he’s one man’s son, but then learns that man is actually his brother. And the woman he is told is his mother is actually not. And so on. To worsen that, this book is burdened by too many characters—most with more than one name! Coupled with soul-swapping magic, distinguishing who’s who or how they’re related is near-impossible.
There is considerable lore about talismans and auras, which while technically explained, weren’t clear to me. I feel I wasn’t given enough time to learn the magic system. In the second half of the book, Lyons skips two years during which Kihrin becomes more adept at casting spells. This feels like a cheat or lazy writing, because his sudden new power doesn’t feel earned. Also, skipping such a substantial amount of time makes his development feel unnatural rather than organic, which was irritating.
If all that isn’t enough, the plot is directionless. Most of the time, I was unsure what Kihrin wanted. He’s hardly proactive; events happen to him without there being much deliberate forward motion on his part. His world feels incomplete, other than the city and island where most of the action occurs. Other countries and races are only explained in scant details. I wanted to know how they interact politically and socially, but only received vague information that left me dissatisfied. Lyons might know a lot about this universe, but she doesn’t portray it with enough breadth and depth.
Also of note: This book has dark, adult content. Slavery, rape, and death are featured in much of the plot (such as it exists). So if you read this—which I don’t recommend doing—keep that in mind.
And now, the aspect that annoys me most: dragons. This book has a dragon on the cover and is the first in the Chorus of Dragons series. But only three dragons appear! One is present for about a sentence, then never seen again. One appears and is immediately slain. The third, called simply the Old Man, is the only one given any personality or influence on the plot. Yet he takes over 200 pages to appear, and is only featured in a few scenes as a villain (he’s still my MVP, though). I felt misled by the cover and series title; I expected dragons everywhere. So I’m bitter about the lack of them.
In the end, The Ruin of Kings has potential, but fails to deliver. Passable narrative style, some decent characters, and several possibly compelling plot twists are overshadowed by myriad issues. The constantly changing points of view create a disjointed, chaotic storyline that confuses rather than illuminates, therefore alienating the reader. The unnecessarily complex genealogy, lackluster magic system and worldbuilding, and meandering plot smothered any enthusiasm I had for this story. By the last hundred pages, I was no longer having any fun (aside from taking notes for this review), and just wanted it to be over.
Overall rating: 4/10