The Hand of the Sun King
The Hand of the Sun King
J. T. Greathouse
My name is Wen Alder. My name is Foolish Cur.
All my life, I have been torn between two legacies: that of my father, whose roots trace back to the right hand of the Emperor. That of my mother's family, who reject the oppressive Empire and embrace the resistance.
I can choose between them - between protecting my family, or protecting my people - or I can search out a better path . . . a magical path, filled with secrets, unbound by empire or resistance, which could shake my world to its very foundation.
But my search for freedom will entangle me in a war between the gods themselves . . .
The first book in the Pact and Pattern series. Fans of Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and R.F. Kuang's The Poppy War will love the magic running through every page.
This is one of those books that I did not know much about. However, what I had seen is that everyone who has read it has given it a glowing review.
The Hand of the Sun King is an Asian inspired fantasy set in an expanding empire called Sien. The story centres around Wen Alder, when we first meet Wen Alder, we meet a young child from the conquered lands of Nayen.
His mother is a native to the country, but his father is from the Sienese Conquerors, making Wen Alder a boy that straddles two cultures and two ways of life.
And it is these clashes of culture that Drive the book.
As I said, whilst I had it on my radar, I did not know what exactly what I was going into when I started the book. The book is done as a first-person narrative from the point of view of alder. Initially, this is a compact view as the story mainly centres around Alder and his family. In particular, his grandmother, Koro Ha, who clearly dislikes the fact that her daughter has married a husband from the cruel empire (as she sees it) and sets about teaching young Wen Alder in the ways of the Nayeni. The first thing that she does is gives him a proper naming ceremony in the tradition of the Nayeni peoples, and thus, Foolish Cur is born.
However, not only does she give Wen Alder another name, but she also teaches him the customs and traditions of the people that he comes from on his mother’s side, but she also introduces him to witchcraft.
However, after a near fatal accident when experimenting with witchcraft, Wen Alder pursues his Sienese side. And with this we learn about the culture of the Sien.
As Wen Alder becomes older, he is bound more and more by tradition, and his father’s vision of him becoming a ‘Hand’ of the Emperor, and subsequently serving the emperor in any way he can. This leads Wen Alder to be tutored in all the ways of the empire, so that he can successfully b able to undertake the Imperial examinations and hopefully realise his dream of making his own path for himself that is not shackled to either one of his conflicting heritages.
This is where the book opens up! As Wen Alder (or Foolish Cur) begins to experience life outside of his father’s cosseting, we begin to see the world along with Wen Alder, and follow him on his journey as he navigates his way around the Sienese Empire, it’s custom and it’s pitfalls.
All the way through this book, I was constantly surprised in the way that it unfolded, and this kept me engaged throughout the book and The Hand of the Sun King kept me gripped throughout as we follow Wen Alder, as he moves from boy to man.
One of the things that I liked about JT Geathouse’s writing was that he manages to fit in a number of fantasy tropes, such as the old coming of age story, the magic school story, the found family element and the journey of self-discovery (even though I never get bored of most of these tropes) and manages to breathe new life into these common aspects of fantasy fiction and make them seem new.
Besides an engrossing plot, JT Greathouse writes some fantastic characters that are endearing and relatable, and that you want to spend time with. However, they are not the perfect characters, for instance, the main character Wen Alder is not always particularly likeable at times. However, it fits in with the narrative of the story.
What I mean by that is that when Alder is a teenager, he is a know-it-all stick in the mud who believes everything that everyone says to him. He is ambitious and will not let anyone get in his way so that he can fulfil his ambitions. He can be stuck up and believe in his own power just a little too much, but throughout the story JT Greathouse creates situations which knock him down a peg or two (which he deserves) However, this character arc sees him developing, both in his skills of sorcery and in his personality.
There is conflict throughout the whole of the book. Not just in the sense that people are fighting, but Wen is always at conflict with himself, with the two cultures pulling him in different directions, and he is left unable to clearly determine which side he should be on.
In addition to this the side characters all have a role to play and you cannot help but like them (or sometimes hate them), depending on the situation.
As well as the characters, JT Greathouse’s prose is just delightful. Initially when we meet Wen Alder, the prose is as refined as he is, and the prose is clipped and precise. However, as the book becomes more and more epic in its scale, so does the prose, especially when we start to see the story take off in a direction that you do not expect about midway through the book. Through it all JT Greathouse writes rip roaring action scenes and again, these become grander in scale as the book progresses.
Throw in a hefty ability to write cracking world building and you are on to a winner. As I said earlier, initially, the world is compact as is Wen Alder’s world view. But, when he gains more insight, more experiences we begin to see more of the world and the scale of it.
I cannot praise this book highly enough, it’s just brilliant and shows me why I love this genre so much!
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