Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Pact and Pattern #1

The Hand of the Sun King

Rate this book
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 . . .

367 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 5, 2021

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

J.T. Greathouse

4 books144 followers
J.T. Greathouse has been writing fantasy and science fiction since he was eleven years old. He holds a BA in history and philosophy with a minor in Asian studies as well as a Master's in Teaching from Whitworth University, and spent four months of intensive study in Chinese language and culture at Minzu University of China in Beijing. His short fiction has appeared, often as Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis, in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Writers of the Future 34, Deep Magic, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and elsewhere. In addition to writing, he has worked as an ESL teacher in Taipei, as a bookseller at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, and as a high school teacher. He currently lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife Hannah and several overflowing bookshelves.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
457 (24%)
4 stars
809 (43%)
3 stars
449 (24%)
2 stars
130 (6%)
1 star
20 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 281 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
674 reviews42.8k followers
May 19, 2021
I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo

ARC provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

An all-around marvelously crafted fantasy debut; The Hand of the Sun King has cemented its spot as the best fantasy debut of the year.

I personally think The Hand of the Sun King was even better than The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman, The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter, and She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan. I know that this is super high praise because I completely loved those three, but I am shocked at this myself. I didn’t plan to read this novel; this was a hugely impulsive read. Call me a cover snob if you want, but if you know me by now, you know that I love taking chances on an unknown debut or novels with awesome cover art. Believing in my gut has often lead me to a superior reading experience, and this notion has been proven once more here.

“It is a great strength of the young, this willingness to shoulder risk. It can also be our greatest weakness.”

The Hand of the Sun King is the first book in the Pact and Pattern trilogy by J.T. Greathouse. The story revolves around Wen Alder, or Foolish Cur, a boy torn between two legacies; one of his father, whose ancestries trace back to the right hand of the emperor; one of his mother, who reject the Empire. However, there may exist a better path, a magical path filled with secrets. By attaining this path, freedom from the shackle of legacies can be achieved, and Alder wants it. To do that, he has to take the Imperial Examinations, the first step to becoming The Hand of the Emperor and wield the Empire’s magic. The Hand of the Sun King is a coming-of-age fantasy with a magic—and calligraphy—school trope and beyond; in an Asian-inspired world-building setting. Now, I am no stranger to voicing how much I love these tropes done well, and Greathouse did an exceptional job on executing these tropes on his debut. The themes of friendship, apprenticeship, freedom, and the determination to choose our own path—to not have someone else decide our fates—were dominant in the days of companionship and learning that Alder undertook.

“As every decaying leaf and growing tree helps to shape the pattern of the world, so every human act shapes the paths that we might follow. And those in power, like Voices of the emperor, or ministers of trade, can shape those paths with a motion of their will.”

The character development of Wen Alder throughout the novel was outstanding. Alder isn’t a thoroughly flawless or kind-hearted character; he was arrogant as a boy, and he made a lot of mistakes despite his natural talents with magic and every other aspect. Honestly speaking, I totally enjoyed reading the gradual development in his characterizations. There’s something genuine about his thirst and pursuit of knowledge and magic. Walder continuously learned the hard way that he’s not as good as he thinks he is; I felt that this built his character wonderfully. Furthermore, his well-written relationship with his grandmother, Koro Ha, Oriole, Usher, Atar, and the other supporting characters truly shaped his characterizations.

“If the choice is between understanding some deeper truth or fighting for a chance to make good on all the harm I have done, then I choose to fight.”

The Hand of the Sun King was not epic in scope per se, but the world itself felt real, expansive, and vivid because we readers get to learn more about the politics and cultures of the world together with Alder’s progression in the story. As I said earlier, this is a coming-of-age fantasy, and the feeling of loneliness in the isolation of adulthood was so palpable. But it’s not all bleakness and sorrow; there’s hope, there’s love, and there’s a lot to learn here, and we need to remember to treasure the people important to us while we’re able to. We all have our own shackles and difficulties in our life, but it doesn’t mean we have to face them alone; sometimes, even the kindness of a stranger can be the light of hope in the darkness. Everything felt executed efficiently and effectively; the topic of politics, economy, and the difficulty of cooperation between people of different social status/cultures were handled with extraordinary finesse.

“Guilt gnawed at me and I recalled the Classic of Wealth and Labour, in which Traveller-on-the-Narrow-way wrote that a merchant is no better than a bandit if his wealth does not elevate the farmers and craftsmen who are the backbone of the empire.”

War, loyalty, leadership were some of the other pivotal themes of the novel. The conjuration of the elemental magic and how the pattern of the world affects it was so brilliant and atmospheric. Yes, if you love reading about ancient mysterious gods and elemental magic in your high fantasy books, you’re in luck here. There’s veering, windcaller, firecaller, and more, but it’s not all brutal destructions and ruin. Without giving any spoiler away, there were some gorgeous scenes involving the combination of wind and fire that I found to be so mesmerizing. The conflicts surrounding the canon of sorcery were captivating, and the devastations that lie in the path of its wakening enhanced the tension-packed battles. I’m not saying that The Hand of the Sun King is a heavily action-packed novel; that’s really not the case. But each battle scene was brimming with intensity, and it’s good to witness and be reminded that magic can be used for fruitful purposes, too. Plus, Alder’s obsession and fascination with magic continue to strengthen the core strength of the storytelling.

“There was a horrible justice in these warriors circling each other without end, meting out petty wounds, slowly bleeding each other dry, but always failing to deal a killing blow. If only they could do battle alone, isolated from the pattern of the world. Somewhere that their war would not leave towns besieged and starving. Where the romantic tales of wars long past could never trick the young into seeking glory, only to drag them down into death.”

Lastly, I can’t praise Greathouse’s prose highly enough. The first-person POV of Alder was magnificent, and the pacing has a consistently addictive quality to it, but more importantly, Greathouse’s beautiful prose was utterly engaging. It’s such an exquisitely written book; the prose was accessible but never too simplistic, and the world-building felt intricately designed. Elegant, lush, philosophical, and compulsive, Greathouse left an echo of beauty with each word stamped with his brush of ink. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise, The Hand of the Sun King is one of the very few—or maybe the first—high fantasy novel with a story that actually prioritized handwriting and calligraphies in the narrative. I certainly haven’t read many books that put such a clear emphasis on the advantage of being ambidextrous. I’ve highlighted a myriad of passages, and I wish I can share them with you all. Alas, that’s not possible unless I risk transforming this review into a collection of quotes from the book. I’ve shared a few on this review, but there’s so much more I haven’t shared. Instead, I’ll leave you with this:

“’The energy present in the body and the mind in the moment of writing is reflected in the brush stroke.’ By a close examination of a handwriting sample – and a proper understanding of the context in which that writing sample was composed – one can deduce a great deal about the personality and attitudes of an individual. People are far worse at regulating their handwriting than they are their facial expressions, tone of voice, and even body language. Yet masterful calligraphers learn such deft control of the brush that they can convey whatever temperament they wish.”

My reading journey this year so far—with the exception of a few standouts—has been unsatisfactory. The Hand of the Sun King arrived like a divine intervention to remedy that situation. This is the fourth book I read this year to receive a full 5 stars rating from me. My sleeping hours were happily sacrificed due to reading this book, and each waking moment I'm not reading it, I was looking forward to diving back in. The Hand of the Sun King deserves a mark of excellence. It is a spellbinding debut with terrific characterizations, immersive world-building, and prose that swept me away. The Hand of the Sun King is hands down the best debut of the year. Scratch that; this is one of the best debuts I've ever read, not just this year. I absolutely loved it, and I recommend this to readers who love coming-of-age fantasy. Bravo, J. T. Greathouse.

“Some moments fix themselves in memory, to be recalled again and again throughout our lives.”

Official release date: 5th August 2021 (UK)

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Book Depository (Free shipping) | The Broken Binding (Use my code: NOVELNOTIONS121 for discount!)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions

Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing!

My Patrons: Alfred, Alya, Annabeth, Ben, Blaise, Devin, Diana, Dylan, Edward, Ellen, Gary, Hamad, Helen, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Lufi, Melinda, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas, Sarah, Seth, Shaad, Summer, Zoe.
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
311 reviews1,329 followers
July 19, 2022
2022 Reread: I’m on The Garden of Empire blog tour so decided to revisit the first entry in Greathouse’s series. I don’t have much to add to my original review other than I really enjoyed refreshing my memory and reading this again.

I received an uncorrected proof copy of The Hand of the Sun King in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to J.T. Greathouse and Gollancz for the opportunity.

The Hand of the Sun King is the first-person perspective autobiography of Wen Alder as he informs the reader of his younger, formative years, and his thirst for magic with no limitations. On one side of his family, Alder is a descendent of the great General Wen Broad-Oak, and after a dip in the family's fortunes, Alder's father wishes for him to redeem their name to its previous place of prestige. From his mother's side, the blood of the old magic runs in his veins, and his grandmother and notorious uncle Harrow Fox route for the resistance against the Emperor and Sienese rule. Alder has two possible paths, a choice of two cultures, a decision of where his loyalties lie, the possibility of two different types of magic, our protagonist even has two names. Wen Alder and Foolish Cur.

The Hand of the Sun King is set in an expressive and picturesque fantasy world with Eastern influences. It contains an intriguing yet not too complex magic system that embraces the pattern of the world where the user manipulates the world like a calligrapher would their art. The magic system and the world-building is cleverly presented to the reader as Alder sees or learns things during studies or his postings throughout the Empire. There are deep histories, detailed cultures, teachings of famous philosophers, and some wonderful children's stories, such as an extremely memorable and important moment about a Cat who wanted to be a Student. The Hand of the Sun King is full of political maneuvering, characters with unclear motives, betrayals, hardships, and tragic moments that will impress fans of Robin Hobb's Fitz and the Fool novels.

It wasn't always pleasant to follow Alder's adventure because a lot of horrible things seem to happen to him and those he cares about and because, in his search for a possibility of magic without limitations, he isn't always likeable. The Hand of the Sun King is an arresting read that is full of drama and some fine characters to help or hinder Alder on his journey to find his place in the world. Greathouse is an excellent writer and when reading one of the many impactful, emotional, and engaging passages I often nodded to myself knowing that the author got the most out of that moment in an admirable, satisfying manner.

The pace throughout is pretty steady, almost soothing sometimes which juxtaposes the harrowing happenings. The Hand of the Sun King takes place in about 4 very distinct settings which are the backdrop to 7-8 very impressive, standout moments. With about 40 pages left of this 400-page book I built myself up for disappointment. I didn't know how the author could possibly wrap up the novel in a gripping, exciting way that allowed it to work as a standalone instead of just a first-in-a-series groundwork book way. It was as if that author has envisaged my doubts as what followed was one of the best finales of a debut novel I can remember reading in a very long time.

Greathouse should be proud of what he has accomplished here. The Hand of the Sun King is an excellent mix of classic and modern fantasy with a grimdark undertone of despair. The author wears some of his influences on his sleeve which works well mostly but there was one, I assume, The Name of the Wind-inspired moment that made me groan. That aside, I had an extremely positive time reading The Hand of the Sun King and heartily recommend it to readers who have enjoyed debuts from recent years such as The Poppy War, Blackwing, and We Are the Dead. Depending on what comes next, the Pact and Pattern series could become a future classic with the pieces on the Stones board now set and the possibilities and potential endless. One final note is that the title and the cover, to me, seemed to be added new meanings by the time I'd finished the book, but perhaps I'm just peculiar. Either way, a solid 9/10 rating.
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
355 reviews1,466 followers
June 4, 2022
To hear a short pitch of this fantasy debut from J. T. Greathouse himself, to see if this is for you, you can click on a link here - The Brothers Gwynne

“Magic could reshape the world. Its power was undeniable. It needed no argument to bolster it, nor any faith to make it true.”

The Hand of the Sun King is a fantasy debut, the beginning to a series called Pact and Pattern, of which I do not know how many books it will include. After Petrik said that he loved this, I had to buy it. I am glad to say that I also thought it was absolutely fantastic.

One of my favourite aspects was the conflict of identity with our sole perspective. His father is a businessman of the Empire, whilst his mother and her side of the family are part of a nation being oppressed and taken over by this swiftly growing Empire. The conflict of identity and purpose becomes one of the most interesting and important factors in the life of Wen Alder

“If you do nothing - or worse, if you help them - they will win. There is no middle ground in this. You must choose. Either the empire or those who fight them.”

The prose of smooth and effective, creating a vivid world that I am looking forward to learning more about. This also feeds into the growth of character we see from Wen Alder, when he goes from his home to the training school trope we see in fantasy. It is done very well and in a fresh way that makes The Hand of the Un king very different, and when partnered with the conflict of identity there is a lot of heart to this section of the book, as well as the rest.

One of my favourite reads of the year, with everything I wanted in it. Original ideas, complex characters, a nuanced and interesting world. A really expertly crafted story that I am looking forward to continuing when the sequel is released.

Profile Image for Hamad.
1,009 reviews1,327 followers
October 16, 2021
This Review ✍️ Blog 📖 Twitter 🐦 Instagram 📷 Support me ��

“If the choice is between understanding some deeper truth or fighting for a chance to make good on all the harm I have done, then I choose to fight.”

This debut has been getting all kind of praise and I found myself with an extra space in my monthly TBR so I picked it up without planning just based on all the hype it was getting. I think the hype made my expectations fly through the roof and I ended up enjoying the book but not as much as I wanted to. I think this will be a bit of an unpopular opinion so tread carefully through the rest of it.

The story follows Wen Alder who comes from a mixed and weird heritage between that of his father, belonging to the oppressive Empire or that of his mother with the oppressed side. Wen tries to find a third path through this story with magic and all kind of challenges.

I think the prose is very good and for a debut, Greathouse did a really good job with the writing. I think my main problem is with Wen, I did not hate him but I did not love him either and I think loving this book requires loving Wen as it is a coming of age story. Given the fact that it is written in first person POV, it was challenging to connect to the book when I did not connect to the main character.

The first 30% I was really enjoying the story and I understood all the hype but it then went all over the place for me personally and I was a bit lost and disconnected from the story. I was continuously getting into and out of the story at that point until things picked up again toward that cool ending! The magic system is cool and I loved the calligraphy incorporation and visually it was vivid in my brain which is really not an easy thing to do.

I already forgot most of the characters and I am not happy with this fact but I know when my brain Shifts-Delete something then it does so because I’d rather use the space for things I enjoyed more. I liked the character of Wen’s grandma and that of doctor Sho but other than those two characters, I know the characters will soon fade into nothing. I also wasn’t a big fan of the romance in this book!

The pacing felt too fast sometimes, I think some points should have been expanded and although the school trope is one of my favorite tropes, I think it wasn’t used as optimally as it should have. I think I had a different vision for the story line in my brain and when the book veered away from it, I kind of was disappointed which is not very fair but I think I saw potential that wasn’t totally met!

Summary: I think for a debut the author did a good job with the prose and the world-building. The characters aren’t bad but I can’t say that I was rooting for Wen as much as I wanted to and given that it was a book with a first person POV, it affected my enjoyment of the overall story. I still think it is a decent book and that you will like it more than I did so don’t hesitate to give it a try!
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,421 followers
July 29, 2021
This is the first instalment in the Pact and Pattern series.

Wen Alder was named so by his parents. To his grandmother, however, he is Foolish Cur. He was raised to become a respected Siennese citizen by the former and schooled in the Nayeni teachings, in secret, by the latter. As he grew, knowledge of these opposing cultures impacted his understanding of the world around him and left him longing for more than what either alone could grant him. This desire led him far from home and instilled in him an ambition that would see him rise in ranks and status. But to stand in a place of power is to stand exposed, and the Emperor has his sights set upon this young man so willing to stand out in a crowd.

I was immediately captivated with this immersive and atmospheric story. The early focus remained largely on the differing cultures that Wen has being schooled in. Through them, the reader gained knowledge of the history of this dissected kingdom and the discontent of those not at the top of the social hierarchy. Wen was very much torn between them both, as he found much to respect and admire in these opposing cultures that made up both sides of his identity.

Despite this slightly slower, but no less interesting, start, the pacing soon began to increase. Years of Wen's life flew by with only partial glimpses, of the events that occurred during them, granted to the reader. Some insights to his examinations to become a hand to the Emperor, his magical and martial training, his new friendships formed, the new cities he ventured to, the battles he took part in, and his involvement with rebel gangs were just some of what was peppered throughout the rest of the book. I could have spent an entire novel just focusing on each one of these aspects, but became just as immersed in those continually occurring to ever feel like the novel was too hasty in its depiction of events.

Wen grew from boy to man and the book altered in focus from academics to the politics of war. The pacing might have been fast but no detail was spared when Greathouse conjured each scene. I felt fear and excitement and never being able to predict what was to come next aided in my helpless immersion into this story.

I'm so eager to continue on with this already incredible series. I would also be just as eager for this author to do a Leigh Bardugo and pen some other books related to it. So many folk/fairy tales were mentioned throughout, with passing mentions to desert demons and sky gods, which would make for fun reading and only further enrich this diverse and opulent world.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, J.T. greathouse, and the publisher, Gollancz, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Library of a Viking.
156 reviews2,383 followers
July 29, 2021
“All my life I have been constrained by the paths others intended for me.”

I was incredibly excited when I got a review The Hand of the Sun King. Firstly, I have been enjoying Asian inspired fantasy, so hearing that this book was set in an Asian inspired world excited me. Moreover, this book has received glowing praise from most reviewers, which made me very hopeful! So what did I think?

The Hand of the Sun King is the first book in the Pact and Pattern Trilogy and follows the protagonist, Wen Alder. Wen Alder is a young boy born into a torn family, where the father is loyal to the empire, while the mother hates the empire. Alder’s conflicting legacy pushes him to decide if he wants to serve the kingdom or be against it. However, in his journey, Alder discovers a third way that might help him attain his desire for freedom.

I can see why there is so much praise for this book. Firstly, Greathouse’s prose is beautiful! Greathouse masterfully crafts an engaging and realistic world and complex characters through beautiful and ornate descriptions. The prose is an excellent blend of being accessible and beautiful at the same time! The Hand of the Sun King also introduces the reader to an exciting magic system, engaging politics and CALLIGRAPHY (how unique?)

What really makes this book stand out is how Greathouse introduces and analyses some complex themes. Through the character of Wen Alder, the reader gets an insight into the burden of carrying a legacy. What do you do when your parents are pushing you in opposite directions? What comes first – loyalty to family, to yourself or the empire? Greathouse also reflects on the complexity of being a leader and how to act in a time of war. Lastly, Greathouse splendidly analyses the struggle and loneliness humans can experience as we transition from childhood to adulthood. Greathouse deserves praise for how he handles these complex themes in The Hand of the Sun King.

Although this is a well-written book, I had a difficult time connecting with it. I think the main issue for me is the way the story is told – through first-person. Unfortunately, I rarely enjoy first-person stories (with some exceptions!). Moreover, I never fully felt engaged in Wen Alder’s story. Yes, it is an interesting story, but something was missing for me to get fully engaged in his journey. Lastly, the side characters lack depth, which made the story fall a bit flat for me.

However, I will still encourage fantasy readers to pick up this book! The Hand of the Sun King feels fresh and unique, and I am confident that most readers will enjoy it. I am therefore giving this book a solid 3.5-star rating.

A special thanks to Gollancz for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Adam.
374 reviews164 followers
July 26, 2021
In the free country of Nayen and the encroaching imperialist Empire, there exist hybrid creatures such as lion-serpents and eagle-hawks that roam the countryside. These animals struck me as symbolic of the book’s narrator, who was born and raised in two worlds: first, as Wen Alder, destined to take on the mantle of his father’s lineage by restoring the family name back into the Empire’s good graces. Alder has been tutored nonstop since an early age (and in doing so, missing his entire childhood) in preparation for a job placement exam within the patriarchal, yet resourceful, Empire. But to others, Wen Alder is known as Forbidden Cur, raised in secret by his grandmother, a rebel Nayen who sneaks him out in the dark of night to train him in swordplay and educate him in the lore of his Nayen roots before the last of her rebel cohorts are wiped clean from the history books.

Alder/Cur is first and foremost a seeker of knowledge. After finding out (the hard way) he is sensitive to magic, he vows to dedicate his life to understanding the pattern of the world, and how he can grasp its inner workings. Up until early adulthood, he has lived a life with all his choices having been made for him. His tutor has raised him in solitude, where twelve-hour study days were the norm. His grandmother, while having good intentions, only shared small pieces of the knowledge and power A.C. desired. Even after he becomes of age and begins to seek out agency, he finds his limitations more frustrating—and dangerously binding—than ever.

What is so fascinating about this book is that no matter how brilliant A.C. is, his back is always up against the wall, and his loyalties are always, always tested. The more he tries to walk the middle path between the two worlds he was raised in, the more violently he is torn to one side or another. The more he tries to lean into learning more about his magical connection, the more he finds he is bound in both practice and knowledge. Greathouse achieves a constant, relentless tension that pushes Alder/Cur through increasingly harrowing decisions that made the book extremely difficult for me to put down. There was always a reason to keep reading; the prose brought color to each setting, the cast motivations kept changing, and the book threaded the needle between character and story progression.

Beyond themes of loyalty and higher knowledge, there are other topics covered with a subtle grace really stuck with me. As mentioned above, The Empire is a heavily patriarchal society, thus the conversations that A.C. has with his mother, grandmother, and other women in his life were very well-written and elicited strong, relatable emotions. The cast of the book was rather small, and particular attention was spent building tangible relationships with each character he spent time with, emphasizing strong characterization for nearly every major player in the story. Even some of the minor characters had arcs I was invested in, and Greathouse left plenty of mysteries from these minor players open that left me eagerly hanging for what comes next.

A.C.’s story is a first-person reliable narrator, so we’re sometimes treated with tidbits like, “if I had only done X instead of Y, then the world might have been so different,” which adds some extra oomph and quite a bit more fun to certain scenes. But that’s all bonus, as the story feels both fresh and familiar all at once. It’s a journey of self-discovery, identity, sacrifice, maturity, agency, and courage to fight tooth and claw against what’s coming. And a LOT is coming.

I don’t think there are any weak points to this story. I wanted to spend more time with A.C., more time in this world learning the history of the two types of magic, and the political and blood-soaked rebellions, and of the brilliant scholar trying to carve his way through the middle of it all -- and most of the time, failing miserably. But through the growing pains are signs of hope -- for A.C., for the Nayen people, and for the preservation of a dying culture and its witchy ways.

Greathouse has written a memorable character in Wen Alder and Forbidden Cur. He is a man whose life has been divided in two since his birth and given no choices of his own along the way, and I found it hard to root against him. When he fails, he fails through action, not lack of it. He has a constant drive to succeed, no matter where life places him, and his brilliance that outshines his peers doesn’t always go over so well in each environment. It’s all compelling stuff. Add in a very cool magic system with weighty consequences, a cast of meaningful, well-developed characters, and a lush world that carefully considers its lore, economic struggles, and religious history, it’s easy for me to call The Hand of the Sun King one of my top reads of 2021.
Profile Image for Bibi.
1,282 reviews3,268 followers
June 14, 2022
This is a most perplexing book. Greathouse marries good storytelling with a vivid atmosphere yet the characters are unlikable and the premise is overused. It gave me nothing. No one to root for, no discernible villain, no urgency. Just a story meandering its way on an even keel until the last 5% when something finally changed.

So perplexed.
Profile Image for Nils | nilsreviewsit.
317 reviews469 followers
June 30, 2021
“Magic could reshape the world. Its power was undeniable. It needed no argument to bolster it, nor any faith to make it true.”

The Hand of the Sun King by J.T. Greathouse is the first instalment in The Pact and the Pattern trilogy. This is a novel which first caught my eye ever since we hosted the cover reveal back in February when I became mesmerised by the hand on the cover with all its intricate patterns and hidden details. Patrick Knowles’ design certainly piqued my interest, and I needed to know precisely what this story was all about. Last year my favourite debut was The Councillor by E.J. Beaton which was a novel with vivid worldbuilding and beautiful prose, and much for the same reasons The Hand of the Sun King is such an exquisite debut. Greathouse’s prose, worldbuilding and character arc is an absolute triumph.

The story follows Wen Alder, a young boy who is caught between the two conflicting sides of his Sienese heritage and his Nayeni one. His father, a Sienese merchant whose ancestors date back to the right hand of the Emperor himself, wants Alder to restore their former wealth and prestige. However, his Nayeni grandmother wishes for Alder to join her in the rebellion against the empire who have conquered and are striving to eradicate any culture and religion which isn’t Sienese. Yet our Alder seeks a different future, one which will allow him the freedom to choose his own path.

In the opening chapters we immediately see how Alder is pulled in these two directions: after his grandmother performs a secret ritual to discover his Nayeni name, Foolish Cur, she then begins to teach him her magic, but after an almost fatal start, she quickly marks his palm to seal the amount of power he can use. To Alder’s dismay he isn’t satisfied with the mere trickle of power he is now left with and an obsession with magic sparks. After his grandmother leaves, he realises the only way to regain a higher measure of magical power is to become Hand of the Emperor, whereby he will learn the ways of the Pattern and access the canon. To achieve this, and much to his father’s delight, Alder has to pass the Imperial Examinations and subsequently become a servant of the empire.

The Hand of the Sun King is written in a first person narration, as we delve into a coming of age fantasy, where we witness Alder grow from a young petulant, naive boy, who makes many mistakes, into a man who begins to truly understand the world around him. In Alder‘s pursuit of magic, he often becomes blinded by a single vision where he thinks only of himself; his compulsion for a sense of freedom leads him to be ignorant of the devastating wake the Empire is leaving upon the lands and people of his home. The Sienese have oppressed every race they come upon, and though Alder knows this, early on in the novel he falls into doing as the empire bids him, all in aid of searching for a higher magic. Yet despite his faults he is a very believable character. His obsessions, frustrations and his stubbornness is understandable. However, as the novel progresses ultimately Alder is shaped by the journey that the empire sets him upon, and it is the people he meets along the way who open his eyes. In true coming-of-age fashion we see Alder experience love, friendship, and loss. There is a beautiful portrayal of his relationship with his grandmother, Broken Limb, a strained relationship with his mother and father, and then when he finally makes a friend in Oriole, and becomes close to his mentors such as Koro-Ha, Usher, and even Hissing Cat, we see that these are the people who impact his character, for better or worse. I also mustn’t forget to mention Atar, who arguably shapes him the most, but also provided some of my most favourite scenes.

“Some moments fix themselves in memory, to be recalled again and again throughout our lives. A breath of lavender perfume will always conjure my first deep romantic feeling, the thunderclap roar and burned-stone scent of chemical grenades my first true hardship. The night my grandmother named me, the night I first attempted to veer, and the night she carved me with witch marks were moments.”

We also get a few tropes such as a magic school, along with bullies and the loneliness that comes with being an outcast. Many attribute tropes with negative connotations, however I’m the opposite, I love so many tropes, especially when they are used in fascinating ways, as is the case here. For example Greathouse uses the magical school trope to explore the notion of privilege within the Sienese race, who see themselves as superior as they are ruled by the emperor, and therefore education is a given. Whereas those who are born a different race, and are poorer are left to struggle. In fact what sets this book apart from other high-fantasy novels is that education is given much precedence, and is explored in intricate detail. We spend several chapters with Alder as he is taught calligraphy, politics, economy and several languages. Although learning comes easy to Alder, in areas such as battle tactics he falters and realises this is his weakness, and so he has to learn that asking help from others is not a shameful act. He also has to learn that those who are not as educated as himself are no less worthy.

Two of my absolute favourite aspects of this novel were the prose, which is just exquisite, and the phenomenal worldbuilding. Greathouse’s prose is atmospheric, poetic and so richly detailed that the world leaps from the page and inhales you whole. Alder’s narrative voice seamlessly fits his character as his education tailors him into a well cultured protagonist, and therefore his perceptions of the world are seen through a scholarly and artistic eye. I found that every descriptive scene hits your senses, smells, visuals and sounds are portrayed so vividly you get a fully rounded picture of every place Alder visits.

This is an Asian inspired world and you can observe that right from the beginning just by the details of the culture of the Sienese and the Nayeni. I also saw elements of Indian and Middle Eastern cultures which I found was just such a fantastic blend. Every city and nationality all had their own ways of life, their own gods, religious beliefs, and cultural traditions, adding a wonderful multitude of layers to the world, which again made it come alive right before your eyes. Greathouse most certainly writes with much finesse.

We also see Greathouse explore the concept of colonialism, for example through the cities of Nayen and An-Zabat. They are both enchanting places, full of lavish culture and a deeply rooted mythical history. The wonders of the obelisks found in An-Zabat and the Bazaar showed the city to have an array of good fortune, wealth, foods and luxuries. There was even a celebration of dancing, which we watched Atar entice Alder to take part in, and I can’t think of any other way to describe it other than beautiful. Yet, as Atar leads Alder away from the bazaar, we are shown that even in a place as dazzling as An-Zabat, the aftermath of the Imperial’s war has left its mark, even though they haven’t fully invaded. Poverty, starvation and suffering affect the population, and clearly shows the Emperor’s rule is not for the betterment of the people.

“There was a horrible justice in these warriors circling each other without end, meeting out petty wounds, slowly bleeding each other dry, but always failing to deal a killing blow. If only they could do battle alone, isolated from the pattern of the world. Somewhere that their war would not leave towns besieged and starving. Where romantic tales of war long past could never trick the young into seeking glory, only to drag them down into death.”

Although I’ve briefly touched upon the magic system it is worth noting that it goes into a lot more detail than what I’ve briefly outlined. The Pact and the Pattern holds many layers to the way it works, and the way that different people could harness the Patterns to wield different powers. For example as Alder becomes attuned to elemental magic, he notices how it leaves a smell of cinnamon, and how he can even trace the patterns of magic. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the concept of the canon, of the Emperor’s Voices and Hands, and discovering just how deeply his corruption ran. There’s also a sub plot of meddling Gods, who use people as pawns with their own purpose in mind.

Greathouse gives us an array of magical abilities, and writes them with such luscious details, they feel as though they could be real. I would say Greathouse’s magic system is as unique as any you would find in a Sanderson novel and it is just as well written.

The Hand of the Sun King is fundamentally a coming of age fantasy, which cleverly portrays themes of colonialism, friendship, poverty, oppression and the right to make our own choices in life.

“As life gives way to death, as winter to summer, so brutality would produce rebellion long after the cultures of Nayen, An-Zabat and the other conquered lands had been forgotten. Such was the ebb and flow of the pattern of the world.”

ARC provided by Will at Gollancz. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

The Hand of the Sun King is out 5th August but you can preorder here:
Profile Image for Arundeepak J.
105 reviews39 followers
June 3, 2021

The Hand of the Sun King is a stunning debut that exceeded my high expectations

First of all, a big thanks to the publisher and author for approving my NetGalley request. This review is my unbiased opinion.

Quick Summary: The Hand of the Sun King is the first entry in the Pact and Pattern series by J.T Greathouse. It follows the life of Wen Alder / Foolish Cur, who is a curious young man with a thirst for deeper magic. When the time has come to pick a side in a waging war between the Sienese and Nayeni he decided to forge his own path. A third path.


OK, so prepare its gonna be long list...

Wen Alder/Foolish Cur: The main character of this book, I absolutely loved his character growth throughout this book. From a selfish, ambitious and curious kid to the selfless hero, his rise to power is a fantastic experience but makes no mistakes he ain't no Mary Sue. He experiences losses, betrayal and sufferers a lot for his foolish action and he learns from it. The other thing I liked about Wen Alder is that he doesn't have a low self-esteem or self-pity i often experience while reading a First person POV book. He knows what he is capable of he knows when he made a mistake and he knows when to stop when to run and when to fight.

World building: This eastern influenced world the author has established in this book is just plain beautiful and picturesque. From the eyes of Wen Alder we experience this vividly detailed world and the heritage of different cultures, 3 to be exact... Each unique and interesting in their own way with folklore and fables regarding each of them.

Pacing: After finishing this book, I was left in a wonder that how the hell did the author stuffed all this content in a just 400 pages book without ever making me feel like the plot is moving too fast. Seriously, this book has everything... Companionship, love, betrayal, grief, despair, self realization, sacrifice, oppression, colonialism and much much more but it never felt like a rushed book. The pacing is as smooth as a silk.

Magic System: Though elemental at basis, the magic system the author created in this book is quite unique and intriguing. This book has like different classification of magic system each easy to understand, interesting to read and quite different from the usual elemental magic system.

Other Characters: Every character other than Alder introduced in this book has like only 30 pages or something but each character makes an impact Alder's life and each character is properly utilized in this book not a single character wasted. I honestly can't believe this is the author's first book at all.


Honestly, there is nothing major in this book that I find hindering my reading experience. For the first 200 or so pages I felt the absence of a strong female character but its quite understandable considering the Sienese culture (you'll know once you get to it).

To put it simply, The Hand of the Sun King is a beautiful and breathtaking fantasy work which is currently my no.1 read of 2021.
Profile Image for Maja Ingrid.
449 reviews132 followers
August 24, 2022
2022 read. Thoughts remain pretty much like last time. Glad I did a reread because I had forgotten more than I thought.

- - -

2021 read
4,5 stars

For a big portion of the book I questioned all those raving, glowing reviews because I didn't find the book that great?????

Now, I've finished reading it and I want to throw it at everyone's faces to make them read it. Why? The world-building is out of this world and the magic-system is fucking great. So much different magics. MIND. BLOWING.

I was pretty annoyed with Alder in the beginning but as he grew out of some of his childish notions I grew to like him. And even though the writing was superb, really beautiful at parts, sometimes I did not like the way he narrated his story (could do with I'm not overly fond of first-POV).

Also there's a good doggo as well.
Profile Image for Oliver.
223 reviews35 followers
August 27, 2022
ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Hand of the Sun King is the debut novel by the author J. T. Greathouse and I had a blast with it. It ticks a lot of the boxes I enjoy in fantasy and executes them in a captivating way. We have a coming-of-age story, tons of magic, action, and emotion. It talks about cultural identity, fitting in, and really discovering who you are as a person.

The story takes place in an empire that is slowly taking over the nearby lands. The empire is currently in the midst of a war with native rebels who are trying to fiercely uphold the old traditions and folklore of their people. Our protagonist Wen Alder is a young boy that is torn between the two sides of the conflict due to the aspects of his ancestry.

By day he follows the studies of his father who is a dedicated subject of the empire and whose only wish is for his son is to advance his family's position within the empire. Alder's father has him spend his days with a tutor studying philosophy and other academical subjects to prepare for an upcoming examination that is to determine Alder's position and rank for the future. By night he is sneaking out to a hidden temple where his grandmother is teaching him the old ways of his ancestors. Alder is learning about folk takes and his cultural heritage. It is there where he gets the first glimpse of the rituals invoking the magic his people had access to and where he truly develops the will to pursue power. Alder is constantly torn about his place in the world due to the contradictory nature of what he is being taught and following him on this journey is brilliant.

Throughout the journey, we visit a lot of vibrant locations and I really enjoyed the diversity of it all. The book is divided into multiple parts that are all distinctive in what they offer whether it is by location or subject matter. We are not held back to only seeing the world from the perspective of the two cultures that I focused on before but we do get an in-depth look into how other lands have to deal with the Empire. Learning about the different cultures, their rituals and their magic was fascinating. I loved the focus on self-betterment and study that this book had. Alder is always gaining knowledge during his travels and it was fascinating to see him progress. The nature of the study is also something different from a usual school scenario because it mostly happens through private tutoring sessions and philosophical arguments rather than a traditional classroom. Another aspect that is freely used is learning from actual experience which allows our character to visit different places of the world.

The writing is beautiful and at the same time fast-paced. The plot is moving on with every page and everything has a meaning to it. I know I focused a lot on the nature of the study and exploring new cultures before but the book also has a lot of conflict in it related to the ongoing rebellion. We get to see battles and sieges on both a smaller scale and a more epic one. We get to learn a lot about magic as it is deeply rooted in the identity of the people. Every nation and land has a distinct form of magic that they rely on although it has become a taboo thing with the conquering empire wishing to control the use of it. There are countless different magical archetypes. You have control over fire, making barriers, controlling the wind, transmitting information, shapeshifting and most likely many more.

The only negative for me was that I felt a bit of a dip in my enjoyment in the final third of the novel. The actual finale was still explosive and brilliant so I left with great emotions, but there was a noticeable lull there. I still recommend the novel to anyone that feels intrigued because it's just so fascinating on a thematic level, but it was enough to make it a very high 4 star novel instead of getting full marks.

Profile Image for Jayadev.
49 reviews15 followers
May 18, 2021
Tagged for spoilers because I have a habit of revealing a little too much just to set the context of the story.

In the Hand of the Sun King, you follow from the first person perspective of one Wen Alder across his youth, his experiences, his choices and the consequences of the same (yeah that sounds real cliche but bear with me).

Set in an asian inspired world so you can expect honour, traditions, emperors who are equated to gods, literal gods who meddle in the affairs of mortals on their endless games etc....Let's go back to Alder. Born out of a rather unorthodox union, Alder's father hails from the Empire of Sien a rapidly expanding domain. Backed by their godlike emperor along with his voices and hands who enforce his will, Sien is on an unstoppable conquest to conquer all its neighbours, having already conquered a few when we begin the story. One of these conquered lands called Nayen is where Alder's mother hails from, known for its witches who wield fire and transformation magic. Nayen still resists the empire's rule in the form of guerrilla warfare by a number of factions one of which is led by Alder's uncle 'Harrow Fox'. From a young age alder is educated in the teachings of Sien to prepare him for the eventual imperial examinations, his performance determines his future position in the empire. Unbeknownst to the others, alder is tutored by his grandmother 'Broken Limb' a renowned witch and mother of Harrow fox who is stowed away in their family home without the knowledge of the authorities. Broken limb teaches alder the traditions of Nayen. It is at this point that alder comes in contact with magic and it's boundless possibilities. A childhood incident with magic leaves him scarred but still yearning for its touch. The rest of the book deals with his need to seek out this boundless magic that he felt. His journey takes him to the farthest reaches of his empire, schooling in sorcery, discovering companionship and dealing with loss.

Alder reminds me of a lot of fantasy protagonists that I've previously read. He has a certain level of innocence (along with being utterly dense in some areas) which reminded me of Fitzchivalry Farseer (from Assassin's Apprentice, no offense Fitz). Alder's name in Nayeni is literally 'foolish cur' (poetic, I think yes). His quick wit and eagerness to learn something new reminded me of kvoth (Kingkiller chronicle) and his thirst for power sort of reminding me of Rin (The poppy war, though alder doesn't go anywhere near as crazy as Rin does). Alder's ambition for welding magic or "The Pattern" as referred in the book is the major driving force behind the plot for about two thirds of the book. His quest to reclaim magic free of any constraints throughout the book mirrors the plight of his people who seek to be free of the empire and their fight to reclaim it (atleast it did for me. If I'm reading in too much, well that's just human nature).

The world building was well done but it wasn't the "blow-your-mind" off kind (this is purely personal opinion) then again this is a fully character focused story rather than a plot focused one so it served it's purpose and gave you what you needed for the story to progress. An issue that I have (more personal issues, this one I've seen a few time and so have to talk about it) is that the story falls into a rather predictable area where the protagonist starts with one faction but throughout the story, their journey leads them to join a faction they'd opposed in the beginning. This usually leads to one faction being completely in the wrong while the other completely in the right. Show both sides having their share of flaws which will lead the protagonist to make their own path separate from both the former ones. The book tackles this issue pretty well for the most part, then by the last quarter proceeds to shelve the whole thing (which disappointed me).Although by some aspects of the way the book ended, it feels like this juggling of which faction is in the wrong will continue on in the sequels.

All-in-all an incredible debut to an exciting new world, a very relatable protagonist and story that I enjoy so much that I'm willing to look over what shortcomings that I've had of it. This has been one of my most exciting reads of 2021 and I am very much looking forward to the sequel.

I'd like to thank the publisher Orion Publishing group, Netgalley and the author J T Greathouse for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy of the book. This does not affect my opinion of the book but I cannot stop gushing over how much I loved it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mike Shackle.
Author 3 books314 followers
July 10, 2021
Sometimes a book comes along that is truly special. J.T. Greathouse is about to to take Patrick Rothfuss’ crown with the THE HAND OF The SUN KING. It’s a beautiful tale about a someone trying to discover the magic within themselves, in a world where they’ll never truly fit in. Be prepared to be swept along on a unique journey where the consequences of choice echo through an empire.
Profile Image for Maria Fordon.
218 reviews43 followers
February 13, 2023
An astonishing debut by J. T. Greathouse that in time will become a modern clasic of fantasy.
Coming of age is one on my favourite thropes fom literature in general, especially when it is executed so well. Add it to an Asian-inspired universe that has a magic system based on nature elements and you get an intriguing and exciting story.
The prose and the atmosphere made me fall in love with this book fom the first page. It still surprise me how well balanced are all the elements of this fascinating work.
There are so many things I could praise in "The Hand Of The Sun King", but one of them made the strongest impact: the relationships between the characters. As Adler or Foolish Cur admites himself, all the people that tuched his life had a rolle in his maturing and helped him achieve his resolution.
There would be so much more that I would love to say, but I want to make sure I express my gratitude to Petrik Leo, without whom I would have not discovered this beautiful book, nor this amazing author.
Profile Image for Candie.
316 reviews102 followers
July 4, 2021
I really enjoyed this book. The story was different from the other fantasy books that I have read recently; it seemed like a very high, classic fantasy but with a bit of a modern twist. There was a lot of adventure, magic and world building and it was very plot based; things moved along very quickly. A lot happens in this book!

It was a coming of age story focusing on the main character Wen Alder. The character development of Wen was very good, he started out as a very impulsive, maybe know it all, child who didn't always make the best decisions but you could definitely see his growth throughout the book. He seemed very real. I felt the overall themes of loyalty, friendship and responsibility strongly but I did think that the relationship development between him and the other characters was lacking just a bit. I was very invested in him but not so much in very many other characters. I hope the second book gives us more insight into some of the other characters to really have more people to root for.

I will definitely read the next book in this series when it comes out. Now that the world is built and the magic system explained, I feel like it has the potential to be even better than the first!

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Brenda Waworga.
593 reviews667 followers
July 6, 2022
Really like the first half of the book, but the last half of the book bored me to death…. i even grow to dislike the main character Wen Adler or should i call “Foolish Cur” (all these “nicknames” really annoyed me somehow 😅) by the story goes on, not the biggest fan of his character development… he describes as a clever ambitius young lad but his decision sometimes felt foolish and childish

The writing style is also really dense, not my cup of tea… i love the Asian inspired story and story about gods and the Tentagram magic is cool but in my opinion the magic is not explained well (yet?) and i don’t like magic that seems got no boundaries, like they can do anything? shapeshifting… making fires ect ect

Sad cause i really was hoping to love this book, but think i will NOT continue to read the sequel
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,785 reviews1,625 followers
August 7, 2021
The Hand of the Sun King is the first instalment in the Pact and Pattern trilogy and Greathouse’s grimdark fantasy debut combining the intricate magic of Brent Weeks and the emotional heft of Robin Hobb, this is a novel about family and loyalty in the face of adversity. Wen Alder was born into two worlds. On his father’s side, a legacy of proud loyalty and service to the god-like Sienese Emperor spanning generations. And it is expected that Alder, too, will follow this tradition by passing the Imperial exams, learning the accepted ways of legitimate magic and, if he serves with honour, enhancing his family's prominence by rising to take a most powerful position in Sien—the Hand of the Emperor. But from his mother, he has inherited defiance from the Empire, a history of wild gods and magic, unlike anything the Imperial sorcerers could yet control. It began when his spirited, rebellious grandmother took Alder into the woods and introduced him to her ways—ways he has never been able to forget. The ways of forbidden witchcraft, before she abandoned him to join the resistance.

Now, on the verge of taking the steps that will forge the path of his life, Alder discovers that the conflict between the Empire and the resistance is only the beginning of a war that will engulf both heaven and earth, gods and man—and he may be the key to final victory for whichever side can claim him as their own. This is a captivating and superbly written novel woven into an intriguing first-person auto fictional tale. Greathouse's writing flows like silk, the world he has created practically leaps off the page, and Alder’s conflicted journey kept me hooked from beginning to end. It really it is something special and a standout fantasy of 2021 so far. It is a gripping combination of history and philosophy, remixed with some of my favourite fantasy elements including a complex magic system, a coming-of-age story, a morally conflicted protagonist, ancient mysterious gods and a massive world-spanning empire. An enchanting, intimate yet spacious world full of magic, intricate detail and richly imagined fantasy elements. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jenn Howlett.
Author 4 books22 followers
November 17, 2022

The Hand of the Sun King follows the story of Wen Alder in an autobiographical manner as he struggles with both his desire to learn magic and with where his heritage and loyalties lie. Torn between his Empire upbringing, through the prolific line of his Father and his Mothers Nayeni background. Wen Alder forges a path through a life fraught with struggles between his mixed-race heritage that complicates his deeper desires to learn unrestricted magic; which is bound by the very Gods themselves.

Essentially, The Hand of the Sun King is a chronological biographical study of Wen Alder, known also as Foolish Cur, throughout his young adult years. We’re shown the world in which he inhabits through his eyes and experiences and the events that develop his character throughout the story as it progresses. Alder is a character that shapes the world around him and is organically shaped by it in return. Often in stories, there are events that happen that feel contrived – they happen because they have to happen in order for the story to progress – in The Hand of the Sun King, each life-shaping event feels completely natural. Certain events happen and, at the time, they may seem small or insignificant, yet more often than not, they circle back into major events in Alders life. Not once did I feel events were misplaced or felt trite and the flow of the story felt all the more enhanced because of it. Alder grew in himself organically, he developed at a pace that matched the events of the novel. His thirst for magic is his driving motivation throughout the story; it is an arrogant desire that sets him on a path that doesn’t always turn in his favor.

While I found Wen Alder himself a character that was engaging to read about, it was the world-building and how he lived and experienced this world that captivated me the most. The setting in The Hand of the Sun King is fantasy with clear far-eastern influences throughout. At the heart of this world are different systems of magic, each one as interesting as the next. The heritages of several different cultures are explained to the reader as they are experienced by the lead character. We come to an understanding at the same time as Alder does; the systems aren’t overly complex, but they all felt unique when compared to one another – a stroke of creativity that really lifts the novel when compared to its peers. Each of the cultures has its own aesthetics to accompany them, despite being part of a larger whole in the Empire. The details in these cultures come across with easy, yet vivid, imagery through the use of folk-lore, background stories, and rich descriptive writing.

Returning to Alder, he is a flawed character and because of that following his story isn’t always easy. He makes choices that end in tragedy, purely in his desire to learn unrestricted magic, and doesn’t always come away from these choices unscathed. Surrounding him are manipulative characters that seek their own ends, often wearing the disguise of a kinship that Alder so desperately seeks.

The plot of The Hand of the Sun King, as already mentioned, follows Alder throughout his young-adult years and his struggles to find his place in the world. At its heart, is a coming-of-age story that is like no other I have read. There are major events that Alder shapes throughout the novel but overall the pacing is quite steady, each event taking time to build to its climax before having its shattering impression on the main character and those around him. The plot can be broken down into key moments, each of which reaches a crescendo before being resolved after leaving a defining moment upon Alders life – which he is shaped by. Often the choices and impacts left behind during these moments remain with Alder as he grows throughout the novel.

While the focus throughout the novel is entirely upon Alder and his place in the world, there are other characters around him who are equally well-considered. From his parents, his friend, Oriole, and his teachers and mentors to minor characters features in folk-takes. Each of these characters has the same careful amount of detail written into them; they’re rich in their development and the roles in which they play in Alders life; making choices for him and pushing him in uncertain directions, adding to the ultimate puzzle; Where does Alder belong?
Profile Image for Anj✨.
176 reviews27 followers
August 12, 2021
It's a coming-of-age story of Wen Alder aka Foolish Cur. A boy torn between two worlds due to his Nayeni and Sianese heritage. When the time came to pick a side, he decided to carve his own path, a path that would allow him to attain freedom from the shackles of the legacies that binds him.

First of all, the world-building is East Asian-inspired and vividly imagined. We see and experience the picturesque world through Wen Alder's eyes. It is rich in culture and folklore, and history. It explores themes such as war and its aftermath, poverty, oppression, and colonialism.
The magic system is complex and fascinating. Each country has their own unique magic. And we learn as Wen Alder learn to wield it.

Also, J.T. Greathouse's prose is beautiful and poetic. The prose flowed naturally which was perfect for the slow pacing of the book. I savored it and the lush descriptions painted the scenes vividly.

Wen Alder's characterization is well done. He's a deeply flawed character who longs for knowledge and prone to being cold and proud due to his upbringing. He is impatient, arrogant since he's smarter than most people and he makes poor choices due to this. His relationship with his grandmother, friendship and loyalty are an important part in shaping his character arc.

𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑯𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑺𝒖𝒏 𝑲𝒊𝒏𝒈 is a beautiful and refreshing read. It has intricate plot, political maneuvering, and tragic events that Robin Hobb's fans would love. It's definitely one of the best debuts I read this year and I'm eagerly anticipating to see where it goes next.

Big thanks to Gollancz and Netgalley for the DRC. Allthoughts and opinions are mine.
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
540 reviews123 followers
October 16, 2021
There's some cool stuff with gods and magic. Another book with another rebellion against another evil empire. But it stays pretty fresh.
Profile Image for Raksha.
212 reviews70 followers
August 4, 2021
See me attempt to review my favourite book till date of 2021.

The Hand of the Sun King, a stunning debut by J T Greathouse, is the kind of book that you keep thinking about long after you’ve finished it.
There are a lot of things that one can discuss about when it comes to this book - the beautiful prose, the character’s quest for greater knowledge and his loneliness as he traverses adulthood, which somehow feels deeply personal and emotional, the loosely Asian-inspired setting or the character himself - who while being brilliant also makes you want to shake him and go “WHY YOU SO DUMB?”. I can talk about all of these and more but I’m also hesitant as I want everyone to experience the book as I did, free of any expectations. Suffice it to say that I absolutely loved it!

TL;DR: A coming-of-age story told in a series of vignettes, The Hand of the Sun King is a book I will be recommending over and over again to everyone.

Recommended to: Fans of classic fantasy and coming-of-age stories and especially fans of Assassin’s Apprentice.

Rating: All the stars!
Profile Image for Lila.
843 reviews9 followers
October 10, 2021
You often hear the phrase that for writers word of mouth is essential. It was never more clear to me than with this book. The first time I heard about it was when in one of his video Petrik Leo called it the best fantasy debut of 2021. Considering the amazing books we got this year, I was curious why this book earned the distinction.
Having read it, I am here to do my part in spreading the word: The Hand of the Sun King is one of the best fantasy books I've read this year.

Bare bones: Ven Adler is the son of a well-earning Sienese merchant and Nayeni woman with ties to the infamous rebels has devoted his life to studying for the highest office of civil service- to be the Hand of the Emperor. It's a position of prestige and power, but Ven is not interested in that: he wants to learn magic emperor bestows on his Hands. The magic is something he became fascinated by when as child he witnessed his maternal grandmother's wielding the native forbidden art and he felt the ripples of reality being bent to her will. But she left off to join the resistance, so his only way to knowledge is to join the elite band of emperor's sorcerers called Hands. But the gods, the empire and the resistance only care about their war and they will do their best to pull Ven into their battles.

- This is an Asian inspired fantasy novel, with specific inspiration being Imperial China, which again sounds like a too broad of a term, but I'd say it has the strongest echoes of Ming dynasty period. There is an Emperor who united under Sienese rule previously independent lands and he has a vast network of administrative and military officials who operate as extensions of his will. But there is also a fantasy version of ethnic minorities in this empire, there are multiple religions, there are philosophical debates and heroic romantic stories as different versions of learning about history and there are rebellions and complex bureaucratic governing system. We read about differences in looks, the wild folk religion of Nayeni in contrast to rigid and strict Sienese doctrine and many more. Author actually made a point not to depict Sien Empire as a monolith, but as an Empire that annexed previously independent lands with their own culture which gives his world a whole lot of nuance beyond simply adding the "Asian" flavour.
For example, in order to earn the coveted position young male members like Ven have to pass Imperial examination, a series of tests based on classical texts, philosophical debates and calligraphy skill. It's not the first time I see some form of Imperial examination in fantasy novels- The Poppy War comes to mind- but like I said, Greathouse is all about the nuance. In TPW, Rin passed the test despite working all day and not having enough time and not sleeping. In this book, Ven is incredibly smart, but it's easy to conclude that his chances of passing the tests are higher because all he did was studying for it since he was a child and his father has money to pay him a tutor. So, yes, naturally gifted, but also very much privileged.
-I was actually surprised how many times Robin Hobb's The Farseer Trilogy crossed my mind as I was reading this novel. It's the combination of first person narration, some lyrical writing and all the emotions both authors managed to convey with their characters. You really become invested in both Fitz and Ven because you read them growing up, being in their heads, all those confusing emotions and stupid mistakes they make, first heartbreaks and reality checks. Ven is a bit more assertive than Fitz because he is ambitious, but I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who want that same melancholy vibe with all the feels.
-The Emperor having such an absolute position I really liked the different ways Sien asserted their will on conquered lands, not only relying on pure force. For example, the Empire gives an opportunity to anyone to enter imperial examinations, whether they come from merchant family, village or one of the conquered nations. The whole inner conflict Ven has is about the fact he doesn't think that either side of his heritage is better than the other, just different. Sienese are always open to negotiating, they bring prosperity and help the people they want to assimilate into Empire. But there are reasons behind everything they do and Ven learns it the hard way. Very much both the carrot and the stick which made the story anything but predictable.
-The name of the series, Pact and Pattern, is actually a perfect way to describe magic system in this novel. Magic is depicted as something so encompassing that it managed to grab Ven when he was just a boy and became his obsession and reason behind his ambition, it's something so grand and wild that it can only be defined by its boundaries, the thing that ground it, the thing that rein it in. The connection of magic to religion and pantheon of gods that come to meddle in their own way give this novel a mystical and fantastical vibe without taking the focus away from the Ven's story and his character development.
-This being the first book in series, I was dreading the cliffhanger ending, but Greathouse managed to round up this part of Ven's path in a satisfying way. There is so many things I am curious about: the other provinces of the Empire, Emperor's canon and witches of the old sort and I can't wait to read where author will take our characters next.
This book earned all the praise and I am really grateful to Petrik for putting it on my radar. It was an absolute pleasure.

Thank you to NetGalley,
JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc. and J.T. Greathouse for providing me with an arc copy of this book!
Profile Image for Sarah  Aubert .
458 reviews344 followers
June 14, 2021
Thank you to Gollancz for providing me with an e-ARC of this novel. All opinions are my own.

The Hand of the Sun King, a Fantasy debut slated to release later this summer, will appeal to a particular sort of Fantasy reader. The story follow Wen Alder - also known as Foolish Cur - a young man caught between two warring factions. His father, loyal to the Sienese empire and hoping to reclaim the lofty status of his elders, rests all his hopes on Wen Alder. Alternatively, Broken Limb, the grandmother of our protagonist, secretly teaches him the ways of their ancestors, who have been hunted down and forced to assimilate or die. Hoping that he will take of the mantel of protector, she dubs him Foolish Cur and attempts to teach him sacred magic that has long been kept from the reaches of the Sienese Emperor. However, instead of sparking in him a patriotic duty, she awakens a thirst for knowledge that knows neither filial loyalty or civic pride; Foolish Cur, contrary to the hopes of those who struggle to direct his future, wishes to forge his own path.

Much of this book is devoted to Alder/Cur's deliberation. In trying to seek out true knowledge of magic and what it can accomplish, he dabbles as a driven student, a loyal imperial servant, a despairing citizen of a cruel empire, and - most often - an indecisive young adult. It is, above all things, an introspective narrative, so we are given intimate access to Alder's thoughts. For intensely character-driven readers this will likely be a fascinating experience; there is a nuanced examination of what it means to live in a colonized society (and even more, to benefit at the expense of others who live there). Alder's growth is slow and he often falters, but this slow movement toward self-actualization feels realistic.

One unfortunate downside to the narrative being so focused on Alder's internal struggle is that we don't get a lot from the secondary characters. They don't get to evolve beyond their function to Alder's story: family member, friend, mentor, lover, these characters never grow (at least in my opinion) beyond the designations they're assigned. This start to shift in small ways near the end of the book, so I have hopes that this may improve as the series continues.

In terms of world building, the magic is relatively soft (mostly elemental in nature, with some nebulous rules about energy expenditure), but that tends to be my preference. There was much emphasis on trade, economics, and how the various colonized regions of the empire have contributed to its success. The pantheon of Gods was briefly visited, and I expect that they will play a much larger role as the series progresses.

Overall, I thought this was a solid debut. I enjoy character-driven stories and this provided some interesting parallels to R.F. Kuang's Poppy War series. The ending was fantastic and while it doesn't end on a painful cliffhanger, it certainly peaked my interest for what's to come next.
Profile Image for Clay Harmon.
Author 2 books87 followers
December 20, 2021
My ARC review: I love complex and diverse magic systems, and this story scratched that itch so well; the concept of pacts and their restrictions and the pattern made for this awesome setup of rules for Alder to break. It also made for all these cool and interesting ways for magic to manifest that was very vivid. Alder's progression of this ignorant kid with a dangerous curiosity to the person he was at the end of the novel (no spoilers) was a great arc. As far as the world itself is concerned, I really appreciated getting this contrast of snowy, northern wilds of places like Iron Town versus hot and arid places like An-Zabat. It also provided a solid setup for the rest of the series. We also get this supporting cast of characters with their own motivations that are easy for the reader to understand, and they all interact with Alder in a way that makes for a range of different relationships.

Looking forward to reading the sequel, whenever that may be.
Profile Image for Richard Swan.
Author 12 books524 followers
February 1, 2023
An incredibly accomplished debut. Few characters and their thoughts, feelings, internal conflicts and fallibilities are as well-rendered as Wen Alder. I was sad to finish it, but I am consoled by the existence of 2 more books in the Pact and Pattern series.
Profile Image for Iza Brekilien.
1,123 reviews106 followers
February 25, 2023
First of all, thanks to Netgalley for letting me read this novel.
However, it wasn't what I expected - maybe "The name of the wind" ruined me for all coming of age fantasy books ?...
I'll try to share why I was disappointed without spoiling anything.
- The characters : not very deep, often one-dimensional, with an unlikeable main character. There are novels with unlikable characters that I adore (Rebecca, Wuthering heights for instance) so it doesn't bother me usually but here... Foolish cur was rude, spoiled, unsatisfied,... foolish ! He never learned from his mistakes and kept heading in directions that were bound to cause him trouble without any plan, just counting on the spur of the moment to escape fate. I guess it was supposed to show his cleverness, but he was just lucky.
- Unbelievable events happened, Alder was sent on an important mission without being trained for it, he thought he could hide... em... things (spoiler free review) that were obvious, the twist near the end was unbelievable too.
- He made a friend - we are told they became friends but it's not really shown. He found a lover - we are told they fell in love but why ? No idea.
The atmosphere of the book is not bad, but honestly, I don't see the difference with so many coming of age fantasy novels except that I just didn't buy it - I struggled to finish this story. For a novel with magic, I felt it lacked magic, wonder, excitement. It lacked soul. "The name of the wind" is so, so much better, a thousand times better !
I don't really understand why there is such praise about The hand of the Sun King, except that people have different tastes ? When I read other reviews, I wonder if we really read the same novel. Anyway, it's up to you to make your own opinion.
Profile Image for Bookish_mai.
121 reviews
February 6, 2023
The Hand of The Sun King is a charecter driven coming of Age fantasy which I absolutely LOVED. The tone of the book is melancholic, something about it reminded me of Farseer and Wounded Kingdome Triology. Mood, self consciousness, choices, brooding and perfectly melancholic.

The Fantasy element in this book is not epic in scope, so don’t expect epic battle scenes and mythological creatures. Rather it’s subtle, elemental magic and mysterious powers and forces.

There are several elements including choices, friendship, loyalty, mentorship and consequences. The writing is beautiful with elegant prose. The character development is brilliant. Loved the incorporation of calligraphy. The world building and magic system is really interesting, with clear cultures, politics and leadership.

If I were to say why this book wasn’t 5 stars for me, it would be because for me some of the side charecters did not feel as developed as the main character. I know this can happen with first person POV, and I have to say First-person worked well here. Another thing was something about the plot felt abit disconnected, at times I felt there was something I missed, but the excellent prose will still make this an enjoyable read.

To sum it up, this book Was Charecter Driven, atmospheric, melancholic, Coming of age fantasy. Will be rereading before the sequel.

4 ⭐️

Displaying 1 - 30 of 281 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.