Petrik's Reviews > The Ruin of Kings

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
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ARC provided by the publisher—Tor Books—in exchange for an honest review.

Convoluted and complex are probably understatements, but I don’t have any other words to describe the main attributes of this debut.

For those of you who don’t know, The Ruin of Kings have been the fantasy debut that Tor has been promoting heavily for several months now. This novel has been advertised as the debut of the year that’s targeted “For fans of George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss”. I’ll be completely honest here, if any publisher or author decides to put all of these giant, super high profile fantasy authors’ references into a debut work by an unknown author, it seriously better be a masterpiece. I’m one of those readers who had their interest for this book sparked by that bold claim, and I jumped at the chance of reading and reviewing it early; expecting it to be a debut that will go down into my ‘best of all time’ lists. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Although I liked spending time with this book, I didn’t love it. And honestly speaking, despite the chaos and questions which arose from the ending sequences, I doubt I'll be continuing with the series.

“A hero who has never had a bad thing happen to him isn’t a hero—he’s just spoiled.”


The Ruin of Kings is Jenn Lyon’s debut and it’s the first out of five books in A Chorus of Dragons series. The main story revolves around Kihrin, who in the present timeline is in jail retelling all the events that have happened to him which eventually led to his capture. Now, here’s where it immediately started to get complicated. Kihrin’s narration doesn’t begin from his actual beginning but halfway through his journey; the first half of Kihrin’s story is instead being narrated by his jailor—Talon. This means there are three main timeframes to follow. First is the present timeline in which Kihrin is in jail telling his story to Talon. Then, the second and third timelines—where the majority of the book takes place in—deal with Kihrin’s past. These chapters are told in a see-saw method, consecutively switching back and forth with each chapter progression in the first person (Kihrin’s narration) and third person (Talon’s narration) perspectives. There are also a lot of footnotes added by another character, because everything you read about Kihrin—in both timelines—was actually done in written format by this character. Not only the unconventional storytelling makes it very easy to lose focus on who’s who or what, many of the characters—and believe me, there are a lot of names to remember—have multiple nicknames, and also similar-sounding names. For example: Teraeth, Terindel, Therin, Tyentso, Kelindel, and Kelinos, just to name a few. To add even more confusion, there were also elements of body swapping, which meant some of the characters you encounter may not be who you think they are.

My main problem with all these is that even after finishing the whole story, it all feels like it was unnecessarily convoluted. I truly believe The Ruin of Kings would’ve been an amazing debut if it was told in a linear and chronological structure. Talon’s narration which began from Kihrin’s true beginning was so much more engaging than Kihrin’s narration due to its natural sense of story progression and characters’ development. Kihrin’s narration began halfway throughout his flashback. Think of it like this. When you’re reading a book, you start reading from the first page and flip through it one at a time. In The Ruin of Kings, not only do you start from the first page, but at the same time you also have to start from the 50% mark; then you continue your progress from each starting point by switching back and forth between two different time frames. I thought there would be a good reason for using this unconventional storytelling style that will result in a huge impact, but there was none. There was no epic convergence or anything like that at all. In the end, it all seems like this unconventional style was included for the sake of making things more complex than necessary. Every chapter became a constant battle of readjusting information gathered in your head due to the different timeframes. Plus, Kihrin in all timeframes sounded like totally different characters due to this storytelling method - the main character’s development became disjointed and abstract rather than natural. When a chapter was great and I was interested to find out what happened next, the narrative forced me to read another chapter from a different timeframe first. And this happened regularly.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy complex epic fantasy, I’ve read and utterly loved Malazan Book of the Fallen and other massive fantasy series. However, The Ruin of Kings didn’t really work out for me, as I felt it was deliberately more complex than it needed to be. I strongly advise readers to check out the preview chapters kindly provided by Tor on their website, or NetGalley before getting this book. For the reasons I mentioned above, I truly believe that you have to truly know what kind of storytelling style you’re getting into here; you can’t rely only on the blurbs and advertisements. I’m saying this so that the book will attract the right audience too. I always try my best to read a book that has my interest with as little information as possible. Most of the time it worked absolutely well, but sadly this was one of those rare cases where it didn’t; I should’ve read at least a few chapters before requesting for the ARC.

I know I have sounded really negative and critical so far but believe me that it wasn’t all bad. The world-building, in particular, was spectacular. Lyons implemented her world-building gradually and there wasn't any info-dump. The world that Lyons has built in The Ruin of Kings was huge in scope, full of rich history, brimming with dangers, politics, gods, demons, and massive dragon. Lyons also has a superbly engaging prose that even when the story became too convoluted, I was never bored with it and was still intrigued to continue. Finally, the side characters were incredibly well-written. I didn't find myself invested with Kihrin, but his interaction and banter with the side characters were humorous and entertaining to read. Every side character have their personality well fleshed-out and their own distinct voices. Galen and Doc were two of my favorite characters from the book. I do want to say though, that this book is not for YA. It deals with a lot of heavy and dark topics like rape, incest, slavery, and prejudice that I think is not suitable for a younger audience.

“Real evil is an empire like Quur, a society that feeds on its poor and its oppressed like a mother eating her own children. Demons and monsters are obvious; we’ll always band together to fight them off. But real evil, insidious evil, is what lets us just walk away from another person’s pain and say, well, that’s none of my business.”


My rating speaks for itself; that I liked The Ruin of Kings and I think this was a good debut. Overall, I just didn’t find the book to reach the level of grandeur promised by the very high claims. In my opinion, The Ruin of Kings was a good debut that could've been amazing if it follows a more linear and chronological storytelling style. Although in the end this didn't really work out as much as I hoped, I recommend The Ruin of Kings to readers who are looking for complex epic fantasy with an unconventional storytelling method.

Official release date: February 5th, 2019 (US), February 7th, 2019 (UK)

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

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
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Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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message 1: by Birte (new) - added it

Birte Great review! The narrative style sounded a little bit like Blood Song in the beginning but there was a reason for that. I'll see whether I'll pick it up.


Petrik Birte wrote: "Great review! The narrative style sounded a little bit like Blood Song in the beginning but there was a reason for that. I'll see whether I'll pick it up."

Thank you, Birte! Haha it may sound like Blood Song or Name of the Wind, but believe me it's not... xD


message 3: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Greendale Uh oh. I pre-ordered this one. :(


Petrik Hannah wrote: "Uh oh. I pre-ordered this one. :("

I hope it will work out better for you, Hannah! :')


message 5: by Gavin (new) - added it

Gavin Great review, Petrik:) I've seen the mega hype for this book but your review and Eon's review have helped keep my feet on the ground lol!

What is up with authors not going with a linear approach to storytelling recently? A few of my reads last year (Red Sister and Empire of Silence) tried to be creative and only made me wish they had kept things simple as the story would have been better for it!

Is this one of those books that is going to hit me with spoilers due to the structure? I'm not sure I can handle any more of those lol.


Petrik Gavin wrote: "Great review, Petrik:) I've seen the mega hype for this book but your review and Eon's review have helped keep my feet on the ground lol!

What is up with authors not going with a linear approach ..."


Thanks, Gavin! I'm trying to be realistic here, but I don't think the mega hype will do the book a favor when the book is out... This isn't a book that will be a hit with a lot of readers imo.

I haven't read Empire of Silence but I've read Red Sister. I don't mind the flashback in Red Sister, Nona's flashback didn't happen too often imo. This was just insane... Believe me, if you're irked by Red Sister, I think this one has a chance of making you hate it. xD

But I really hope if you do give it a try, that this somehows ends up working out better for you! :)


message 7: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Awesome review, Petrik! This definitely sounds needlessly convoluted. I agree that it's a huge red flag when publishers compare a book to that many different authors. As soon as you compare to more than three different authors or works, then you're clearly just fishing for the widest possible audience. It isn't a great strategy though; it usually leads to disappointed fans.


message 8: by Runalong (new) - added it

Runalong Well I definitely will be reading this :)


message 9: by Calvin (new) - added it

Calvin Park Thanks for this review--very much mirrors my own take from what I've read of Ruin of Kings so far. The story-telling really is convoluted on a number of levels and it's so frustrating that its convoluted because there is a wonderful story and world that's sort of obstructed by the time and perspective jumps.


message 10: by Gavin (new) - added it

Gavin Petrik wrote: "I haven't read Empire of Silence but I've read Red Sister. I don't mind the flashback in Red Sister, Nona's flashback didn't happen too often imo. This was just insane... Believe me, if you're irked by Red Sister, I think this one has a chance of making you hate it. xD.."

I was fine with the flashbacks in Red Sister. It was those flashforwards that drove me insane! Like I want to time time out the story to be hit with some depressing spoilers for future events lol! I honestly think the format cost Red Sister a star in my rating so if this is even worse I'm definitely lowering my expectations a lot:) So great work getting me properly prepared for this one:)


message 11: by TS (new)

TS Chan Great review, my friend. Helped to ease my TBR a bit :)


message 12: by Travis (new)

Travis This is on my radar for this year. It ticks a lot of my boxes. Thanks for the honest review as always!


message 13: by gelowmichael (new)

gelowmichael Oh! I also have the ARC of this! And it makes me more less excited about it because of your review but let see about it! :)


Petrik Colleen wrote: "Awesome review, Petrik! This definitely sounds needlessly convoluted. I agree that it's a huge red flag when publishers compare a book to that many different authors. As soon as you compare to more..."

Thank you, Colleen! Yeah... I'm very thankful that Tor send me the book to review. But this kind of advertising, imo, rarely did the debut author any favor. It may be good to drive pre-order sales but I think once people get the book and read it, they're in for a huge disappointment if they expect it to be as good as those giant author's work.


Petrik Runalong wrote: "Well I definitely will be reading this :)"

That's good! I hope you'll love this! :)


Petrik Calvin wrote: "Thanks for this review--very much mirrors my own take from what I've read of Ruin of Kings so far. The story-telling really is convoluted on a number of levels and it's so frustrating that its conv..."

You're welcome, Calvin. I'm glad you agree! The thing is, like I said, I genuinely believe that this would've worked for me so much more if it was told in a much linear fashion.


Petrik Gavin wrote: "Petrik wrote: "I haven't read Empire of Silence but I've read Red Sister. I don't mind the flashback in Red Sister, Nona's flashback didn't happen too often imo. This was just insane... Believe me,..."

Ahhh the flashforward, that's what you mean! I didn't mind that one as well but yeah this one is much worse because it non stop jump back and forth between three (or four) timelines. Sure they tell a different story arc, but still... hard to explain xD If you do give this one a go, just make sure to keep it in mind. I hope you'll love it more than me! :)


Petrik TS wrote: "Great review, my friend. Helped to ease my TBR a bit :)"

Thank you, my friend! Yeah, this one won't work for you that much imo, you can skip it! :p


Petrik Travis wrote: "This is on my radar for this year. It ticks a lot of my boxes. Thanks for the honest review as always!"

Thanks, Travis! I hope you'll find this book working out for you more than me! :)


Petrik gelowmichael wrote: "Oh! I also have the ARC of this! And it makes me more less excited about it because of your review but let see about it! :)"

Just keep your expectation in check and I think you'll enjoy this more than me! At least I hope so! :D


message 21: by Travis (new)

Travis Petrik wrote: Thanks, Travis! I hope you'll find this book working out for you more than me..."

Thanks Petrik! Looking forward to it!


message 22: by Rusty (new)

Rusty Grey Fantastic review dude !! Hopefully your next read is better . :D


Petrik Rusty wrote: "Fantastic review dude !! Hopefully your next read is better . :D"

Thank you, Rusty! It certainly was! :)


message 24: by Liz C (new)

Liz C Very good review. The fact you say it's more convoluted than Malazan series has ensured it won't end up on my tbd pile. Cheers Petrik.


Petrik Liz C wrote: "Very good review. The fact you say it's more convoluted than Malazan series has ensured it won't end up on my tbd pile. Cheers Petrik."

Thanks, Liz. Haha I'm not saying that it's more convoluted than malazan. But it's more like that Malazan have to be that convoluted in order for the story to be that good. This one didn't need to. If it was simpler, it would've worked so much better. That's my take on it! :)


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