On My Bookshelf: The Wall Of Storms

The second book of Ken Liu’s fantasy epic has alternated between my bookshelf and my hands for the past week. It came out fourteen months ago, but since this isn’t a book blog as such, readers get my literary reviews as I read them.

I liked the first book well enough. First the good:

  • The editing seems deft, but for one small stumble–three numerals embedded in a word. Computers can’t do it all, but they might catch stuff like that if a keen-eyed beta reader misses the figures.
  • You can read this book and pretty much skip the first. A few characters here were not quite as I remembered them in the earlier tome.
  • New characters are well-developed along with the old, a next generation begins to ascend and is both clever and susceptible to trickery.
  • The plotting is quite deft, and the twists and turns are pleasing.
  • Little bits from a wide range of contributors, a mix of imitation and adaptation on the whole: Westeros, wuxia, Homer, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, technology manuals …

Significant or not, some observations:

  • 850 pages is not for the faint of heart. The maps and character lists are nearly required, at least for the first few hundred pages. I don’t agree with the necessity of writing a huge book with so many significant persons to follow, but I said that about the first in the series. A story this complicated and heavily populated probably benefits more as a film effort, which I hear is in the works. If that isn’t done well, this will seem like an imitation of Game of Thrones, which certainly has made a few people a lot of money.
  • The antagonists, and occasionally their foes, are written as committing the most heinous and immoral acts imaginable. But Mr Liu isn’t satisfied with cardboard characters. Everybody gets a backstory. The reader understands acts of depravity, even if they remain repulsive.
  • There’s an important distinction between a person being clever and being wise. Wisdom is hard to find in this universe.
  • The title of the book suggests the political phenomena of corruption and war. But there’s also the introduction of the physical manifestation of this wall, which is made to be a key plot point. It seems a contrived point, more so than the emergence of egg-laying, mammalian fire-exhaling dragons. Maybe these contrivances get explained in future books.
  • Speaking of future books, there appears to be no end in sight for this series. This series is essentially a soap opera set amongst the 1%, so thanks to being very well-written, it may have legs for generations.

Final verdict? If you like fantasy epics with good characters that run for hundreds or even a few thousand pages, this work is exceedingly good. Better than most of what’s out there. I happen to think Ken Liu is a better writer than George R. R. Martin. If he were less imitative of lesser authors, I think this series would improve.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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