The islands of Dara have recently come under the rule of one Emperor for the first time since the people's ancestors first landed. Unfortunately, the Emperor's rule is tyrannical and inspires several uprisings. The only successful uprisings are led by Mata Zyndu, who looks and fights like a hero of legend, and Kuni Garu, a former gangster who never had any direction in life. Unfortunately, though their campaigns are successful, there can only be one winner and friendship and the bonds of brothers-in-arms cannot survive.
This book was an enjoyable distraction from reality. It drew me in so well that, when I had to put it down for a spell, it felt like I was waking up into a different world. The characters are fully developed and feel very real and human, even the gods of Dara. I'll admit, I had some problems warming up to Kuni Garu as he reminded me of some people that I don't like, but his genuine kindness and concern over the well being of his people brought me around.
I do wish that the technology of this world was better explained. The islands of Daru boast many engineers as well as magic, though magic is usually reserved for the gods. But there was one scene where a metal detector was used and it caught me off guard. I had thought the technology was rather Renaissance Age(ish) so a metal detector really threw me off.
There is a lot of drama throughout this story, as one would expect. A few times I wanted to smack a character or two for causing or succumbing to said drama. Yet, this seems to fit with the overall theme of the book; the flawed hero. While Mata Zyndu embodies the heroes of old with his build, manner, and belief in might makes right, this sends his lands into a kind of chaos of their own. At the same time, while Kuni Garu's style keeps as many alive as possible, his character is far from perfect or honorable.
While I wish the ending was different, I respect Liu's choice to end it the way he did. Especially since it really seems like it's the only way it could end without feeling cheap. Liu sets up for a sequel quite well, though I'm not sure I'll be reading it. This book held my interest throughout, was quite endearing, and threw me a few surprises. But, I'm not really one for court level drama and politics and, from what I could determine with the ending of this first book, that's what the next book is going to be.
I happily give Grace of Kings 3.5 hoots and encourage anyone interested in fantasy, war, drama, etc. to pick up a copy.