Dara has become a peaceful place under the benign custodianship of Kuni Garu, the one-time bandit and rebel, and now Emperor. It is a time for growth and contemplation, but not for long. As Kuni deals with a threat from within, another, in the form of an army from a distant land, invades Dara and begins a brutal change of the very nature of the empire. Once again Kuni and those loyal to his cause must fight to save the people under his care.
There is a saying about judging a book by its cover. If that is true then the artwork of the first Dandelion Empire book, The Grace of Kings and this sequel The Wall of Storms, should have readers rushing to pluck them off the shelves. The quality of the paper used to print these epics also has the most glorious texture and colour. This is very important because the series is one of the most significant fantasy epics to come out in decades and deserves a permanent place on display in any home, as the classic it is.
This time the story is told in a much more intimate style than the distant, but highly effective, The Grace of Kings. This allows the reader to explore the world of Kuni’s children by his wife Jia and his consort Risana. The character of the children and their interactions between each other, and the adults, begins to hint at what is to come as they grow out of childhood.The old world, and those who have helped to establish it, is in flux with intrigue never far away.
Imperial strategist, Luan Zya, is the epicentre of much of the intriguing, ‘food for thought’ philosophical exposition throughout the book, as author Ken Liu extrapolates ancient Chinese culture into the realms of his own unique brand of epic fantasy. This is a move which in a lesser writer would slow down and distract from the plot. In Liu’s hands it becomes an indispensable mechanism to keep the narrative moving along while immersing the reader deeper into a world of marvels. But Luan, having refused all titles is wandering the empire on a voyage of contemplation a so there is need of a replacement who can help to steer Dara through its new trials. This replacement is not long in appearing.
As well as the Emperor’s children shifting to centre stage, there is also the remarkable, but outspoken student, Zomi Kidosu. Zomi is particularly interesting as she lacks the type of subtlety usually required to survive at court where intrigues are rife, yet her extraordinary grasp of the most obscure concepts bear remarkable fruit in terms of developing Kuni’s empire and the technological developments needed to defend Dara. Zomi is also an interesting inclusion because this is a world where women may be concubines, but they can also be scholars and soldiers, exerting as much authority as the men. In this Kuni is central as a visionary and a great leader keen to provide an empire of equality in which everyone has a chance to make their mark.
Once the invaders begin to make their impact on Dara, the action notches up a pace and the descriptions of the battle scenes would not be out of place in the Iliad. Although Dara does not have the advanced technology of a science fiction story, the possibilities of advancement that come to fruition during the fight against the invaders are littered throughout the earlier part of the book and will have you flipping back the pages to find them.
If you were stranded on a desert island with only one book to keep you company, then The Wall of Storms, dense with characters, heroic action sequences and philosophical imaginings, has the type of longevity to keep a reader going for years as they return to the book time after time. I was lucky enough to be kindly sent a copy by Saga Press. But, as with The Grace of Kings, I will be buying the hardback version when it comes out, because whatever books I have to cull from the library, this is a series that I will always keep, because I will see something I missed on the previous time round.