Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Pale Kings by Micah Yongo

Today I finished reading Pale Kings, the second book of Micah Yongo's Lost Gods series and the first of his books that I've read. The two things that really jumped out at me about the book are:

1) I really like how Yongo writes. Really like it. His prose reminded me of Guy Gavriel Kay in terms of its ability to feel weighty and beautiful, yet human and a bit sly - but where as GGK does it with soaring emotions and drama, there's something of a slow burn to the way Yongo's revelations come.

2) I was really confused as to what was going on.

Now, those playing along at home will notice that a possible reason for that. It took me a long time to twig it was the second book - for some reason I didn't notice it when requesting it on NetGalley - and I think it probably did contribute but it's not the only reason. The problem was largely down to a huge cast of characters that ran into each other; never before have I read a book that so clearly illustrated why authors like Jim Butcher give their characters 'tags'. It might be annoying reading about braid twitching for the 50th time, but it beats taking half a book to distinguish between Neythan, Daneel, Joram and Sidon. 

But I kept reading it despite that confusion because most scenes were worth it in and of themselves. And as I started to understand the unraveling plot and which character was which, I got sucked into the story as well. I have a soft spot for metaphysical mysteries - that is to say, fantasies that has characters delving deep into the nature of their secondary worlds, particularly their magic and divinity - and that is something Pale Kings does really well. Yongo does more than pander to my preferences though; he weaves a wonderful tale of deceit, betrayal, intrigue and assassins. It could afford to be heavier on the assassins, but that's just the neanderthal in me. 

I would normally be giving a combination of enthralling prose and my favourite type of plot (if it takes a while to recognise) a very high score and as much praise as I can give out without feeling like I'm embarrassing the author. The problem here is the characterisation; maybe I read straight past it, but I still struggle to say what defines Neythan. Maybe that would have been fixed if I'd read Book 1. And despite the wealth of description, I'd struggle to tell you what the cities of the Sovreignity are like too. Yongo gives too many small details and not enough ones that stick. 

And it doesn't help that what characterisation I did get, I didn't always like. Joram falls into the category of fantasy characters where I wish they'd fall down some stairs, break their neck, and never be mentioned again; narcissistic, callous and unimpressive. Neythan and Sidon both had moments where I wanted to shout at them for being too dumb to live.

Ultimately though, that is the only real reason I can think of why someone mightn't like this book. In all other regards, even people who don't love the prose or the nature of the plot the way I do should at least like it, by and large. Pale Kings is ambitious Epic Fantasy of the sort of scale and complexity shown in Daniel Abraham's work, executed with gorgeous prose and a powerful imagination. I don't know whether the first book in the series is worth reading, but the second definitely is.

(I got a copy of this book through NetGalley from Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review - thanks peeps)

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