Special thanks to JABerwocky Literary Agency, Inc. for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
Goodreads: The Hand of the Sun King (Pact and Pattern #1)
Publisher: JABerwocky Literary Agency, Inc.
Published: 05 August 2021
Genre: Adult Fantasy
My name is Wen Alder. My name is Foolish Cur.
All my life, I have been torn between two legacies: that of my father, whose roots trace back to the right hand of the Emperor. That of my mother’s family, who reject the oppressive Empire and embrace the resistance.
I can choose between them – between protecting my family, or protecting my people – or I can search out a better path . . . a magical path, filled with secrets, unbound by Empire or resistance, which could shake my world to its very foundation.
But my search for freedom will entangle me in a war between the gods themselves . . .
TL;DR: My review turned into an essay because I had so much to say about this book and still, it does not do it justice. Safe to say that I enjoyed the heck out of this fantasy and I’m still surprised that it’s J.T. Greathouse’s debut novel?! Please, give me more! This is such a stunning fantasy and deserves so much more attention. If you’re a fan of wonderful prose, intricate world-building, fascinating magic, and messy characters that you can’t help but root for, I would highly recommend you check this one out!
There are times when you read a book that’s absolutely stunning in every way and you just know, nothing you write in a review could ever do justice to or capture the amazingness of that book. This is one of those times! I haven’t read much fantasy this year (because reasons) but this is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read all year! I’m honestly shocked this is a debut novel because the writing is stunning, the world-building is immaculate and the characters so wonderfully flawed and realistic. This book wasn’t even on my radar until I saw this gorgeous cover and knew I had to read it, so imagine my surprise when I requested it and got approved 😂 I didn’t have any expectations when I started but it didn’t take long for me to realise I didn’t want to put it down (what’s sleep anyway, right?)! Now, let me try to formulate my thoughts into some form of coherency and apologies in advance for the rambling!
“As every decaying leaf and growing tree helps to shape the pattern of the world, so every human act shapes the paths that we all might follow.”
This first book of the trilogy is a coming-of-age story, and we follow Wen Alder/Foolish Cur, a young Sienese-Nayeni boy, who grows up torn between two worlds and cultures. His father is of the conquering Sienese who worships the Emperor, while his mother is Nayeni, one of the conquered nations whose magic was absorbed into the Empire’s canon, and whose culture was obliterated in its wake. As a child, Alder is taught forbidden magic by his grandmother and from that moment, a thirst for knowledge and unbridled magic is born. Throughout the years, we see Alder pursue with often ruthless, power-hungry determination to find a third path away from the expectations thrust upon him by the Empire and the Nayeni rebellion. Alder’s story is fraught with painful and sometimes heartbreaking learnings and betrayal but there is also great friendship and love, as this young boy turns into a young man who is simply doing his best to find his way in a fragile and cruel world.
This is one of the most beautifully written fantasies I’ve read in a long time! Greathouse has a wonderful way with words and I found myself quickly absorbed in the poetically descriptive writing although, have no fear, it is far from purple prose! It’s a first-person character-driven story but there is a strong sense of plot that keeps the momentum going; and for the most part, it was well-paced although there were some bits in the middle that were slow. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a fast-paced read at all—it’s one of those fantasies that beg you to linger with the words, characters and their experiences, and trust me, you will want to! The story is heavy on themes of identity, belonging and family, but I also really appreciated how Greathouse explored the impact of colonialism and what happens to the cultures of the colonised nations—it’s brutal and infuriating but paints a very clear picture. The plot is also quite heavy on political manoeuvring and while that’s not always my jam, I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next and if there’s anyone worth trusting in this story.
“They were only stone, of course. But when a woman could become a hawk, was anything only itself?”
The world-building was done in such exquisite and vivid detail that I felt completely immersed. Greathouse treats us to rich descriptions of the social, political, cultural and magical aspects of the varying nations that have fallen under this Empire, and while there is so much to learn, it’s never overwhelming. I’m not entirely sure but I think that Greathouse draws inspiration from Asian settings for this story and while I’ve grown wary of white authors writing stories inspired by Asian/POC experiences, I do feel like it was handled carefully and sensitively here. It’s also not so explicit that I was able to tell what country/culture it’s drawn from. We not only learn about the nation’s environment and customs but each one’s lore about wild gods, witches, sorcerers and untamed magic. I found the magic system intriguing and while not overly complex, there were times I did feel a bit lost trying to understand it. Magic is drawn from the pattern of the world and the way it’s explained sometimes got pretty philosophical, but I loved that while it’s elemental magic, the form that it takes differs according to how a nation shapes it. Honestly, the magic almost felt like a character itself, and one that we learn of together alongside Alder.
Alder was a very interesting MC and ultimately, I couldn’t help but root for him to succeed in subverting the Empire and finding a path for himself that feels right. He’s the kind of realistically flawed character that I’ve come to appreciate over the years as my reading tastes have grown. As a child and young adult, he is arrogant and foolish, while as an adult he’s idealistic and foolish. He has an ego that’s easily bruised and often acts out or reacts petulantly to perceived slights. Is it frustrating that at times he can be so unlikeable? Absolutely. But I also empathised and sympathised with his situation and the choices he made; I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his shoes! That said, in these 400+ pages, his character growth is immense and so satisfying to watch! With his complex upbringing it’s no surprise he has complex relationships with the adults and mentor figures in his life, but I was especially invested in his relationship with his grandmother and intrigued by his relationship with Hand Usher.
“If the choice is between understanding some deeper truth or fighting for a chance to make good on all the harm I have done, then I choose to fight.”
Though if there’s anything that I wished had been more developed, it would be the characterisation of the supporting cast. There are a lot of people we meet along Alder’s journey and only one or two are more fleshed out while the majority remain flat. As a romance lover, I was also a little disappointed that I didn’t feel invested in the (small) romance, though I was very invested in the bromance between Alder and Oriole and really loved their friendship! I’m hoping that the secondary characters will get more depth (if they continue to appear) in the second book.
I’m going to wrap this review up here before it looks even more like an essay than it already does! 😂 I’m sure you can tell by now that I enjoyed this fantasy immensely and highly recommend it! With an ending that had my heart cracking and me very close to tears (okay, maybe one or two were shed), I am eagerly anticipating the next book in this trilogy! Also, I mean, this cover? It gets even better after reading the book cos all the details make more sense and your eyes also uncover so much more than you first realise! I love it 😍
Have you read The Hand of the Sun King or is it on your TBR?