“Magic could reshape the world. Its power was undeniable. It needed no argument to bolster it, nor any faith to make it true.”
So what’s the book about?
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…
“Some moments fix themselves in memory, to be recalled again and again throughout our lives.”
These aspects attracted me the most while reading.
- One of the most salient features of The Hand of the Sun King is the emphasis on culture in the vivid, expansive and complicated world that is built here. Since the main character comes from a Sienese and a Nayenese family, many contrasts and conflicts are inevitable. Readers will understand the importance of the culture that shapes Alder in deciding his fate and finding his true identity. Greathouse has managed to show the differences through Alder, who experiences everything first-hand, giving a very detailed account. The conflict between his grandmother’s side and his father’s is a theme that plagues Alder to the end, as he has never been able to learn his own way, but has always been given one. He cannot quite decide what is right or wrong, but rather has to let himself be pulled in a certain direction. The conflict between the two cultures slowly builds up into an ever-growing epic. You can already guess that these two different cultures will fight hard against each other and yet you don’t know which of these two is going the right way.
- The highlight of this book is the magic system, because this is also what the main character desperately strives for and yet never gets what he wants. The magic that occurs in the story is a form of magic that goes back to gods that existed long before the existence of the empire. Each people has its own god that it worships and that gives magic users abilities ranging from controlling the elements, such as using fire, wind, thunder, water, to spinning, sending, healing wounds, and so on. Again, you can see how cultures differ based on their magic and how this too leads to disputes between them. For example, some are called witches, although this is just a different kind of magic. What I find fascinating are the traditions about the existence of magic and gods. And finally again a book where magic is not something forbidden or barely present, but here magic is present and immensely strong. I always dream of throwing big fireballs against my invented opponents and here I could read such epic battles.
“It is a great strength of the young, this willingness to shoulder risk. It can also be our greatest weakness.”
What did not work for me!
- Since this is only one POV, I expect an interesting and multi-faceted character. But unfortunately the main character could not sneak into my heart and rather cause amazement for his not well thought-out character development. At first, Alder seemed to me like a character who only seeks power, a magic that no one can give him, and I found these traits refreshing. He seemed a bit like the bad guy who only cares about himself. But as the story progresses, Alder develops, and unfortunately not in a way that you can relate to. The egoistic character becomes more and more social and is interested, as if out of nowhere, in other people’s wishes and goals, which was never an issue for him before. One could perhaps understand if a character could change for someone else in particular, but when parts of life are only told in short snippets, one cannot understand how a bond can be built with other characters and thus why the character has changed. It is therefore difficult to understand the motives and also to believe them. Thus, the initially interesting hints of a morally grey character who has great ambition were ruined and rather made him seem unbelievable. Even at this moment it is still difficult for me to remember the name of the main character. The only one that stuck in my mind was his grandmother, who did not seem uninteresting or bland.
- The story, which tells part of Alders’ life, just goes too fast. When I read a kind of biography in the fantasy genre, I want to dwell for a long time on life-changing points in life and try to feel what the main character felt, but by telling everything very quickly, dramatic turns in life can’t really shine. The test, which was supposed to be difficult, seemed quite easy, and the convenience bothered me a lot. If something is difficult, it shouldn’t sound or look so easy, even if the character is clever. Even though the character may have such knowledge and talent as no one else, just such events in life, should be peppered with surprises and twists, so that an interesting story can develop. Thus, as a reader, I spent very little time at events that actually changed his life.
“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.”
So what are my final thoughts about it?
The book was able to provide many interesting approaches that make you want to read on. Especially the different and also strong magic makes this book interesting and in a time where the focus is rather on more subtle use of magic, it is refreshing to read that also magic can still be present and changing. Also, the main character’s initial ambition that he wants to use a magic without limits could become an exciting plot in the next books, even if in this book, due to the character development that was not understandable, a lot of built up was broken. And also the end of the book could still introduce many exciting far-reaching events, where I eagerly want to read the next volume. If individual parts of the story had not just been told frantically, this book could have developed into something great, but unfortunately the potential was not fully exploited. I hope that the second volume can somewhat erase the flaws of the first.
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