Tuesday, 24 September 2013

King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniells

King Breaker by Rowena Cory Daniells is the conclusion to the King Rolen's Kin series. The first three books came out in 2010, so it was a bit of a wait until the last one. Especially since, although the third book in the series could almost be taken as a conclusion to a trilogy sort of, oh my goodness there were a lot of things left entirely unresolved! So of course, I was very eager to read this last instalment, particularly after the tantalising novella released last December, The King's Man.

Speaking of, this is a book four in a four book fantasy series. The series is excellent, but I expect that someone picking up King Breaker without having read the earlier books will be a bit lost (and would not have the same investment in the characters, of course). Start with book one, The King's Bastard. On the other hand, someone picking this book up three years after having read the previous one — as I did — should have no trouble getting back into the story. Maybe it's that the earlier books burned into my brain through sheer excellence, but I think the deft way in which Daniells included reminders about past events definitely contributed.

Although this book picks up shortly after book three, The Usurper, left off, it also follows Gazrik, the main character of The King's Man novella, alongside the three children of old King Rolen and Florin the Mountain girl of the earlier books. I would suggest that Gazrik's storyline is a completion of the arc begun in The King's Man and those not reading the novella first would be missing out. It's not strictly necessary, unlike the earlier books, but I would recommend it. If you disagree, you could always read it afterwards to fill in his back-story. (And another reason to read it is because it's good. If you enjoy Daniells' work, why wouldn't you?)

Daniells is particularly good at writing characters that behave in irritating, yet entirely plausible ways. The group of point of view characters and their friends are all intelligent and well-educated (which makes sense since most of them are royalty) but their minor antagonists (as opposed to Cobalt the usurper) tend to be frustratingly short-sighted, ignorant or just horrible people. The utterly believable way in which Daniells wrote them had me heckling the page on several occasions and cheering when they were defeated — and a satisfying number of annoying characters got punched in the face, so that was also quite gratifying. I have said many times before that a mark of a good writer is the level of emotional investment they can get the reader to place in their characters, and Daniells has proved herself, once again, to be more than adept at doing so.

Readers worried about being left in the lurch again, as with the ending of The Usurper, need not worry. Although Daniells leaves the world open for a possible revisiting, the ending is quite settled. I won't reveal any spoilers, but I will say that it was ultimately satisfying, and some characters even got happy endings. (gasp!)

The King Rolen's Kin series is an excellent read. I highly recommend it to all fans of Big Fat Fantasy, especially the grittier kind. It's probably fair to say that Daniells' books generally are not for the faint of heart (there is violence and rape). But they are excellent. To readers who have read the earlier three books and didn't hate them, I can think of no reason not to go on to read King Breaker.

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2013, Solaris
Series: Yes. Book 4 of 4, King Rolen's Kin
Format read: ebook
Source: Review copy from author and publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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