I feel I haven’t said enough to recommend Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings. Whether readers like this book or not (personally, I loved it), it is an undeniably revolutionary work of fantasy fiction, as tonally different from mainstream fantasy as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was.
In the case of The Grace of Kings, the tone and subject matter are unmistakably Chinese. The heroes are based on characters out of Chinese mythic history. The armies of the Evil Empire are led neither by bumbling minions nor by brainwashed innocents, but by strategic geniuses and true patriots, doing their best to defeat the Rebellion for the glory of their beloved country. And you root for them at times, as they win battles and crush enemies despite having their hands tied by foolish (and evil) political leadership.
And the villain? Basically doesn’t exist. Even the Evil Emperor himself comes out vindicated in his aims if not in his methods, just like the king of Qin in so many kung fu movies (Jet Li’s “Hero” and Jackie Chan’s “Little Big Soldier” come to mind). The book is sweeping in its scale, clever in its execution, and more than anything, different. It gives a completely fresh view of what a novel can be, and although I don’t exactly wish I had written this book, I am completely envious of its originality.
Read it. You’ll be glad you did.