Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell

An island prince searches for meaning; a deformed genius struggles to survive. In a changing world where ash meets paradise, only one man can be king…

Ruka, son of Beyla, is a monster. Single-born, twisted, and ugly, Ruka has the bright, golden eyes of a wolf, but his mind is as vast as the open sky.

Born in the frozen, snow-covered wasteland of the Ascom—the land of ash—Ruka was spared from death at birth by his mother’s love. Now, he is an outlaw, and dreams only of vengeance. But can a broken genius find redemption? Or once he has the world in his grasp, will he simply break it apart?

Across a wide sea is the white-sand island paradise of Sri Kon.

Ratama Kale Alaku is fourth and youngest son of the island monarch men call the Sorcerer King. And at sixteen, Kale is a disappointment. His father has sent him away to the navy, perhaps in hopes of salvaging a once-promising child, or perhaps just to get rid of him.

Now Kale must prove his worth – and not just to his father. He must become more than a wastrel prince, or else lose all hope of purpose, or love.

And though Kale does not yet know how or why, he stands on the cusp of discovery. For his path, his ‘Way’, is perhaps the only hope for his family, his people, and as the storm gathers across an unknown sea, maybe the world itself…

This book is a wild ride. Starting off pretty strong, Kings of Paradise focuses on two characters on different sides of the world. Ruka, the disfigured orphan, struggling to survive the hazardous climate and Kale, fourth son of the king. The political machinations of both their homelands have made their lives really bloody difficult and they have to work hard if they want to survive.

Nell’s characters are nothing if not convincing. Their struggles are real and they’re surprisingly sympathetic for a lot of the book. Kale was my favourite; he’s a good guy trying to work out how to survive politics and live his life. Ruka, on the other hand, is a much darker character. He had no qualms about hurting people in his quest for vengeance. Personally, I found Ruka’s chapters to be a bit too dark. However, since I’m not a huge fan of things too dark in general, that probably won’t be a big issue for many.

In addition to Kale and Ruka, there is a multitude of side characters. When relevant, Nell inserts them through their own POV chapters to help develop the world and the story.

Also done really well is Nell’s worldbuilding. Both main characters are based on different continents which have significantly different cultures and ways of life. It’s quite cool to see the contrast between both continents and how politics, class, and gender have different roles in each character’s life.

My only real issue with this book is that the pacing felt a little bit off. The end comes in with a massive avalanche to bury most of the issues, but at a few times I felt like the book was beginning to drag a little. There’s one point where the character arcs felt like they were wrapping up, but the book kept going and set up what felt like the beginning of a much grander story. In my opinion, parts of the ending would have been better suited to the beginning of the next book as they start adding tension back in after the novel’s climax.

Overall, Kings of Paradise was really well written, with fascinating characters, an interesting story, and a well-thought-out world. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy:

  • Epic fantasy
  • Low fantasy
  • Coming-of-age
  • Dark fantasy
  • Strong worldbuilding

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