My new "novel of the week" review should have been written weeks ago. Months ago. I've been epically derelict in not reviewing the epic fantasy The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, which is one of the best novels I've read this year.
I'm usually not a fan of epic fantasies. Not merely because so many of them are boring Tolkien retreads where moral dilemmas are never truly a dilemma. Or that so many epic fantasies adhere to absolute rights and wrongs which never enter those troubling moral gray zones of real life. Or that the settings of these fantasies are often epic only in their authors' minds as they endlessly copy from a medieval Europe which never truly existed.
I don't dislike most epic fantasies for any one of those reasons — it's for all of those reasons. A combined irritation, if you will, at the state of the fantasy landscape bequeathed to us by a half-century of epic fantasy failures.
Thankfully, Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings avoids these issues as he stakes out his own ideas and beliefs on what an epic fantasy should be. Inspired in part by Chinese history and in larger parts by our modern world, Liu has created a fantasy unlike any other. The story is fast paced with plenty of endearing and believable characters, filled with engrossing action, and features an exciting mashup of steampunk elements, gods and magic.
I'm tempted to go on about the novel, but as I said I should have reviewed Liu's novel months ago. By now many others have given far better reviews than I ever could. (For one of the most insightful reviews, check out Andrew Liptak's take at io9.) My short review is here to simply tell everyone that I really enjoyed The Grace of Kings and that the novel is a serious contender to make my Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy shortlists.