I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book came into my TBR pile with high praise among the SFF community as one of the best debut novels of 2021. The Hand of the Sun King exceeded essentially all of my expectations as it should be in the running for Book of the Year along side the pillars of the fantasy genre. With an Asian-inspired story and some of the most beautiful, creative, and fluid prose I have ever read, Hand of the Sun King is sure to inspire future authors for years to come.
This debut novel is told in first person POV and follows the journey of Wen Alder. I should just point out that I am a sucker for excellent first person POV novels and this one I hold in high regard. Alder is torn between the traditions and legacies of his two parents. Alder’s father is in service of the emperor and has hired a tutor to teach and prepare Alder for the upcoming examinations to become the Hand of the King and the first from his home region. Alder’s mother comes from the other side of the tracks, sort of speak. Alder was taught magic directly from the old gods as a kid from his grandmother and Alder’s hand is scarred with the runes. Eventually, Alder passes his examines and has his other hand imprinted with tetra gram of the imperial throne. This unleashes a new area of magic to him and Alder is caught between two factions of people at war with each other. Alder needs to find a way to navigate this political military battlefield before it is too late and the magic may destroy.
Alder is a phenomenal main character to follow and although he grows throughout the story it is his constant struggle that makes his character shine. Always wanting to do what is right, but what is right logically according to ancient text and documented case studies may not be the morally right thing to do. Alder will also find himself on the battle field trying to win great victories for the empire while feeling remorse in a way for betraying his people. The writing style is the illumination that makes you want to reread pages at a time. Smooth, poetic, while being mysterious at the same time combined with a heavily inspired Asian fantasy story is a win-win for me.
Let me quickly explain how the Empire in this novel works. The Empire doesn’t have just one Hand but several through out the land and Alder becomes on of them for his region. The emperor delegates his commands to his several Voices of the Sun King and then it makes its way down to the Hands. Alder will learn all about his new political role as well as understand the magic the empire uses. Plenty of mystery, emotional twists, and the plotting of the gods make Hand of the Sun King an excellent read to round out the summer.
The Hand of the Sun King I found to be as close to a perfect debut as any fantasy fan could ask for. I’m compelled to constantly follow up with J.T. as to his progress on the sequel, but I will sit back quietly with no grudges (for the moment!) First person POV I know is not everyone’s cup of tea, but this is the novel that will change your mind. Everything you have heard about this debut is true, READ IT!