Title: The Hand of the Sun King
Author: J. T. Greathouse
Published by: Gollancz
Publication date: 5th August 2021
Format: eBook ARC
All my life, I have been torn between two legacies: that of my father, whose roots trace back to the right hand of the Emperor. That of my mother’s family, who reject the oppressive Empire and embrace the resistance.
I can choose between them – between protecting my family, or protecting my people – or I can search out a better path . . . a magical path, filled with secrets, unbound by empire or resistance, which could shake my world to its very foundation.
But my search for freedom will entangle me in a war between the gods themselves . . .
I was approved to read an eArc of The Hand of the Sun King via NetGalley. My thanks to publisher, Gollancz, for the approval and I hope that you find my review acceptable.
The Hand of the Sun King follows the story of Wen Alder in an autobiographical manner as he struggles with both his desire to learn magic and with where his heritage and loyalties lie. Torn between his Empire upbringing, through the prolific line of his Father and his Mothers Nayeni background. Wen Alder forges a path through life fraught with struggles between his mixed-race heritage that complicates his deeper desires to learn unrestricted magic; which is bound by the very Gods themselves.
Essentially, The Hand of the Sun King is a chronological biographical study of Wen Alder, known also as Foolish Cur, throughout his young adult years. We’re shown the world in which he inhabits through his eyes and experiences and the events that develop his character throughout the story as it progresses. Alder is a character that shapes the world around him and is organically shaped by it in return. Often in stories there are events that happen which feel contrived – they happen because they have to happen in order for the story to progress – in The Hand of the Sun King, each life-shaping event feels completely natural. Certain events happen and, at the time, they may seems small or insignificant, yet more often than not, they feed back into major events in Alders life. Not once did I feel events were misplaced or felt trite and the flow of the story felt all the more enhanced because of it. Alder grew in himself organically, he developed at a pace that matched the events of the novel. His thirst for magic is his driving motivation throughout the story; it is an arrogant desire that sets him on a path that doesn’t always turn in his favour.
While I found Wen Alder himself a character that was engaging to read about, it was the world building and how he lived and experienced this world that captivated me the most. The setting in The Hand of the Sun King is fantasy with clear far-eastern influences throughout. At the heart of this world are different systems of magic, each one as interesting as the next. The heritages of several different cultures are explained to the reader as they are experienced by the lead character. We come to an understanding at the same time as Alder does; the systems aren’t overly complex, but they all felt unique when compared to one another – a stroke of creativity that really lifts the novel when compared to its peers. Each of the cultures have their own aesthetics to accompany them, despite being part of a larger whole in the Empire. The details in these cultures comes across with easy, yet vivid, imagery through the use of folk-lore, background stories and rich descriptive writing.
Returning to Alder, he is a flawed character and because of that following his story isn’t always easy. He makes choices that end in tragedy, purely in his desire to learn unrestricted magic, and doesn’t always come away from these choices unscathed. Surrounding him are manipulative characters that seek their own ends, often wearing the disguise of a kinship that Alder so desperately seeks.
The plot of The Hand of the Sun King, as already mentioned, follows Alder throughout his young-adult years and his struggles to find his place in the world. At it heart is a coming-of-age story that is like no other I have read. There are major events that Alder shapes throughout the novel but overall the pacing is quite steady, each event taking time to build to its climax before having its shattering impression on the main character and those around him. The plot can be broken down into key moments, each of which reaches a crescendo before being resolved after leaving a defining moment upon Alders life – which he is shaped by . Often the choices and impacts left behind during these moments remain with Alder as he grows throughout the novel.
While the focus throughout the novel is entirely upon Alder and his place in the world, there are other characters around him which are equally well considered. From his parents, his friend, Oriole, and his teachers and mentors to minor characters features in folk-takes. Each of these characters have the same careful amount of detail written into them; they’re rich in their development and the roles in which they play in Alders life; making choices for him and pushing him in uncertain directions, adding to the ultimate puzzle; Where does Alder belong?
A sublime debut fantasy novel set in a unique world that, through the eyes of Wen Alder, shares the delightful intricacies of world-building. A steady paced plot that builds in several crescendo events that shape the world and development of the main character.