History That Never Was

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Review of The Hand of the Sun King by J. T. Greathouse

J.T. Greathouse’s debut, The Hand of the Sun King (Gollancz, 2021), is an epic fantasy novel, the first in a planned trilogy. Set in a fantastical world of magic with a rich history, this novel fits beautifully into its genre while also addressing some failings of the genre by turning them on their head.

The story is told from the perspective of Wen Alder, named traditionally in the way of his father’s people. But he is also given the name Foolish Cur by his maternal grandmother, following the traditions of his mother and grandmother’s people, whose lands have been colonized and aspects of their culture have been buried by the ruling culture. Alder is curious about that buried culture, particularly the forbidden magic possessed by its people. His path, however, lies in another direction, as he studies for the examinations that will allow him to learn the official magic of the Empire and come to serve the Emperor as a wielder of magic and imperial bureaucrat.¬†Throughout the book, Alder struggles with his dual nature and the strictures of imperial magic as he tries to find his true path, not the one that has been dictated for him by birth and upbringing.

The lands of this epic fantasy world struck me with their strong parallels to several Asian countries, and the little I know of the history of those countries also parallels the history of the lands in Greathouse’s world. For me, this fact helped make the worldbuilding feel particularly robust, and the descriptions in the novel were easy to imagine with such a lens. Unlike many epic fantasy novels,¬†The Hand of the Sun King offers a protagonist who is part of the “establishment” but who sees its flaws and seeks to right past wrongs. And while Alder is very much a character possessed of flaws who makes mistakes, he is devoted to doing his best and helping where he can. I very much look forward to the remainder of this trilogy to see how things go for him!

The Hand of the Sun King will be released in the United Kingdom in August 2021, with plans for a United States that will be announced later. In the meantime, you can pre-order the UK ebook now, or check for more information on J. T. Greathouse’s website as the release date approaches.

The author provided me with an advance copy of this book for review consideration.

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