The Hand of the Sun King (Pact and Pattern #1) by J. T. Greathouse
Published by JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc (US), Gollancz (UK)
Release Date : 5th August 2021
My name is Wen Alder. My name is Foolish Cur.
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 . . .
To serve one would be to betray the other.
ARC provided by the publisher JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc (US) and Gollancz – Orion Publishing (UK) through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
A well rounded compelling coming of age story; The Hand of the Sun King by J. T. Greathouse joins the list of amazing 2021 fantasy debuts.
Truthfully, I was burnt out from all the YA books I’ve read these past few months. They are all great it’s just that I was craving for something a bit heavier and complex to stimulate my mind. Requesting more ARCs (Advance Readers Copy) on NetGalley was not in the plan either because of my current feedback ratio, but I needed something new. When I saw the cover of The Hand of the Sun King, it made me feel intrigued then checked out Goodreads then turns out Petrik has read it and loved it. Which lead to me requesting the ARC then receiving it. In terms of story I did not know anything about it and the synopsis is pretty vague about it which is what I prefer. So I jumped the gun on this book by trusting my friend’s review and just went for it.
It was the only thing in the world that I yearned to understand for its own sake, not because an authority had decided that I must learn it. Once I had mastered it, it would be mine, to do with as I would. Neither bound to my father’s dreams of a restored Wen family, nor my grandmother’s for a Nayen free of the Empire.
The Hand of the Sun King is the debut and first book of the Pact and Pattern trilogy by J. T. Greathouse. It is the coming of age story following half Sienese and half Nayeni boy named Wen Alder or Foolish Cur. Since Alder was a child he has stood between two paths, the path that his father has paved for him to continue the Wen family legacy and the path of the Nayeni paved by his grandmother and uncle who rejects the empire. From a young age Alder’s father has paid for his education to prepare him for the Imperial Examination, a stepping stone for all Sienese men that will decide their status and well being for the rest of their life. Fearing that her grandson might not know the history of Nayeni people, Alder’s grandmother took it upon herself to teach him about the Nayeni and their gods. One night Alder’s took him to the Temple of Flame offering Alder to the old Nayeni gods in a naming ritual bestowing upon him a new name Foolish Cur. During this ritual Alder gets a glimpse of his grandmother’s magic, since then Alder has never looked back and sought out ways to feel the power of magic himself. Believing that a third path of magic will lead Alder to his freedom.
“If the choice is between understanding some deeper truth or fighting for a chance to make good on all the harm I have done, then I choose to fight.”
One of the most prominent things in The Hand of the Sun King is the emphasis on culture in it’s vivid, expansive, and intricate world building. With the main character coming from a Sienese and Nayeni background there are bounds to be a lot of contrasting and conflicting things. Readers will understand the importance of culture as it molds Alder to decide his fate and find within himself his true identity. Greathouse did a great job in showing the differences through Alder as he experience everything first hand all the while giving well detailed accounts. It’s as though an older version of Alder is recounting the story of his life in a book he written. This factor made the book more addicting to read as Alder’s desperation and hunger bleeds out of the page. Greathouse’s writing style fits perfectly with the first person POV, it is done in an efficient and well structured manner that it made reading the book more enjoyable. The beautiful prose and exquisite writing will surely pull readers into the story. The way Greathouse writes his prose is reminiscent to the feelings I felt reading the Shelley Parker-Chan’s prose in She Who Became the Sun, it engages you right away not letting your attention falter. Though reading the earlier chapters is a challenge for me because of the slower pacing, I admit that this problem is caused by the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of fast paced books and doesn’t have anything to do with the story at all. But the pacing does escalate slowly as Alder starts exploring other parts of the Empire outside of Nayen.
Greathouse’s characterization in The Hand of the Sun King is complex and well fleshed out. Wen Alder is conflicted young man that wants to break free from the expectations of his family members. The story spans from Alder’s adolescence years into his adulthood, I admire Greathouse for showing a consistent gradual growth in Alder as he becomes a full fledge adult. Growing up Alder is very ambitious, competitive, smart, and quick with his wits. Though Alder’s lack of patience and ego got the best of him which lead to him making some poor choices. What I find compelling is Greathouse’s ability in writing Alder’s inner conflict and eventual realization. The themes of war, loyalty, and friendship are the pivotal catalyst in Alder’s growth that is weaved skillfully by Greathouse. The relationships Alder forms with all of the people that raised and taught him also plays a part in shaping him. The three stand out relationships to me is between Alder and his grandmother, Koro Ha, and Oriole. In my opinion, they were the foundations that deeply affected Alder’s whole characterization.
It’s been a while since I read a book that solely focuses on one character’s coming of age story complete with a variety of relationship dynamics. The last time is probably when I read The Book of the Ancestor series by Mark Lawrence. I forgot how much I love stories like this and I am so happy to be reminded of it while reading The Hand of the Sun King. There are moments in Alder’s story which shows the typical struggles of a young adult after moving out of their family homes. It’s interesting to see Alder go through all the typical hardships that we all go through such as the frustrations from the boring day to day routines, making regrettable decisions, wanting to rebel against the constraints of being a bureaucrat, etc. It gives opportunity for Alder to mature as a character and learn the ways of the world to become wiser. The scene that left an impression is when Alder was dealing with loneliness and isolation of adulthood. For me the feelings of loneliness that Alder felt being by himself while travelling alone is deeply engrained within me, it is something I whole heartedly relate to.
Magic could reshape the world. Its power was undeniable. It needed no argument to bolster it, nor any faith to make it true.
In my opinion what became the highlight of The Hand of the Sun King is the magic system. Magic is the main thing that the protagonist desperately pursues and yearns for. The magic that is present in the story is a form of magic that stems from gods that existed long before the empire existed. Each nation has it’s own god that they worship that blesses magic wielders abilities that varies from controlling the elements (ex. fire, wind, thunder, water), veering, sending, curing wounds, etc. What I find fascinating is the lore surrounding the existence of magic and the gods. What bumped my rating for this book is the battle scenes! The battle scenes are explosive and intense from large scale army sequences to close contact combat it is vivid and well done that it made my hand sweaty. Personally, I was as desperate as Alder to see some action which is absent for a good 45-50% of the book. Even though The Hand of the Sun King isn’t an action packed book, as it mainly focuses on Alder’s upbringing and apprenticeship, in the few action scenes that is present Greathouse executes it wonderfully.
The feeling that the path of my life had been leading me through trial after trial toward some purpose, finally achieved.
Final thoughts, The Hand of the Sun King is another solid debut book about a character’s coming of age story filled to the brim with beautiful prose, gripping plot, and compelling characters. A magic system that is unique, complex and engrained deeply into the world shrouded in conspiracy that extends beyond the worldly issues. For a first book The Hand of the Sun King establishes the back of story of the main character wonderfully. I’m looking forward to how Greathouse will continue this epic tale of resistance and magic. I highly recommend for readers who love coming of age stories in a fantasy setting to pick up this book. I can assure you that The Hand of the Sung King has joined the ranks of amazing debut books this year and I am truly happy I picked it up. To end this review I would like to quote a writer named DJ Khaled, “Another one!”.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.