By: Ken Liu
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Gallery Books/Saga Press
WARNING: There will be spoilers for The Grace of Kings and The Wall of Storms
The Veiled Throne seals Ken Liu as a brilliant writer in the genre of fantasy. The books so far in The Dandelion Dynasty are a unique and powerful series that adds diversity and new themes into the epic fantasy genre. Mr. Liu has the ability to have each book focus more on particular characters, relegating some to more of a background role, but still weaving an amazing, cohesive story. There are overarching themes in this book, such as do we judge our enemies with a broad sweeping brush, or can we try to come to know them and respect them through the actions of a few? How does a leader handle fanaticism within the ranks of their military? To stay in power, how much is too much to commit? How do we handle failure? As these questions are raised, there are no easy answers. In the Veiled Throne, Mr. Liu addresses each one in subtle ways that the reader may not like at times, but certainly can understand why they act as they do. There are brutal and violent scenes that are necessary to the plot of the story. However, these scenes, while graphic, are not gratuitous nor simple there to shock the reader. It drives home that war and occupation are not peaceful. People suffer, and Mr. Liu illustrates it perfectly. Once again, he successfully uses flashback scenes that are captivating in themselves but set up an event that will come later in the book. It is, quite simply, brilliant writing. As with the other books, we also see the gods of Dara wielding their influence at times in the events that unfold. I highly recommend not only The Veiled Throne but the entire Dandelion Dynasty series.
We know at the end of The Wall of Storms that both Kuni Gari and Pekyu Tenryo have died in the epic sea battle. Before his death, he names his daughter, Princess Thera as his heir and Empress. The daughter of Tenryo, Tanvanaki, will lead the Lyucu people who have control over part of the kingdom of Dara. Gin Mazoti, the brilliant tactician, has also perished in the battle. After the battle, Tanvanaki and Empress Jia reach an agreement. The Lyucu, with more numbers of warriors and more coming, will give the Empress one year before striking at the heart of the remaining kingdom. This sets up The Veiled Throne for more intrigue, and the focus on the next generation with both Kuni, Gin, and Tenryo gone. This was a strong point of the book, the passing of the torch. The children of Kuni, with the exception of Timu, were not the focus of the previous books. We now see them grown up and setting out to find their place in a kingdom under siege. Likewise, Thera, is planning her future in Dara. It is interesting to note that the heirs of the two powerful men are two powerful women.
Thera’s time as Empress is short-lived, as she ventures with her new husband, Takval, beyond the wall of storms to prevent more Lyucu from crossing the wall and reinforcing the Lyucu already in Dasu. She leaves behind her lover, the brilliant scholar, Zomi Kidosu. Thera and Zomi know this journey is more important than their feelings for each other. While Thera is smart and resilient, she will face hardship she has never known. Phyro, while now the Emperor, is preparing for battle, working in secret. He has no desire to take the throne, leaving Empress Jia, his aunt-mother, in charge until he is ready to take his place. Meanwhile, Timu, as we know is married to Tanvanki and has two children. I once thought Princess Fara was never going to be more than a background character, however quite a bit of the book focuses on both her along with Timu, Thera, and Tanvanaki. Will this generation be able to find a way to live in harmony, or will they repeat what their parents have done? The focus on Fara was another point that worked very well for me. She is the counter to her siblings, the one who seeks adventure beyond the confinement of the palace, and is one who certainly is more open-minded
The characters have grown throughout the books. They do not stagnate from how we first met them in The Grace of Kings. Their arcs are becoming more and more interesting as the books progress. Political intrigue was also a major part of this series, and this one is no different. Preparing for a coming showdown with the Lyucu will take every resource and planning on the part of the political players in Dara. Most notably is Empress Jia. She is unrecognizable from the carefree woman we met in The Grace of Kings. She is a complex character, secretive and planning something. What it is, we are not privy to. Not yet.
There is a large part of the book that focuses on Fara leaving the palace and using another name so she is not recognized. She winds up helping a restaurant her father frequented before his time as Emperor. The owner gets involved in a contest to find which is the best restaurant in Dara. Helping them is Kinri, a young Lyucu man, saved from a death sentence by his mother, Gotzan Ryoto, and told to leave Lyucu territory to safety. They are also aided by the Blossom Gang, a band of friends who are performers have various helpful skills. This challenge, while seeming innocuous, was very important in symbolism. Fara found her skills and matures while helping the restaurant. She developed strong feelings for Kinri despite his Lyucu heritage. Fara was able to see beyond the raging conflict, and looking at your enemy as if all are the same, is wrong. Kinri was kind and the friendship he made were genuine, as were the feelings he, too, had for Fara. Kinri plays a very important role and how this pans out is one of the more interesting parts of the book. I’m hopeful to see more of him in the next book.
Tanvanaki faces her own struggles. Gotzan was her friend and trusted Thane. Through circumstances against their laws, it is Kinri who is sentenced to death. Gotzan is reduced in power. The Thane that takes her place is fanatical and bloodthirsty. She carries out atrocities on the people of Dara under occupation without mercy. Tanvanaki faces a difficult choice. That choice is how far does she go to maintain control? Many thanes side with , and allowing her free reign keeps Tanvanaki in the Thanes good graces. She does not agree with her actions but allows it. Timu is relegated to little more than a figurehead and has little sway over his wife. What is the moral thing to do? This is a dilemma she faces and has yet to find her answer.
Once again, in The Veiled Throne, Ken Liu has written an absolutely magnificent novel. This next entry into the Dandelion Dynasty series perfectly sets up the next book. With the death of the previous main characters, Mr. Liu has passed on the story seamlessly to the next generation on Thera, Phyro, Fara, Timu, Tanvanaki, and Kinri. The arcs of the characters we have already continue to develop and surprise the readers in many ways. Flashback chapters are successfully threaded into the narrative to serve as foreshadowing of an event that is revealed later in the book. The Veiled Throne has many twists and surprises and did not see coming. Diversity and representation is just as important in this book as in the others. I find it refreshing that this series normalizes same sex marriage. It is simply part of the story and never feels forced. Some of the book is brutal and violent. These episodes are necessary given the characters involved, and are never gratuitous or there to shock the reader. Overall, I highly recommend The Veiled Throne and the entire Dandelion Dynasty Series.
Princess Théra, once known as Empress Üna of Dara, entrusted the throne to her younger brother in order to journey to Ukyu-Gondé to war with the Lyucu. She has crossed the fabled Wall of Storms with a fleet of advanced warships and ten thousand people. Beset by adversity, Théra and her most trusted companions attempt to overcome every challenge by doing the most interesting thing. But is not letting the past dictate the present always possible or even desirable?
In Dara, the Lyucu leadership as well as the surviving Dandelion Court bristle with rivalries as currents of power surge and ebb and perspectives spin and shift. Here, parents and children, teachers and students, Empress and Pékyu, all nurture the seeds of plans that will take years to bloom. Will tradition yield to new justifications for power?
Everywhere, the spirit of innovation dances like dandelion seeds on the wind, and the commoners, the forgotten, the ignored begin to engineer new solutions for a new age.
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review
Find out more about Ken Liu on his website at https://kenliu.name/
Purchase The Veiled Throne on Amazon