The Hand of the Sun King by J. T. Greathouse
Title: The Hand of the Sun King
Author: J. T. Greathouse
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group, Gollancz
Published Date: August 5th 2021
Length: 367 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Coming of age, etc.
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 . . .
I will say that I mostly picked up this book because I was initially attracted to the cover, look at it, it’s so pretty! Then, Petrik Leo did a review of this and I was convinced that I could definitely like this one. He hasn’t failed me in his recommendations so far. So, I requested it and I am so glad I did! This is a brilliant debut and I can’t wait to read the next books in the series. It also might have been the timing and the kind of book I needed at the time I picked it up, who knows?
This is the first book in the Pact and Pattern trilogy and it starts with a story of a young boy being introduced to the push and pull of his life very early in his life. Wen Alder or as his grandmother named him, Foolish Cur, has always had the disadvantage of being born from the marriage of two warring factions. The father’s side of the family can trace their ancestors back to being the right Hand of the emperor and the mother’s side of the family has always rebelled against the emperor’s everlasting grip of the lands they called their own. From a very young age, he is tutored by his grandmother of the older magic and by his family-appointed tutor who taught everything a young man from a prominent family should be learning. During this period, he started to yearn for a third way to get away from the shackles of both sides of his family. He wants to be free from both sides of his family who continuously put pressure on him to be the best.
Wen Alder thinks that the first step to get rid of the expectations would be to become the Hand of the Emperor, only then can he dream of having the kind of freedom he craves. He would find a middle path and for that, he needs to pass the Imperial Examinations. I think you can see where this is going, there’s a certain charm to this coming of age fantasy because the tropes of school, magic and calligraphy are done so well. Tropes when done well can be the best things ever and this is one of those instances. There’s friendship, there’s heartbreak, there’s betrayal and a fascinating magic system. Everything I love in a book.
“If you do nothing – or worse, if you help them – they will win. There is no middle ground in this. You must choose. Either the empire or those who fight them.”
This is from only one POV, that of Wen Alder and while that can sometimes be a con for books, luckily, for this one, it worked well. Wen Alder’s personality and his growing up trying to find a way around his family’s expectations. He’s privileged and he is mostly aware of it but he sometimes forgets and then is reminded by people around him. He’s kind hearted and at the same time, foolish with his heart. There’s the natural thirst for knowledge which blends well with his natural gift of actually being great at magic. Sometimes, his thirst for knowledge doomed him and it woven in so well, too! Just when he starts getting a little too comfortable with himself, he’s brought down again and again. Misery becomes his friend a little too many times but the character growth from that was amazing to see. His relationships with the people around him were written so well. He loved the people but he also had so many problems with the people he loved. It was just so good to read about the side characters and their interactions with Alder.
The world building is done so well that the world feels lived in. The author did really well in revealing different parts of this world. The cultures and traditions felt real, lived in and their struggles and magic also worked around the environment they lived in. It made sense for the magic to have evolved the way it did in those locations. There’s always a sense of impending war in this book, the loyalties that always feel divided in Alder’s mind. I loved the way Alder’s mind opened up as he travelled and so did ours. Our understanding of the world changed along with Alder’s. It was the most joyous journey but it made for a great story. The magic system, its branches spread around and evolved depending on the land people lived on. There’s ancient gods, magic systems that sound super cool, brutal scenes that could potentially break your heart the way they did mine. The way battles are written in this book feel tense and we can’t help but want to read what happens next. There’s not many battle scenes nor is it action packed but the battles that do happen tend to leave bruises and scars behind. So, be prepared for that.
Overall, I think I loved the book. It is immersive, the characters are interesting and Wen Alder’s journey towards adulthood is worth reading about. I can’t wait to read the next book because I have to know what happens next.