Title: King Breaker
Author: Rowena Cory Daniells
Genre: High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Political Fantasy.
Published: 13th September 2013 by Solaris
Book 4 in King Rolen’s Kin series.
The conclusion to the hugely popular King Rolen’s Kin series!
The story of Byron, Fyn and Piro picks up immediately where the cliff-hanging ending of The Usurper let off! When Cobalt stole the Rolencian throne, Byren, Fyn and Piro were lucky to escape with their lives, now they’ve rallied and set out to avenge their parents’ murder.
Byren is driven to defeat Cobalt and reclaim the crown, but at what cost? Fyn has sworn to serve Byren’s interests but his loyalty is tested when he realises he loves Byren’s betrothed. And Piro never wanted to win a throne, now she holds the fate of a people in her hands.
It’s sad that I’ve had to rate this book so low. I thoroughly enjoyed The King’s Bastard, which was one of the first modern high fantasy books I read, having previously encountered some Tolkien and Pratchett. The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin was my first real experience of political fantasy, which gripped me from the start. What I’m trying to say is that the first book is very good. The Uncrowned King and The Usurper were good too. This makes the problems that King Breaker has even more painful.
The fundamental problem is that this book should not exist. As with the Inheritance Cycle, the tale was initially intended to be a trilogy, yet, as fans of the series will know, book three did not resolve all the key plot points. This leads to the book becoming bloated with unnecessary bits to try and justify its existence, like multiple films based on a single book. What we seem to have is another case of a fantasy tale getting bigger than its author. When this happens, there is always at least one book that stands out as sub-par (every series has its Feast For Crows or Order of the Phoenix). It just turns out that the weak point in this series is its finale. The main problem is that there are a bunch of storylines that meander about with no urgency and then all sort of crash at the end, leaving a partially resolved plot, but then none of the characters really get what they want. Whether Rowena Cory Daniells is trying to set up a sequel series or not is unclear; the ending rushes to fix everything, but then everything is still a bit messy by the final chapter. As the seventy-two chapters may warn the reader (in comparison to the thirty-one chapters of Book One), the plot often crawls at a snail’s pace, that snail being a particularly unfit one that has to take a rest every once in a while, then wakes up and forgets where he’s going, starts crawling in a completely different direction before remembering where he’s meant to be going.
To explain further, we enter spoiler territory for the first three books, and possibly some for this one too.
The start of the book sees our hero Byren trying to set himself up as king of Rolencia and Merofynia, the two adjoined countries that make up ninety per centof the known world (I know, what could possibly go wrong for him?). These two nations are divided by the Snow Bridge, an impassable… bridge of snow. Except when people just cross it. But if everyone did that, we’d miss the rollicking ride of the first third of the book, where most of our heroes are on boats waiting to go places. That’s Byren, Piro and Fyn for the most part of the start of it. Byren leaves his Merofynian fiancée without at first marrying her immediately, because that would have cemented their alliance. Instead, his watertight plan is to leave his younger brother Fyn, who has spent most of his life in an abbey with zero per cent government experience. This masterstroke is made even better by the fact Fyn is madly in love with Isolt, the princess-turned-queen of Merofynia. To his credit, Fyn does the best he can. His character is one of the more compelling and its only when his storyline becomes repetitive that I started to lose interest. He is crushing spar warlords (spars being the pointy-out bits of land encircling Rolencia and Merofynia) which is fun to see, until they liberate an estate from the spar warriors then leave, only for the same spar to attack the same estate two chapters afterwards. But at least he isn’t on a boat. Piro and Byren both faff about on boats to places, then do some stuff in those places, then turn around and go right back to Merofynia. Byren doesn’t seem to evolve much as a character, he’s just after the Rolencian throne to get revenge against Cobalt, a descendant from a royal bastard who claimed the throne through treachery. Cobalt doesn’t really play much of a role, and considering he was virtually supplanted as the main villain by Palatyne in Book Three, the reader doesn’t have many reasons to root against him. His methods to gain power were treacherous, but that’s royal politics. Byren doesn’t have anything that blatantly makes him the better choice for king. Does he think he will be a good king? Irrelevant. How does he plan to govern Rolencia and Merofynia? Doesn’t matter. With all this in mind, he is hard to root for. His siblings are more compelling, as Fyn is toiling with forbidden passion and Piro is trying to dodge being married off as a piece in someone else’s game. She heads towards the Ostron Isle, before becoming entangled with a whole other mess which goes on for a bit. Her companion Lord Dunstany is a bloke everyone seems to repsect enormously, but does not seem to do much to justify his huge reputation. The Ostron plot reads like a crossover into Assassin’s Creed, as Dunstany and co. have to convince “Lady Death” (no, not Thanos’s wannabe girlfriend) to call off her coraxes trying to wipe out our plucky Rolencian heroes. The coraxes in this book are awesome though. Cobalt’s bodyguard corax is a beast when he’s unleashed, but again, these guys don’t appear enough.
Speaking of Cobalt’s corax, that leads us to Florin’s storyline in Rolencia. This starts the most promising out of all the plots, before she winds up back with all the others and becomes superfluous to requirements. She likes Byren and Byren likes her but remember Orrade likes Byren too but Byren’s not gay but Orrade is and anyway Byren is betrothed to Isolt but Fin likes Islot…. And breathe. Florin’s initial potential is exciting, as she’s a badass with nothing to lose, but before she even realises she’s a typical damsel in distress, helpless until the chiselled, broad-shouldered protagonist swings in at the last second. The Orrade-Byren dynamic seems to be thin as well. Byren’s drive to be king robs him of all other personality, to the point where it would be unsurprising if halfway through it was revealed he was a cardboard cut-out that Orrade had been carrying about with him.
There’s also a guy called Garzik who was thought dead in Book One, is Orrade’s brother, the main character of a short story set around this bigger one and does nothing to influence the plot. His inclusion feels like Rowena Cory Daniells is building towards a new series and is introducing him now (like that Emma girl in Caasandra Clare’s City of Heavenly Fire). He’s with the Utlanders and basically they’re big, hairy, thieving murderers but some still have hearts of gold. Or maybe slightly softer steel than the other ones do.
All this wasted potential and meandering plots leave the story lacking. Its most criminal offence is to build up towards something happening with one character and then jumping to another character arriving after all the action. This happens once in particular and leaves the reader feeling cheated, like you waited for ages for something that you then never got (remember when we were all ready to see the Mandarin in Iron Man 3?). Add to this that every character has some sort of Affinity power (magic) that gets them out of any mess they’re in. If Fyn and Isolt are in a pickle they can use their tag team of a wyvern and a foenix to unalive any problems they have. Byren can summon magical creautres (Affintiy beasts) and Orrade can get special visions. The Affinity was interesting at first, being an original interpretation of magic, and it being a part of magical creatures gave it an interesting nuance to it. The main issue is that Byren’s dad wasn’t a fan of it, so those with Affinity could not rule. As he and his all his closest relatives and friends have it, his claim to the throne is questionable.
Overall, I am sad to say that the finale to this series just did not deliver. Epic battles were avoided or skipped over, people were going back and forth with no clear direction and despite some promise, and ultimately the hurried conclusion does not justify the slow build-up. Two stars.