Sorry, I had to say that. *ahem* Welcome, digressors. As per the title, I am here today to deliver a final review of ‘King’s Folly’, book one of Jill Williamson’s ‘The Kinsman Chronicles’, as the sum of its parts (’Darkness Reigns’, ‘The Heir War’, and ‘The End of All Things’). I could just give you a flat-out summary of my thoughts on the book, and if that’s what you want, feel free to scroll down to the end and catch the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) version. But if you have the time and the patience to bear with me for a bit, I would like very much to tell you a story.
If you’ve been following me and/or my blog for very long, you’ve probably gathered by now that I’m a bit of a Jill Williamson fangirl. Mind you, I am also a fangirl of other people and things (such as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Doctor Who), but Jill’s work is of particular interest to me because she is a contemporary author writing in one of my favorite genres and does it very well. (Plus she’s just a great person in general, but I’m getting off-topic now.)
Really, though, get out there right now and try to track down as many good Christian fantasy novels as you can. Difficult, isn’t it? At least it always is for me. I might find a book or two on occasion by an author I don’t know, but to find a single author whose work I consistently like and feel confident in recommending to others is a luxury I prize.
My first experience with Jill’s books was ‘By Darkness Hid’. I read the entire ‘Blood of Kings’ trilogy and came out of it euphoric from the excitement of what I’d discovered. Along the way, I also managed to drag some of my teenage friends, my mother, and a few complete strangers into the fandom, but when I myself reached the end of the series, I found myself hungering for more. One Christy Award-winning trilogy (two books out of three won it) was, of course, a wonderful thing to experience, but once it was over, where was I supposed to get my fantasy fix?
Cue sometime last year when I caught the announcement that Jill was writing a new fantasy series, with different characters and cultures, but in the same general world (hundreds of years beforehand) as ‘Blood of Kings’. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement. I feared I would spontaneously combust from excitement before I ever had a chance to read the new books.
Now imagine how my excitement piqued when I discovered that Jill was building a launch team to help promote the book and the three eBooks of which it was comprised. The list of responsibilities was a bit intimidating for me, an awkward introvert with little skill for marketing, but being on the team would give me the opportunity to read all three eBooks beforehand and even receive my own copy of the full novel. So of course, I leapt on the opportunity, typed up my application as quickly as I could, and submitted it, euphoric with the very idea that I might get to experience the new series sooner than I had anticipated and have an excuse to fangirl unashamedly.
But true to my anxious manner, soon after submitting I began to prep myself for disappointment. Surely there would be many people who applied, and many of them would have much better marketing skills than I. By the end of October, when Jill was due to send out e-mails to those who made the team, I was utterly convinced that I had no chance of receiving such a missive. I resigned myself to waiting and began to make other plans for my time.
And then I got the e-mail. Against all odds, I was in. I didn’t know how exclusive the group might be (after all, as I said, Jill is a nice person, and I felt there was a good chance I was only recruited because of the sheer excitement I related in my application), but the instant I received that confirmation, all the old excitement came flooding back, and more. Anxiety also reared its head as I was faced again with my own woeful lack of experience with the successful promotion of books, no matter whose they were.
But — and this is a testament to just how much I wanted to read the book, and how badly I wanted an excuse to further promote Jill’s work — I decided to push through my own hesitations and do my best. I figured if nothing else, I could take cues from the more experienced members of the group and just follow their lead, and maybe I would look like I knew what I was doing.
My discomfort increased as I received the digital ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) of the books and saw that, as Jill had warned, this series would not be geared towards teens, or at least not young ones — it was geared towards a more mature audience, and while what mature content existed was handled in such a way that the reader would not get inappropriately caught up in it, just the simple fact that it was there made me, an awkward person from very conservative circles, nervous. What if I kept reading and it got more awkward? What if it was handled carefully in the beginning, but for whatever reason it devolved later? What if I had signed on to promote something and had to drop out a few weeks in because I couldn’t support the content? But I decided to keep the faith and keep reading, knowing that Jill had produced good, wholesome content consistently thus far, and reminding myself that sometimes darkness (when applied in moderation) can later give birth to much greater light.
The long and short of it is this: it was worth it.
Once I pushed past my initial discomfort, I got caught up with the characters and their stories. In the beginning I connected with Wilek and his sense of honor and responsibility, then my allegiance became divided when Trevn bounded into the picture and stole my heart with his winsome manner and boundless energy. (I think if I met the two in real life, I would have a very difficult time keeping up with Trevn and would instead end up sitting around talking with Wilek while Trevn ran off to some adventure somewhere.) Charlon, while her goals conflicted with those of the main characters and drove her to some ends which… well, you can find out what those ends were for yourself… was still a sympathetic character and I felt her pain deeply throughout all three parts. And Mielle… Well, she reminded me a bit of Vrell from ‘Blood of Kings’, except that thus far Mielle has not made me want to throw an iPad across the room out of frustration. (Don’t get me wrong — Vrell was a good character. But she did have her… *ahem*… moments.)
Even with the warnings that this story would take place long, long before ‘Blood of Kings’ and many things would be different, I was not prepared for just how different things would be. But that was not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, I found the culture (or cultures, rather) fascinating, and felt that even with as much as was articulated throughout the story, there was a world’s worth of information and depth beneath the surface that I as the reader could only dream of learning. The religions in particular intrigued me in how each of them evolved from their origins and, with all their differences, shared some things in common. I found this made them more believable, as many real-world religions have a few common elements (a moral code of some kind, end-times prophecies, references to past events that were interpreted very differently through the lens of different worldviews, etc.). If they were all too similar to each other or too starkly different from one another, it might have felt contrived, but they were not, and it did not.
On that same topic of religion, I liked how the assortment of similarities and differences between faiths created a natural confusion for the characters, leading them on a treasure hunt for truth wherein the reader gets to tag along and also come to those conclusions for themselves. Rather than shoving a sermon into the reader’s face, instead the narrative says, “Here are the facts, here are the issues — now look and judge for yourself which one is the truth.” And this, to me, makes the whole thing that much more effective. I must also admit to a certain degree of envy, as I struggle with this very area in my own writing. Believe me, it’s a difficult balance to maintain.
In addition to the above points, it all just felt so real. I swear if I fell asleep reading ‘King’s Folly’ and was groggy enough when I woke, I might be confused to open my eyes and see my own real-world room when I’d only just been in the five realms, clinging to medieval furniture as the Five Woes shook the land beneath my feet. I could forget, in my reverie, that the characters I read about were not, in fact, real people, and that the peril and suffering they endured was only penned by a human author onto paper and bound up in a book. Certainly, by the time I got to the end, I was tempted to just pick the book up again and read it from cover to cover to reunite with the characters and their world again.
Well, okay, technically I did pick it up again. I basically carried it around everywhere hoping someone would ask about it so I could babble to them about how much they needed to read it.
And now, in summary, I shall give you the long-awaited…
If you are a mature teen or adult fan of epic fantasy, Christian or otherwise, you should read this book. There are thematic elements to deal with due to the culture in which the books are set, but from the beginning of ‘King’s Folly’ to its end, I could see the progression beginning from darkness to light. Besides which fact, the storytelling was stellar, the worldbuilding was rich, and the characters were like living people who just happened to end up living inside a book. I admit to being quite impatient for the next book’s release.
If you're interested, just go to the Goodreads pages for the book below, or go for the first installment, 'Darkness Reigns', and try that out for free if you're not ready to commit to the full story.
King's Folly: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25822052-king-s-folly
Darkness Reigns: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26108314-darkness-reigns
Oh, yes, and as for the "song" part of the post... Yes, well, I suppose I should make good on that, shouldn't I? Well, a couple of days ago, I sat down and wrote a ballad inspired by 'King's Folly', recorded it a cappella and added filters to make it fit the feel a bit more. If you want something to listen to as you start in on the series or just to get an idea of what's in store, give it a listen on SoundCloud here, or click on the YouTube video below.