ARC Review: The Hand of the Sun King by J. T. Greathouse

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 . . . 

This is not the kind of book that would usually be on my radar but I added this to my TBR as well as requested the arc because I saw how much my favorite reviewer and booktuber Petrik loved it, and wanted to give it a try myself. Now after finishing it, I’m unsure how I feel about it.

I have to start by saying the prose is very very good and you really don’t feel like it’s a debut while reading it. There’s a very engaging quality to the writing and even when I was apprehensive about my enjoyment of the story, I still kept going. The relatively fast pace also helped, but it also had its disadvantages because there were a lot of time jumps in the story, some of which I felt hindered any relationship development. I had read reviews about this one very long ago, so I didn’t remember much, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that this world and part of the cultures were Asian inspired and that always makes me happy. The magic system is elemental but also involves tetragrams and patterns in the world as well as a war between gods and witches, so it was all fascinating to read about but there were some explanations I didn’t understand, and I couldn’t truly wrap my head around what happened at the end.

This year has seen a lot of books published with empires and colonialism as the norm as rebellion as the core of the story, and this one is no different. But we get to see this story through the eyes of a biracial young man, who has to make a choice between following his mother’s heritage and be ostracized for it or take the oath that is laid out to him by his father and become a tool of the empire. This is a coming of age story and we see Alder grow as the book goes on, but this journey was definitely bumpy. He is a petulant child who grows up in privilege, even if deprived of love, and basically wants to do what he wants instead of others dictating his choices. He hardly understands right from wrong, doesn’t try much to know the world beyond his bubble, and acts impulsively that lead to drastic consequences. He never thinks first before acting and only learns from his mistakes. I did however understand his hunger for knowledge, but at the same time it also manifested as a hunger for unbridled magic. It wasn’t till almost the end that I finally saw that he could be more than his ambition, and can use his magic to fight the oppressive empire.

There are many characters who come and go from his life, but he remains the center of this story. There were only two characters who left a good impression one me – his grandmother who taught him the ways of her people and developed the curiosity in him; his tutor Koro Ha without whose diligence Alder would never have set on his path towards the empire. Both these characters had his well being in their hearts and were deeply responsible for shaping his personality. The only friend he makes Oriole, and his first love Atar, could have been written with more depth, but I felt that ultimately they both came across as plot devices, who taught him things he needed to know and pushed him onto the path of his destiny. The book would have surely been better if these two relationships were written with more depth.

Finally, I think this is an interesting coming of age story which spans almost a decade of the main character’s life. While the world building, prose, and magic system found me fascinated, I found the character and relationship development lacking which ultimately left me dissatisfied. However, it might still be the the book for you, as evidenced by the many glowing reviews this debut has received.

PS: Thank you to Netgalley ang Gollancz for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

4 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Hand of the Sun King by J. T. Greathouse

Add yours

  1. I have come across many books that my favourite reviewers would love and I would end up not liking so much, so maybe it’s the expectations sometimes? Going in with high expectations always ruins a book for me, but I keep doing it anyway haha! Thanks for the great review, Sahi! I love how you broke down everything so neatly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Hasini !!! I guess this is the beauty of reading right, we all feel differently about the same book.. and it’s always fun to read all kinds of reviews 😍😍😍

      Liked by 1 person

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