Hello everyone. I had hoped to have a Your Mileage May Vary book for you this week, but my latest read just… didn’t do it for me. Which is how we arrived here: at a bonus back-to-back week of Reasons I DNF This Book. Let’s get right into it, shall we?
This week’s DNF: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons; DNF at 16%
On its face The Ruin of Kings seemed right up my alley. After how much I enjoyed The Fifth Season, the framing device for The Ruin of Kings at first appeared like something I would really dig. Alternating perspectives, telling the story of a single central character across three different time periods, shifting between first and third person POV? Yeah, I told myself as I cracked it open, I could really like this.
As it turns out, I was wrong. I didn’t like it. I would go so far as to say I hated it actually (in fact I did, oops). And that turned out to be the thrust of why I had to put this book down, so that’s where I’ll be concentrating my focus today.
The framing device is that of a prisoner and his jailor telling the story of the former, and how he wound up in a cell, but from different periods of time in said prisoner’s life. Kihrin tells his story in the first person, as one would expect, and those chapters were largely fine.
The thing that really grabbed me though, was Talon. Talon (the jailor) is a monster who eats people and absorbs their memories, and she tells Kihrin’s story from an earlier point in his life from the POV of those closest to him. I actually really liked this idea at first. It gave me a lovely sense of dread every time her chapter would be from the perspective of someone new. This person was already dead and they don’t even know it. Delightful.
However, it soon became clear that Talon’s chapters were just framed that way as a flimsy work-around to an omniscient 3rd person narrator. First of all, I was apparently wrong: Talon doesn’t have to eat people to steal their memories. She just has to spend enough time with them, I guess? I don’t know how I managed to go so long without realizing this (since her very first chapter is from Kihrin’s POV) but it really cheapened the experience for me.
I might have been able to forgive and forget that point, however, if it weren’t for a more egregious drawback. I quickly realized that, though Talon’s chapters were largely all from different POVs, each of the characters’ narrations were practically identical to each other. Again, this might not be a bad thing if they were in Talon’s voice as she puppeted those of her victims. But we got a taste of Talon’s voice in the opening scene and her chapters were distinctly… not that. In fact, they were hardly identifiable from Kihrin’s chapters, save for the first to third shift. This only reinforced to me that Lyons wanted to play with format to make her story unique, but just didn’t think or follow it through.
What worked for me in N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is that the three “different” perspectives felt distinct from each other, and yet as the story wore on I could see them start to bleed into each other as it became apparent they were all the same person. I think The Ruin of Kings had a chance to do something similarly special with the narration but, for whatever reason, chose to shy away from it. I honestly think if Lyons had leaned into Talon’s voice in her POV chapters it would have really made the experience worthwhile, but as it stands it became very bland very rapidly.
This may be really nitpicky of me, but the thing that finally convinced me that I just couldn’t do it anymore was the unimaginative use of speaker tags in the final scene I could tolerate. This scene featured two women (and Kihrin), and at one point Lyons chose to identify one of the ladies, Ola, not by her name, but as “the whorehouse madam.” Okay, I get it. Navigating a scene with two characters with the same pronouns can be tricky. Fine. However, she uses the exact same tag in the very next paragraph. What sent me? THE POV CHARACTER WAS THE WHOREHOUSE MADAM. SHE REFERRED TO HERSELF TWICE IN HER OWN NARRATION AS ‘THE WHOREHOUSE MADAM.’ ON THE SAME PAGE.
Like I said, if this had been identifiably in Talon’s voice I might forgive it (twice in two paragraphs is still really bad though, let’s be real), but it wasn’t. This is genuinely Ola’s point of view. I was already struggling at that point to get past my other hangups and this was just the final nail.
I hate DNFing two books in a row, it really makes me feel like I’m being overly persnickety. But when you know, you know. Anyway, thanks so much for joining me for this DNF review. I’ll be back on Thursday for your regularly scheduled blog post and again on Sunday for Short But Sweet. Until then may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.