I finished the first book of this series on something of a fence. It was perfectly fine, but it rang too much as a classic Chinese/Japanese tale where the background usurped the characters in the novel. This was largely because the novel was enormous in scope and the plot proved bigger than the characters, which is the way of history, at least as I understand. It was good, promising, but not awe-inspiring, a tumultuous love affair between War and Peace and Yoshitsune in the bed of a smart and silkily decorated hotel room in Changzhou.
Wall of Storms fixes, nigh as I can count, nearly every concern I had about the series. The prose is smarter, the ideas more cleverly and fully formed, while the main conflict of the book is pushed far enough into the novel that the waves of history crash onto the islands of Dara only after characters have been built and molded by smaller, more personal conflicts and conversations. Liu has honed the crafting of his novels to that of his short stories, which is a damn impressive thing.
Perhaps, my greatest love of the first book was the gods that inhabited the island. They are first since The Iliad that I feel truly belong in the world in which they are written. While they may not wield their power in the bombastic way of the Greeks, they engage with their theological electorate with the proper detached egotism that only gods can muster. They take a, not larger, larger is not the right word. Coy! They take a much less coy role in their second outing. There is still no sense of outright control, no clumsy initiating of events like those hokey prima donnas of so much modern fantasy. They set themselves, for the most part, in the background, tugging strings three degrees from direct action, and the exceptions, when they happen, are filled with a pomp and flourish that is nothing if not perfectly godlike.
This is a strong second outing. I was made to feel for its characters. All settle into a moral battlefield that plays well with the conflict at the book’s core, while the world stood as stark and mesmerizing as it did in the last book. After seeing the generational shifts that each book may end up taking I am secretly and publically hoping Liu follows this series into some grand alt-modern day world. The task is immense and only an insane person would attempt it, but as a reader I have no problems demanding it with the petulance of cradle-capped toddler.
Liu is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. His flair for both concept and style are second to few and leaves me both chronically fretful at my own failing and consistencies as a writer, but also giddy from having read it in the first place. I say it here as I do to every person I recommend him to, it is explainable only through some malevolent Illumanti-esque plot that Ken Liu isn’t more well known.
“History is the long shadow cast by the past upon the future. Shadows, by nature, lack details.” ― Ken Liu, The Wall of Storms