Palace of Kings by Mike Jefferies

By way of introductory remarks, I would like to state I picked up this book knowing it was probably bad. You see, I read Mike Jefferies’ The Road to Underfall long ago and forever remained astonished by just how cheesy it was. Also slightly curious about how the sequels would be. Hence reading book two, Palace of Kings.

Nothing about my memory adequately prepared me for what I read.

The first criticism I must make of this book – and believe me, I must – is the complete absence of the word said. Characters cry, shriek, howl, shout, but they very rarely speak. They might just dribble more often than they speak, which leaves me with the idea I am reading about the inhabitants of some particularly cruel home for the elderly. That is not my idea of good epic fantasy. Now, don’t get me wrong, there could probably be a very good fantasy book about such a place, but this accidental parallel is not it.

This distressing abuse of dialogue tags aside, Palace of Kings is very much epic fantasy, so much so that I’ve never met another epic fantasy like it. It is like someone asked “what if Tolkien had set his stories in a version of Narnia” – there are a lot of animal characters – which could easily work if it wasn’t utterly plausible that everything in the book had been inspired by one of those two things. Not that I think Mike Jefferies has only read those two things, you understand, that seems very improbable, but I could believe he’d temporarily forgot everything else while writing this book. Yes, epic fantasy isn’t shy of treading down the paths that those who came before did, but it’s usually very easy to spot the other influences from history, myth, other literature, and so on. They are hybrids. This is a tribute to the dangers of inbreeding of a level normally unseen outside offensive depictions of hillbillies.

Even that could be acceptable enough if it was well crafted, but since I’ve told you the characters dribble often you already know that’s not what happened here. The Road to Underfall had a certain charm due to its sheer exuberance, or at least it did to a teenager, and a reasonably done coming of age arc. I am not sure what Palace of Kings has but in terms of charm, it is less likeable and more the fascination you get with a pimple that you know is going to burst in a deeply repellent manner.

The quick summary of Palace of Kings is that after beating the big bad, Krulshards, but leaving him alive in book one, our gallant hero Thane and his band of trusty heroes must go correct that before big bad things can happen. The result is Thane and various other heroes tearing up the scenery in their chase, emoting back and forth over what terrible things will happen and whose fault it is and who should sacrifice themselves to fix it. I am a big fan of fantasy books that offer heightened emotions and alien perspectives over reflecting modern life just as know it, but I have no idea what this is meant to reflect. I would compare it to socially maladjusted teenagers and D&D based heavy metal concept albums, but frankly I don’t see why I should insult those things like this.

There is one good arc here that shows what the book could have been. The king has to save his people in a city under siege by gross nightmares, when he has barely any warriors as they’re all off with Thane and a host of other problems due to a build-up of the night inevitable mistakes that comes with a long reign. It’s touching and tense, hitting the satisfying story beats you might expect but without being totally predictable. Most of all, compared to all the other chapters, it just feels emotionally proportionate.

It is, alas, utterly wasted on the book it finds itself in. It cannot pull this book back from the abyss of curdling cheese and first degree melodrama, I cannot recommend reading it just for one good arc. Palace of Kings is everything fantasy’s detractors accuse the genre of being, but somehow worse.


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