The Hand of the Sun King (Pact and Pattern #1) by J.T. Greathouse
Publication Date: August 5th, 2021
Hardcover. 416 pages.
About The Hand of the Sun King:
"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 . . ."
The Hand of the Sun King is a classic tale of oppressive Empire versus a rebellion set on freeing themselves, and J.T. Greathouse does a great job of introducing a new world and magic system to take the stage in this particular tale.
The Hand of the Sun King is an East Asian-inspired fantasy that follows Wen Alder as he writes of his journey from a childhood studying for the Imperial exams to becoming a Hand and his adventures from there forward. Wen has a slightly abnormal upbringing as the son of parents who are from opposing empires; his father is from the Sienese Empire, which has oppressed his mother’s Nayeni heritage, a heritage that gives Wen some magical abilities that must be kept secret.
The story is written in a first POV perspective from Wen himself as he recounts his past. I struggled to connect with Wen over the course of this story, and while that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy following his character, it is something that somewhat held me at arm’s length from him throughout and prevented me from becoming fully invested. Despite this, I did find Wen to be a complex character and appreciated that Greenhouse didn’t pigeon-hole him as a clear-cut “good” character. This isn’t to say that he was necessarily a grey character, but rather that he makes plenty of questionable decisions that show his immaturity and the fact that he is capable of making mistakes. Some of the ways he acted actually made him a bit unlikable to me at times, but I didn’t mind too much because I felt this worked well in creating more authentic character who makes mistakes, gets a big head, and learns when he’s being a bit too much of a jerk and needs to be humbled. I also enjoyed seeing how Wen developed relationships with different people, whether he initially cared for them or not.
In general, I really enjoyed the world-building in The Hand of the Sun King and really appreciated Greenhouse’ creativity in crafting this world. It’s one of those that really makes me want to dive deeper into this world and explore everything there. However, I will say that as the story progressed and Wen started to move around a bit more in this world, I felt as though things started going a bit all over the place. I felt as though we got glimpses of certain things, slight expansions on others, and then we would quickly move on to some new idea or place. I would really just love to get more from this story and world.
In a similar vein as the world-building, I think the plotting and pacing was a bit sporadic as well, and as things progressed I sort of felt as though there wasn’t really any one settled plot, if that makes any sense. The pacing is a bit up and down in choppier ways, spending a lot of time int he beginning on certain aspects of Wen’s life and then speeding over others, and I felt that this didn’t fully work for the story Greenhouse was trying to tell. There is so much potential in this series and I think everything could use some more fleshing out and time spent. All that being said, I did still really enjoy what we did from the story and found that it played with some really compelling ideas and themes, if not anything exceptional groundbreaking. There are some really cool scenes with the magical elements and I think if the sequel plays around more with some of those elements and the world and political elements, it'll really cement some things in great ways.
Overall, I've given The Hand of the Sun King 3.5 stars! This was a really great, solid fantasy that I think any fan of the genre could enjoy. I'm not sure yet whether this is one that will really stick in my head for a while, but I do certainly plan to check out he sequel when it comes out because I really look forward to seeing where Greathouse will take readers next.
Buy the book: Amazon | Bookshop.org