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Book Review: The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

Title: The Name of All Things

Author: Jenn Lyons

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date:  October 29, 2019

Genres: Epic Fantasy

Shelves: Female-fronted, female-author

When I read The Ruin of Kings back in March I called it the best epic fantasy I have read in ages, a complex story that was so much more than the sum of its parts. The only book to have challenged it (so far, at least) for year’s best is The Priory of the Orange Tree, but that’s a serious toss-up. My first thought upon finishing the final chapter is that The Name of All Things isn’t quite in the same category as either of those books, but it’s good . . . and as sequels go, it’s really good.

Narratively, the story structure is the same, a twinned bit of storytelling that opens near the end of one of those stories, slowly brings the two together, and which is annotated with footnotes from a third voice. Interestingly, that flashback story, the dominant focus of the book, is not Kihrin’s but a woman named Janel. In fact, he is merely a bystander for most of the story, an interested listener, but the ways in which their stories parallel one another . . . the ways in which they are connected through past and present lives . . . well, that connection is more than enough to draw the reader in.

Although Janel is a fantastic character, a more than worthy protagonist to stand proudly aside Kihrin – in fact, I would agree she’s an even better character – her story lacks some of the dramatic intensity that made The Ruin of Kings such a powerful read. It’s more slowly paced, told over the course of years, with a great deal of politics and mythology-building. As it turns out, her story is even more pivotal, her role even more significant, but it takes a long while before that becomes clear.

Once again, Jenn Lyons deftly mixes darkness, wonder, and humor in telling a story that often seems to be just another epic fantasy tale of resistance and rebellion, but which proves to have major, save-or-end-the-world consequences. There are more dragons this time out, more demons, more gods, and even bigger acts of magic and mayhem. Plots and betrayals abound, and at this point you really need a scorecard to keep track of motives and alliances. There’s a fine line between keeping the reader guessing and leaving them feeling completely lost, but Lyons walks that line with the kind of talented dexterity that leaves me in awe.

This book adds a lot in moving beyond Quur to explore Joratese culture, not the least of which is its exciting exploration of gender. This is a culture driven by horse-based gender roles of stallion, mare, gelding, and foal that have nothing to do with biology. It’s confusing at first, and perplexes people from other cultures, but I found it fascinating. Oh, and if the gender thing weren’t enough to intrigue you, the fact that their entire culture is horse-based, complete with knights, grand tournaments, and sentient horses known as firebloods.

The other thing that this books does better than most epic fantasies I’ve ever read is explore the boundaries of magic, the consequences of power, and the question of ends versus means. We see dark and dangerous works of magic, the fantasy equivalent of weapons of mass destruction, used by both sides. Where so many fantasies establish a clean delineation between good and evil, heroes and villains, Lyons refuses to make things that easy. This is a book that will leave you questioning motives, second-guessing yourself as well as the characters. When you’re talking about acts of genocide, the awesome factor of exterminating the enemy becomes a lot more uncomfortable when you find yourself questioning who the enemy is.

You know what? Forget what I said in my opening. Even with the pacing issues of Janel’s narrative, the bigger, deeper, more epic aspects of The Name of All Things make this a better all-around book. It’s a sequel that doesn’t just continue the story, but which adds to it in a number of ways, transforming expectations and setting up an even bigger story in The Memory of Souls.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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