Here's an extract from Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings, first volume in the Dandelion Dynasty series, for you to sample, compliments of the folks at Saga Press. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice. Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.
FARUN, IN THE TUNOA ISLANDS: THE NINTH MONTH IN THE FOURTEENTH YEAR OF THE REIGN OF ONE BRIGHT HEAVEN
Few would have guessed that the man towering above the noisy crowd at the edge of the town square of Farun was only a boy of fourteen. The jostling townspeople kept a respectful distance from Mata Zyndu’s seven-and-a-half-foot frame, rippling with muscle everywhere.
“They’re afraid of you,” Phin Zyndu, the boy’s uncle, said with pride in his voice. He looked up into Mata’s face and sighed. “I wish your father and grandfather could see you today.”
The boy nodded but said nothing, looking over the bobbing heads of the crowd like a crane among sandpipers. Unlike the brown eyes most common in Cocru, Mata’s eyes were coal-black, but each held two pupils that glowed with a faint light, a rare condition that many had believed was mythical.
Those double-pupiled eyes allowed him to see more sharply and farther than most people, and as he scanned the horizon, he lingered on the slender, dark tower of stone to the north, just outside of town. It stood next to the sea like a dagger stuck into the rocky beach. Mata could just make out the great arched windows near the top of the tower, whose frames were intricately decorated with carvings of the Two Ravens, black and white, their beaks meeting at the apex of the arch to hold up a stone chrysanthemum with a thousand petals.
That was the main tower of the ancestral castle of the Zyndu Clan. These days it belonged to Datun Zatoma, commander of the Xana garrison guarding Farun. Mata Zyndu hated to think about that commoner, not even a warrior but a mere scribe, squatting in the ancient, storied halls that rightfully belonged to his family.
Mata forced himself back into the present. He leaned down to whisper to Phin, “I want to get closer.”
The Imperial Procession had just arrived in Tunoa by sea from the southern part of the Big Island, where rumor had it that the emperor had survived an assassination attempt near Zudi. As Mata and Phin made their way forward, the crowd parted effortlessly and silently before Mata like waves before a ship’s prow.
They stopped just short of the front row, and Mata hunched down to his uncle’s height to avoid drawing attention from the emperor’s guards.
“They’re here!” the crowd shouted as airships burst through the clouds near the horizon and the tip of the Throne Pagoda rose into sight.
While the townspeople cheered the beautiful dancers and applauded the daring soldiers, Mata Zyndu had eyes only for Emperor Mapidéré. At long last, he would set his eyes on the face of the enemy.
A wall of soldiers now stood in a circle on top of the Pagoda, arrows nocked, swords drawn. The emperor sat in their midst, and the spectators could only catch occasional glimpses of his face.
Mata had imagined an old man grown soft and fat from complacency, but instead, through the wall of soldiers, as through a veil, he saw a gaunt figure with hard, expressionless eyes.
How alone he is, high above in his peerless splendor.
And how afraid.
Phin and Mata looked at each other. Each saw in the other’s eyes the same mixture of sorrow and smoldering hatred. Phin didn’t have to speak aloud. Mata had heard from his uncle the same words every day of his life:
Do not forget.
Back when Emperor Mapidéré was still only the young King of Xana, and when the army of Xana routed the crumbling forces of the Six States across land, sea, and sky, one man had stood in its way: Dazu Zyndu, Duke of Tunoa and Marshal of Cocru.
The Zyndus came from a long line of great Cocru generals. But when Dazu was a young man, he was scrawny and sickly. His father and grandfather decided to send him north, far away from the family’s fiefdom in the Tunoa Islands, to be trained under the legendary master swordsman Médo in the misty isles called the Silkworm Eggs, at the other end of Dara.
After one look at Dazu, Médo said, “I’m too old and you’re too little. I taught my last student years ago. Leave me in peace.”
But Dazu did not leave. He knelt outside Médo’s house for ten days and ten nights, refusing food or drink except rainwater. On the eleventh day, Dazu collapsed to the ground, and Médo was moved by Dazu’s persistence and accepted him as a student.
But instead of teaching the young man sword fighting, Médo used Dazu only as a ranch hand to care for his small herd of cattle. Dazu did not complain. In the cold and rocky mountains, the young man followed the herd everywhere, watching for wolves hiding in the mist and huddling for warmth among the lowing cows at night.
When a new calf was born in the spring, Médo told Dazu to carry the baby animal back to his house for a weigh-in each day so that the calf’s legs would not be injured by the sharp stones on the ground. This involved walking many miles. At first the trip was easy, but as the calf gained weight, the trip became more difficult.
“The calf is capable of walking quite well now,” Dazu said. “He never stumbles.”
“But I told you to carry him back here,” the teacher said. “The first thing a soldier must learn is to obey orders.”
Every day, the calf grew a little heavier, and every day, Dazu had to struggle a little harder. He would collapse, exhausted, when he finally got to the ranch, and the calf would bound out of his arms, glad to be able to walk on his own and stretch out.
When winter rolled around again, Médo handed him a wooden sword and asked him to strike as hard as he could at the practice dummy. Dazu looked with distaste at the crude weapon with no edge, but he swung obediently.
The wooden dummy fell in half, cut clean through. He looked at the sword in his hand with wonder.
“It’s not the sword,” his teacher said. “Have you looked at yourself lately?” He brought Dazu to stand in front of a brightly polished shield.
The young man could hardly recognize the reflection. His shoulders filled the frame of the mirror. His arms and thighs were twice as thick as he remembered, and his chest bulged over his narrow waist.
“A great warrior trusts not his weapons, but himself. When you possess true strength, you can deal a killing blow even if all you have is a blade of grass.
“Now you’re finally ready to learn from me. But first, go thank the calf for making you strong.”