Book Review: THE HAND OF THE SUN KING by J. T. Greathouse

Title in white on pale blue with black hand and orange sun graphic
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - first book


Book cover for THE HAND OF THE SUN KING: title in white on black hand with blue patterns on it on a blue background with an orange sun

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 . . 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE HAND OF THE SUN KING is a richly drawn debut about a desire for magic and being caught between worlds, trying to find the right path between the different parts of you.

The heart of this book is Alder’s struggle for magic (we spend most of the book with him being called that, so that’s the name that’s stuck in my head.) From his first taste of real magic to his search for a less constrained one given to him, each time finding another sip but nothing like it, that desire for real magic drives the book. It also gives the series its name – Pact and Pattern, describing the constraints to the magic.

I like a good constrained magic system, and I loved how this one was controlled with marks due to pacts, rather than the ultimate magic having rules. Plus the empire’s magic was so sinister the more we learnt about it. The section in An-Zabat is probably my favourite bit for magic – hard to say without spoilers, but I loved both the An-Zabati magic and the revelations there. PLUS it had an element of political intrigue (very minor, but still!) The magic in the climax is pretty spectacular too, and answers some questions about how it all works and why.

The story itself starts off with that childhood through education into the life the book/series largely follows, passing over years with a few paragraphs to show key events of ideas as he grows. For some reason, this style works much better for me in adult books than YA. I think it’s because the narrator looking back is much older (or at least feels it) and so it comes across as more reflective and in character than a teen doing that

The book spends its time in three main locations and three different cultures. They are nicely distinct but also show nuance within them, rather than being monoliths. Not to mention two have been conquered by the third, which is shown through subtleties in how they are presented and act.

The one thing I would have liked to see that wasn’t in the book is a map. That would have let me work out exactly how all these places were related to one another geographical. Without it, these countries were all amorphous blobs without features surrounded by white as I didn’t know where they were in relation to one another.

I am very glad I got my hands on an eARC of the next instalment, THE GARDEN OF EMPIRE, because I want to stay in this world longer!

Read my reviews of other books by J. T. Greathouse:

Pact and Pattern (this series):

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