Recent Reading: The Four Kings

Okay, as you may recall, I loved Andrea K Höst’s contemporary sorta-romance The Book of Firsts, published under the name, let me see, Karan K Anders. It’s a delightful low-tension story in which problems are mostly minor and solutions are generally quick and satisfying. I’ve read it several times.

The Four Kings is the sequel.

I see that one of the first couple of reviews says it’s a lot like the Gratuitous Epilogue of the Touchstone Trilogy, which is true. There’s a huge (HUGE) amount of homebuilding and architecture and a lot of settling into a family. All that stuff is indeed a lot like the Gratuitous Epilogue. This is not a complaint. I liked the Gratuitous Epilogue, and I liked this book too.

I read this book very fast, helped along by feeling a bit cruddy this past Saturday. I wrote a couple thousand words so I wouldn’t feel like I’d wasted the whole day, but then closed my laptop, settled down with chicken soup, and read this book, which is, by the way, exactly perfect for a day like that. I mean, it’s relaxed and comfortable. Nothing bad happens. Or not very bad anyway, and the somewhat bad things are generally, as in the first book, rapidly resolved.

Let me see. All right, first, I greatly appreciated the brief note that Helios is set in a Greenland that’s about 100 km south of its current location. That really puzzled me in the first book! I just could not figure out where this city was supposed to be! Höst had to clarify that for this one, since we get outside the city and look at the scenery. I’m glad to have this question settled.

More importantly, I really liked how the fundamental relationship(s) were handled between the three male leads and Mika. This worked for me, although I was somewhat expecting the story to perhaps go in a different direction than it did.

I liked seeing more of Mika’s parents. I liked how they adjusted to finding out about their daughter’s unusual romantic relationships. This was all handled believably. I laughed at the final reveal about Mika’s father. In retrospect, I definitely should have seen it coming, but I didn’t, and it was hilarious. I also liked finding out what really happened with Mika’s mother’s family. That’s sad, but it makes a lot of sense of an element of the backstory that, while minor, was a little unbelievable.

As a side note, while discussing things that worked for me, it is absolutely, preposterously stupid for most first-time pet owners to get a border collie puppy – especially if they are predictably not going to have time for a puppy – and much worse to get two puppies, which creates a serious risk of both puppies developing the personality distortion and behavior problems collectively referred to as “sibling syndrome.” People like me don’t have problems with sibling syndrome when we keep two puppies, apparently because we have a complete pack structure for puppies to fit themselves into so they don’t develop that kind of overdependence on each other. But ordinarily, it’s not wise to get littermate puppies because this is a significant risk.

Astoundingly, Höst actually made every part of this plot element work by making Mika’s mother into the sort of person who is going to do just fine with a pair of border collie puppies. I just can’t believe she pulled that off. Nobody can pull that off. But she did. Puppy training videos! Agility! Flyball! Sheep! And two people to handle two puppies properly. They’re off to a great start. I can hardly imagine that Höst did everything right without having border collies herself, or possibly knowing people who do, and who handle them well. Otherwise I can’t see how she could line up every potential problem in a row and tick them off like that. And so fast too, so I didn’t have to fret about those puppies for page after page. I greatly appreciated that, and Höst now joins Ilona Andrews as one of the very few writers who understands dogs and puts believable dogs into her stories. Obviously I really appreciated that!

But moving on. Let me see. All right:

I did not dislike the huge (HUGE) amount of homemaking and architecture, but I would have liked a lot (A LOT) more about certain relationships, particularly Lania, but also various other relationships. I would have been pleased to keep all the architecture but double the length of the book by adding a lot (A LOT) more about those various relationships.

I was particularly disappointed … this is a minor spoiler, but very minor … I was disappointed that Lania turned out not to have figured out that Mika was in a relationship with all three young men. I was absolutely certain she had. There is a specific moment in The Book of Firsts where Mika gives herself away while Lania is present and watching her, and I’m absolutely stunned that Lania didn’t catch on at that moment. I would so much have enjoyed for that to have happened, and for Lania to have hidden her awareness.

Mika, “So, it’s actually like this …”

Lania, “I was wondering if you’d ever tell me! I’m so happy that you trusted me enough to tell me!”

Mika, boggled.

So that was a very fun scene that did not take place. We saw only a little of Lania. I would have liked to see a lot more of her and a lot (A LOT) more of the young man Lania gets involved with. I would also have liked to see more of Professor Tremaine. I realize that Mika became less focused on that course of study and the specific path toward a career that she had in mind. Good for the Three Kings figuring out how to make sure Mika would be fine no matter what gossip started being passed around. But that was a big thing in the first book and I’d have liked to see more of that element in this book. I’d have liked to see more of Professor Tremaine’s kid, the boy with the Afghan hound. Why is he even there? He is so utterly unimportant that I just don’t understand what he’s doing in the story at all.

Also, for the first and probably only time in my life, I’d like to have seen more, or heard more, about the toxic family relationships. Blowing up the control those various sets of parents thought they had over their sons was a splendid thing. I was so looking forward to all that, and I’d have liked to see more of it. I was all ready to pop some corn, settle back, and enjoy those particular fireworks. I would most particularly have liked to see more of the young men breaking free via interaction with Rin’s four sisters. I had also hoped to hear about those girls blowing up the Rose Court at the high school. I’m very sorry we didn’t hear anything about that. I liked Bran’s brother Rowen, though again I’d have liked to see more of him.

You see what I mean about wanting the story to be twice as long.

However, I liked the story as it is, I liked the resolution, I liked the actual epilogue, and I enjoy how settled and comfortable everyone is. Also, treating the duology as a single story, I hereby concede that it is indeed a romance, not a sorta-romance.

If Höst ever gets bored or stuck writing other stuff and comes back to this world, I would still very much like to see Rin’s four sisters blow up the Rose Court. Or I’d like a story featuring Lania and the young man she winds up with. Or a story featuring Bran’s brother. I’m not very interested in Kyou’s brother Gabriel at the moment, but I could change my mind. In other words, though I’m very (VERY) interested in the various other sequels she’s working on, anything that Höst felt like writing in this world would definitely be fine with me.

Not only that, but the backstory of Echoes of Sarmakel sounds really neat. If AKH ever happens to have nothing else she’s working on, I would absolutely be interested in reading that story.

If you’ve read this one, I’m curious about your reactions. What did you think?

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6 thoughts on “Recent Reading: The Four Kings”

  1. You always put things into words so much better tgan I can!
    I had almost the same reactions, except I hadn’t expected Lania to have known – she is not the kind of person that could effectively hide her realisation, she’d blush too much to go unnoticed.

    I too would have liked the book to be longer – it felt as if there were a number of possible subplots seeded in, that weren’t (fully) developed in this book. Maybe she will revisit those in shorter novellas, in between the other sequels she’s working on? I hope so!
    If writing these is as enjoyable for her as the Tuyo world is for you, writing shorter side-stories from other viewpoints set here might be a relief when other books get stuck.

    I was very happy about the widening of Mika’s scope, broadening what she would enjoy doing as a career beyond just the building of huge public infrastructure bridges, and the solution the four of them found seems workable and fun.

    I also liked getting to know Mika’s parents, and their backstory, a bit more, but would have liked a bit more about Lania and her new friend, and Rin’s sisters too. I’m hoping that at some point they get their own story, those girls sound like they could have an interesting time once they get a small taste of freedom.

    The boy with the Afghan hound and the idol with feet of clay sounds like it could be its own little side-story, far aside from the main characters – which may be why it wasn’t picked up on as part of this book. I’m less interested in him at the moment, but it is a little dangling thread that could be picked up later, and maybe woven in again with some of the other dangling threads.

    I like the book, and found the resolutions it came to satisfying, and still she always leaves me wanting more! How greedy of me…

  2. I really enjoyed the book, but I felt a little let down when some of the plot elements were not really followed through. It seemed to me as though Andrea Host just wanted to finish the book and get it out there, and she missed tying up some of the details. Did Mika’s mom reconcile with her brother or not? Was he at the remarriage ceremony or not? Why did we see so little of Carr? Why no resolution with the Professor, and did Mika get into the institute of her dreams or did she just throw it away? Nice that the boys found an alternate method of her achieving her dreams, but it seemed out of character for her. How did she do in school? I found it disconcerting that school lost relevance for Mika. I would read anything by Andrea Host, and I enjoyed the book, but not as much as the first book.

  3. Yes, I forgot to mention Carr! I agree, I specifically wanted to see more of him.

    Ditto with the mom’s brother and Mika’s cousins.

    I just would have liked more all the way around.

  4. I felt like it was very much a slice of life book and a little frustrating in that regard. I don’t feel like authors need to live up to my expectations, I sometimes love it when they don’t, in fact, but I expected more along the lines of “I have introduced this character, here is why they’re part of this story.” Specifically, remember the guy from the dance? The arrogant cousin? I was sure he’d show up again. Why introduce him if not to use him somewhere?

    But that could be said about so many characters. When we meet Bran’s brother, I thought, “Ooh, this is where Saskia can come into play again,” but alas, no return of Saskia. And the whole Professor Tremaine thing was just… dropped? It is true that sometimes in life things that are important to us stop being important as we grow older, but it still felt like there were so many elements of story, character-driven story, that were abandoned to make room for discussions of human resource management, drainage, and wind turbines. And instead of doing things with the characters that had already been introduced, new characters turned into plot ninjas. I wanted to learn more about Stacia and Damasque, and instead Gabriel and Isla and Brodie appeared.

    I saw the reveal about Mika’s father coming from her conversation with Christophe on the phone in book 1, so I also anticipated that being much more exciting than it finally was. On par with Katarina’s snotty comment about the dresses just before learning that they were designed by an Oscar-winning costume designer. As it turned out, it just kind of was? It could have been really fun in a scene with the parents, but the only person who gets a hint of comeuppance in his attitude is Brodie and since we literally met him seconds earlier, there wasn’t much satisfaction in that. As big reveals go, it was pretty… well, realistic, I guess. Not as much fun as I expected it to be.

    I also really expected something to happen with the “all these guys are hooking with the same girl and her name is Cheshire” (in The Book of Firsts) and, “Huh, now one girl is living in a house with them?” You’d think the gossips in Helios who seem so busy would pretty immediately put those two things together. Somewhere there was a person who overheard something about Cheshire and also followed the kings around taking photographs: who was that person and what did they move on to that they weren’t immediately speculating on the gossip boards? How did that not wind up being part of the story?

    All that said, I enjoyed the read, read it again as soon as I finished, and am currently enjoying another reread of The Book of Firsts, so I did like it. But I didn’t love it. I’ll still be buying anything Andrea Host/Karan Anders releases on the day it’s published, though. I like spending time in her worlds, even when she’s writing about drainage and land zoning.

  5. The paperback print (POD) edition just arrived, and it is 417 pages, nearly an inch thick.
    I can see that indulging all our wished-for sidelines would likely have made it too bulky for Print-on-demand…

    And I don’t regret that all the adjustments and things happening in the first half year of college to our four primary personages got so much time and attention, but wanting to end on a satisfactory future for the four kings did mean jumping lightly over all the rest of college, as well as all the secondary characters’ stories.
    I wouldn’t have minded getting more books before reaching that conclusion, but with two other series-sequels already awaiting attention (both for Pyramids of London and for The starfighter invitation) I can understand that the author may have wanted to end this with a view to a fullfilling future, and the ability to put this aside for now and go back to those other two series. Having three series on the go at once seems like it would be a bit much for one author-brain to keep up with.

  6. I agree with all of this, Sarah. I had forgotten how I totally expected the arrogant cousin to be the fourth king in some way! I realized soon that wasn’t going to happen and it slipped my mind.

    And yes, I’d have been fine with all the Cheshire speculation being an ongoing thing. I thought it would be!

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