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!”
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?