Review: Kirith Kirin by Jim Grimsley (2000)

“”I leaned over him and felt as if I were staring into a seething cauldron, fires licking the rim of his face. Breathless, I kissed the maelstrom.”

Kirith Kirin, Jim Grimsley

Rating: ★★★★½
Genre: High Fantasy
Categories: M/M, wizards/magicians, royalty and political intrigue, fated lovers
Content Warnings (highlight to read): Significant age-gap between the romantic leads, in the way of “just-barely-of-age-fantasy-protagonist.”
Description: Told from the point-of-view of Jessex, a magician reflecting back on his youth and the series of events that caused him to pursue his fate. Kirith Kirin is very much high fantasy and floral prose—the kind of fantasy novel that has FIFTY PAGES OF APPENDICES with all the names and places and rules about magic.

The story follows Jessex, a simple farmboy, who learns that he has a secret magical lineage and a daunting fate. In this world, immortals known as Kirith Kirin and the Blue Queen regularly ‘take turns’ as rulers in order to maintain their immortality, but the Blue Queen has decided that she’s had enough of sharing and is plunging the world into chaos. Jessex makes his way to the side of Kirith Kirin, destined to be his faithful magician—and, you know. More.

The Blue Queen, upon resuming the throne while King Kirith Kirin’s eternality is renewed in the Arthen forest, has partnered with a magician of the dark arts. No longer does she need to leave the throne to renew her eternal nature. Swayed by promises of the magician, she has claimed the throne forever and is extending her influence to the far corners of the world.

Malleable grey clouds, sidewinding wind and intelligent lightning bolts made the trip across the vast Girdle nearly impossible. Out of nowhere, the Blue Queen’s Patrols made haste to kill the boy and the warrior before they could safely reach the deep forest of Arthen. Riding upon two magnificent stallions, one a royal Prince out of Queen Mnemarra, Jessex and his uncle Svisal reached Arthen despite the deadly storm that reeked of magic. Thus begins Jessex’s new life as he arrives in Arthen and enters into the royal court of Kirith Kirin.

Impression: I honestly love this book, even though there’s a few obvious things I took issue with: a really slow burn start, a zoomed-in focus on inconsequential details and a zoom out on the more dramatic situations, not enough time spent with the characters and a lot of very dense and elaborate worldbuilding. Looking back at it as a whole, I found that I didn’t really care, and I had trouble putting it down along the way.

The worldbuilding is complex and really immersive. The prose is fantastical and almost lyrical in the way the story is woven together, and it’s certainly unique. Just, you know, sometimes enters “what the heck is even happening” territory. A depth and breadth and complexity that probably could have supported a book twice as long with two sequels* (*sequels that actually followed in the style and the spirit of the original, let’s not even talk about the ones we’ve actually gotten).

As for the characters… I’d have liked to see more attention paid to the secondary & tertiary characters, since they aren’t given a lot of thought or time or depth. But at the same time, it’s written as a first-person recollection, and I was never, ever bored with Jessex. He’s some strange, sleeper protagonist where he seems like an ordinary farmboy but is actualy quirky and fascinating and way more than a little weird and I was totally there for that.

It’s definitely important to note (per the warnings above) that the main romantic relationship between someone just-barely-a-legal-adult and a millennia-old godking. Obviously this is super not everyone’s jam. For me personally, the combination of Jessex writing in first person as an introspective recalling however-many-years later, that weird gray territory of “actually I spent many years montage training in a world where time was technically not passing so I’m older than I look…”, and Jessex being the initiator reduced the issues of that for me, but YMMV. Jessex & KK were probably as healthy as you could get for being really, really weird immortals.

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