I loved Edmond Manning’s first book, King Perry. I loved it so much that although I was really excited about the release of this book, I was a little nervous, too. I think a good first book, especially when it’s also the first in a series, puts a huge burden on the author. They set the bar so high it almost seems inevitable that they will fail to follow it up. As a reader, I have come to know that I have to manage my expectations, especially as there is always a selfish part of me that wants more, that wants the next book to be even better.
I can’t say that King Mai is better than King Perry. I can say that it’s as least as good as King Perry. I can say that I read it with wide eyes, sometimes gasping at Vin Vanbly’s audacity, sometimes grinding my teeth in sympathetic frustration with Mai Kearns. I can say that it made me cry and it made me laugh out loud. I can say that even when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. I resisted the temptation to race through it, instead savouring it a little at a time, forcing myself to put it down and do something else while I digested what I had just read.
King Mai is set a few years before King Perry. The Vin Vanbly we meet is less experienced and, although he hides them well from Mai, we are allowed to see his doubts, the little mistakes he makes. Vin is still an enigma; we get very little of his background until the very end of the book, when he tells Mai a heart-wrenching tale to illustrate why the world needs a King of Curiosity. Mai is a very different protagonist to Perry. He’s full of anger and sees adversity everywhere, even when it doesn’t exist. Mai is a man under siege.
Mai struggled so much with everything that Vin asked of him. This is so vividly portrayed that I really expected him to tell Vin to piss off, even when I was telling myself that he couldn’t, because if he did there wouldn’t be a book about him. I couldn’t see how Vin was going to convince him, but he does, and convincingly, too.
While King Mai felt like a different flavour to King Perry, it has many of the same ingredients. Joy, sorrow, grief, magic, manipulation, craziness, all bound together with love. Vin’s love for Mai leaps off every page. It is a kind of tough love; he knows that the process will hurt Mai but, ultimately, Mai will be better for it. It is a selfless love, because Vin knows that when there weekend is over he will leave, as he always does. Vin spares himself nothing, he offers his heart without reservation because Mai is a King and deserves no less.
When I read King Perry, I knew I was reading something special. It was so utterly and refreshingly different to anything else I’d read. It filled me with a sense of wonder that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I thought of it as a modern fairy tale. I am filled with the same sense of wonder by King Mai, but am more inclined think of these books as modern mythology. Fantastical tales of ordinary men transformed by epic battles with monsters and saving their world.
Last, but not least, the writing. The writing is gorgeous. I don’t know enough about it to tell you what is good or why it is good. What I can say is that I’m not a visual person, but I see the things that Vin and Mai see. I can hear the corn rustling and smell the dirt. There’s a singer I particularly like, James Vincent McMorrow. I love his voice, soft and husky. When I listen to him, it always feels like he’s singing just to me. Edmond Manning’s writing makes me feel the same way. Like he’s sitting with me, spinning his story just for me. I can almost see his hands move as he talks. I’m beginning to think that Edmond Manning could publish his shopping list and it would be a pleasure to read.
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