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Kings of Paradise

Ash and Sand, Book 1
Narrated by: Ralph Lister
Length: 25 hrs and 31 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (38 ratings)
Regular price: $29.95
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Publisher's Summary

A deformed genius plots vengeance while struggling to survive. A wastrel prince comes of age, finding a power he never imagined. Two worlds are destined to collide. Only one can be king.

Ruka, called a demon at birth, is a genius. Born malformed and ugly into the snow-covered wasteland of the Ascom, he was spared from death by his mother's love. Now he is an outcast, consumed with hate for those who've wronged him. But to take his vengeance, he must first survive.

Across a vast sea in the white-sand island paradise of Sri Kon, Kale is fourth and youngest son of the Sorcerer King. And at 16, Kale is a disappointment. As the first prince ever forced to serve with low-born marines, Kale must prove himself and become a man, or else lose all chance of a worthy future, and any hope to win the love of his life.

Though they do not know it, both boys are on the cusp of discovery. Their worlds and lives are destined for greatness, or ruin. But in a changing world where ash meets paradise, only one man can be king....

©2017 Richard Nell (P)2018 Richard Nell

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  • C.T.
  • Ashland, Ky USA
  • 10-09-18

Grimdark at its finest

KINGS OF PARADISE by Richard Nell is one of the favorites to win the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO). It is a story which has been recommended to me over and over again. I was surprised by this because the fantasy fans I hang around with are a very cynical bunch. If one liked THE POPPY WARS, then the next disliked it. I was a huge fan of 1000 SCARS but others were iffy about it. Here? Just about everyone who read this novel had nothing but praise for it. They said it was the best grimdark they'd read since THE GREY BASTARDS or WHERE LOYALTIES LIE. So, i decided to check it out.

What did I think? Kings of Paradise is really solid fantasy. I didn't like it quite as much as the aforementioned books but it's definitely something that both earns its moniker of grimdark (which I define as "dark, gritty fantasy for adults") but also is just good fiction in general. The characters are interesting, the twists are actually unpredictable, and world-building is solid. This is one of those books for people who don't like their fantasy to read like Dungeons and Dragons but more like George R.R. Martin or Joe Abercrombie.

The premise is centered around three characters: Ruka, Kale, and Dala. Ruka is a deformed cannibal savage who may be the son of a god but is certainly the son of a witch. After being raised with love by his mother, he is cast out of civilized society by a corrupt priestess--which causes him to decide that it his destiny to destroy the old world. Kale is the spoiled prince of an island nation is that is one part England and one part Polynesia. Dala is a beautiful farm girl who grew up on a impoverished farm with an abusive father, when a chance encounter with Ruka results in her deciding to join the upper-crust priestesses on what she believes is a mission from her goddess.

Ruka is an interesting character and reminds me a bit of Kratos from God of War crossed with Caliban from The Tempest--not exactly a very common pair of team-ups. He's a genius with the face of a monster and his rage is all-consuming. He's not quite as sharp as he thinks he is and his only real move is "burn down everything that ticks him off." It's an effective move, though, and it's interesting how his partners keep trying to screw him--only to realize they've brought down holy hell on their heads.

Kale is a character I want to punch in the face and that's a good thing because it's what the author obviously intended as a reaction. Kale reminds me strongly of Jezal from THE FIRST LAW TRILOGY and his romance with Lala is not too dissimilar to said character's romance with Ardee West. That isn't to say the characters are identical but they have arcs of privileged individuals discovering their privilege comes with severe costs and have left them helpless once outside their comfort zone. The fact he discovers he has an incredible talent that can change the world struck me as a bit annoying but I am interested in where it takes him.

Dala is probably my favorite character in the story and I was saddened her role wasn't bigger. Dala is a seemingly sweet poor girl with a story which wouldn't be too out of home in a Disney movie, right before it goes in a bizarre and horrifying direction. When confronted with women who are going to kick her out of the priesthood and destroy her life solely because of her impoverished background, she assembles an army of assassins from the lower classes. It shows a woman with a keen sense of survival and who is every bit as dangerous as Ruka.

I like Kings of Paradise and recommend it for people who want to see a big complicated story with multiple interlocking parts. The book is divided into three parts and really does feel like reading an entire trilogy in one sitting. That's more bang for your book, though, and I'm interested in where the story goes from here. I think readers will enjoy the care and detail Richard Nell has put into his masterpiece and I'll certainly be picking up the next installment.

And the narration? Perfect!

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A new and stirring perspective

This is my second time experiencing this book; I read it earlier this year, and am re-familiarizing myself with the story before the sequel comes out. I haven’t listened to that many audiobooks, but wanted to give this a try.

Turns out that Ralph Lister is a legendary narrator for good reason. What really stood out to me is how much depth and nuance he could instill in his voice to bring life to the characters I already knew in my head. What’s even more interesting is how different a tone Ralph brings to each character in comparison to how I thought of them the first time around. It gave me an entirely new perspective and appreciation for this story, which is one of my favorite self-published stories of al time.

Nell builds complex characters like few others can, and Lister breathes souls into them and brings them to life. It’s a rare combination from two gifted artists and I hope they pair up again for the sequels.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Showed promise, but story degenerate into torture

After the first quarter of the book, I was pretty into this story; there were interesting protagonists Ruka and Prince Kale in two separate story lines, and decent world-building. Ruka was sympathetic at first and Kale was likable and fun with his marine efforts. The performance was decent. As time went on, Kale, who one would think the book would focus on a bit more, seemed to drift into the background, Ruka degenerates into an evil psychotic animal (NOT a genius), and we get introduced to Dalla, also eventually a psycho (this time a religious flavor of psycho).

After hearing about the success of Dalla into getting into the priesthood through the extremely unlikely arrangement of miraculously successful assassin trash men, and Ruka torturing a bard ally for no real reason, I couldn't immerse myself in the story anymore and stopped. The author was having protagonists unnecessarily act like evil imbeciles; this kind of thing usually seems reserved for poorly-motivated antagonists as a plot device, but in this case the author had to keep trying to breathe life into Ruka's and Dalla's characters by lamely adding scenes that showed that their victims were flawed too, so what they were doing might be justified.

This my second disappointment in a row for fantasy books that showed promise and then degenerated into petty filth. I do not normally like to leave reviews for unfinished books, but I made it about 13 hours into this one and I'm pretty confident in my recommendation not to listen to this one. The plot just seems to stumble over and fall into a gutter halfway through.

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Satisfying

A great book with some needlessly graphic disgusting stuff. I will say that the start of the book is a bit slow, but god damm once it picks up. I didn't like the female POV a bit too delusional for my liking.

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  • gjm
  • round rock, TX, United States
  • 12-05-18

I wan't my baby-back-baby-back-baby-back ribs...

First, Ralph Lister just about owns the best 3 audio books ever recorded. I gave up listening to the Malazan books when they switched narrators.

The characters are complexish. The story worthwhile. The world created cobbled together, but it holds, if barely. My biggest complaint is you get a few: he sighed inwardlies and he 'hoped against hope' s which I mostly blame on the authors editor.

I would compare this to a very eatable tasting meal composed mainly of courses I've tasted elsewhere, but nonetheless prepared well.

I will listen to the next book. The characters are compellingish. (My headline becomes relevant very quickly in the book)

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter Gee
  • 01-19-19

Great epic fantasy

l thought this was brilliant. I've not been keen on huge sprawling multi-POV books for a while, but these characters were fantastic, and the separate stories were all exciting and kept me hooked throughout. It is very dark, which I am a fan of, and you get a taste of that right from the start to set the tone. Good performance on audio.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Grant
  • 12-14-18

First Grimdark Experience and it was Fantastic

I found myself compelled by both of the main characters,seeing them come of age. One in a harsh land forced to fight for his survival and one from a more privileged position of a 4th prince. I did get somewhat lost when some years were read out and the characters seemed to age quickly, but I put that down to reading this on my work journey and only have 1 hour a day.

Overall the story twists and turns and left me wanting to know what was going to happen next in both their stories. I believe that just one main character would have been a great book but having two to follow makes it even better. I can't wait for the next audio book and to continue the story and see where these characters take us.

The audible narrator was Fantastic, he brought all of the characters to life and made it easy to distinguish between everyone.

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  • Katherine Fulcher
  • 02-17-19

Listened to the end

I am not quite sure how to review this book. Apart from the few short, weird, wholly out of place sex scenes, there was nothing offensive about it, but nor is there anything spectacular about it either. I hate to give a bad review when someone has taken their time to write such an extensive book, but I found the first half of the book to be dull, with the plot plodding away with numbing regularity and predictability. All of the characters bar one hold little interest - they have no depth to them at all, which is so frustrating as they could all be really interesting. For example, there is a boy with a photographic memory that leads all the way back to (and including) his birth - you would have thought that this would have an immense impact on his psyche, and how he sees and interacts with the wold, but it's only effect seems to be that he can read and write. The only character that saves the book is Kale. He is a really well-developed character, and has the lion's share of interesting plot. I listened to the end, but probably won't get the next one.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful