Exclusive Excerpt: The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu


Cover detail from The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu.

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu is published.

And it has received excellent reviews thus far, some of the strongest for epic fantasy in recent years. It is the continuation of the enormous tale started in The Grace of Kings and it is as unlike anything you’ve read.

To celebrate the new book, Liu and his publisher have given Unbound Worlds an exclusive excerpt from The Wall of Storms. It is set in the middle of Chapter Ten and it stands alone, making it an excellent way for new readers to try Liu’s writing style and story.

Read more below!

© 2016 Ken Liu, reprinted with permission from Saga Press

Excerpted Chapter Ten

A Balloon Ride

Somewhere Over The Sea North Of

Crescent Island: The First Year In

The Reign Of Four Placid Seas

(Five Years Before The First Grand Examination).


Curious Turtle drifted leisurely over the endless sea.

“Look! Look!” Zomi shouted, pointing to the southeast.

The gentle swells broke, and a massive, sleek, dark body leapt out of the water. Even at this distance, it was clearly many times the size of the hot-air balloon they were riding in. The colossal fish hung suspended for a moment in air, thousands of black scales scintillating in the sunlight like jewels, before falling ponderously back into the water. A moment later, the muffled splash reached their ears like distant thunder.

“That is a cruben,” said Luan Zya, “sovereign of the seas. They are often seen in the sea between Rui and Crescent Island. I think they like to dive down to the underwater volcanoes and linger in the heated water, much as the people of Faça enjoy hot spring baths near Rufizo Falls.”

“I never thought I’d see one! It is”—Zomi hesitated—“beautiful. No, that’s not right. It’s beautinifcent, brilli-splen-sublimeful, magnidazzlelicious. I’m sorry, I don’t have the words. These are all the pretty phrases I know.”

“The world is grand and full of wonders.”

Luan smiled at the chattering girl, remembering the indescribable joy he had felt the first time he had seen a breaching cruben from the deck of a Haan trawler. He had been only ten, and his father, the chief augur of Haan, had stood by him to watch the leaping crubens, recounting the lore of the scaled whales while resting a hand gently on the boy’s shoulder.

How do you know so much about the world, Father?

By following curiosity, the quality that Lutho prizes above all.

Will I ever know as much as you?

You will know much more than I do, Lu-tika. It is the natural flow of the universe that sons should exceed their fathers, and students shall surpass their teachers.

“Can we get a closer look?” asked Zomi eagerly.

“Maybe,” Luan said. And he swallowed the lump in his throat and turned away to hide the fact that his eyes were wet. “Let’s see if luck is with us today.”

He leaned over the side of the gondola, uncapped his drinking gourd, and tipped it over carefully to let out a thin stream of red wine. The liquid line plunged straight down, but as it neared the sea, the stream twisted and pointed to the southeast, turning into a string of crimson pearls that scattered and fell into the waves.

“Good,” Luan said. “The wind is coming from the northwest near the surface. We can ride it.”

Reaching above his head, Luan twisted a dial about a foot across in diameter with both hands. The dial was connected through a system of gears and belts to the stove above them, filled with freeze-distilled liquor—meant for cleaning and stripping paint rather than drinking— and caused the thick ax wick to retract into the stove. The flame that roared overhead quieted and grew smaller, and the balloon began to descend.

“So we’re entirely at the mercy of the winds?” asked Zomi. The balloon continued to fall until the northwesterly breeze caught it. “What if you can’t find a wind headed in the direction you want to go?”

Luan reached up and twisted the dial the other way. The wick extended, the flame roared back to life, and the balloon stopped falling and drifted to the northeast.

“Then we’ll have to go somewhere else,” said Luan. “Ballooning is not for those too set on their destinations. Curious Turtle may not always find a way to get to where you want to go, but it will always take you somewhere interesting.”

They reached the spot in the sea where the cruben had breached earlier, and Luan turned up the flames again to raise the balloon out of the breeze so that they hovered above the swell. The water parted again, and Zomi leaned eagerly over the side of the gondola, hoping to see another acrobatic breach up close. But this time, the cruben only poked its head above the water, its gigantic horn like the mast of a ship, and exhaled through the blowhole, shooting a fountain of mist high into the air near the balloon. Zomi cried out in joy and turned to face Luan.

“He was laughing at me!” Her face was bright with a smile and wet with the spray from the cruben.

Luan felt at once very old and also very young as he laughed along with Zomi.


As she slept, Zomi dreamed of home.

“I don’t know how long I will be away,” said Mimi.   

Aki nodded. She was packing a stack of sorghum meal cakes soaked in honey and a small jar of salted caterpillars in a cloth. She spoke without turning to look at Mimi. “If you miss home, have a cake to remind you of the sweetness of our summers. If you are sad, eat a caterpillar to remind you of my cooking.”

“Mistress Kidosu,” said Luan, “I promise to take good care of your daughter. She is extraordinarily talented, but she cannot learn what I want to teach her without seeing the world.”

“Thank you,” said Aki. “I’ve always wanted Mimi to stay by my side and live a life like mine, but that’s a selfish desire, driven by the fact that the gods have already taken so many I love from me. Yet I’ve always known that she’s special, and it surprises me not one whit that you’ve found her.”

“I will learn the secrets of the world and come back to give us all a better life,” said Mimi. She had so much she wanted to say, but she wasn’t sure her voice would not crack, and so she simply said, “You’ll eat white rice every day.”

“Study hard, Mimi-tika,” said Aki. “And do not think about me too much. You’re my daughter, but you do not belong to me. The only duty any child owes to her parent is to live a life that is true to her nature.”


Zomi woke up.

Overhead, the flame roared softly as Curious Turtle continued to ride the wind. All around her, she could see the stars, bright pinpricks of light like the glowing sea jellies that she was familiar with from swimming in the bay during the brief summers when the water was warm enough. She liked swimming: the water freed her from the bondage of her disobedient left leg, and she felt graceful, complete, not lame or crippled.

She liked lying in the balloon at night. It was like drifting through an empyrean sea.

Yee-ee-squeak, yee-ee-squeak . . .

The strange sound caught her attention. She turned and saw Luan sitting at the other side of the gondola with his legs stretched out in front of him. He had some contraption made of sticks and bundles of ox sinew wrapped around his right calf, and as he flexed his leg, the contraption made the rhythmic noise she had heard.

“What’s that, Teacher?”

Startled, Luan stopped flexing his leg and looked over at Zomi. “Oh, nothing,” he said. “Go back to sleep. I’ll wake you up to steer the balloon in a few hours.”

Zomi was going to ask more, but Luan draped a blanket over his leg and opened the thick book that he always carried with him, which Zomi had learned was called Gitré Üthu, which meant “know thyself” in Classical Ano. It was a companion that her teacher seemed to love more than anything else, or anyone—he never spoke of a woman, or a child, or parents. What would make an adviser who had helped a king build an empire prefer the company of unlettered children and wild seas? There were so many things about him that she didn’t know.

As the stars spun overhead and the gondola rocked her, Zomi fell back asleep.

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu is available in fine bookstores now. It has garnered fantastic reviews. If you are looking for fantastic epic fantasy and you haven’t read The Grace of Kings or its sequel, definitely give them a read. I doubt you will be disappointed!