The first book in this series, "King Perry", took me by surprise in a completely delightful way. "The Lost and Founds" is projected to be a six-book-series, an episodic journey of discovery as we find out who the enigmatic narrator, Vin Vanbly, really is. The author has promised us a romance for Vin himself at the end, with the sixth book. In the first five books this amazingly talented writer leads us in steps along that journey, as Vin interacts with men who are not destined to be his one true love, but who, in the time they spend together, will be changed and will change him in fascinating and unpredictable ways.
In "King Perry", Vin began that process of revelation, in a fun-house mirror way. We got hints and glimpses, distorted around the laugh-out-loud fun of Alcatraz security and ducks, and the emotional moments of lost fathers and Lost Kings. The book was like an amusement ride in the best of parks, totally unexpected with surprises and emotions tumbling over one another. One of my favorites of last year - I've read it three times.
"King Mai" is a different book, and that's perfect, because the startled wonder of "King Perry" couldn't be sustained through six books. There needs to be something different happening, and in this one, warmer and deeper emotions came into play.
Mai is a stronger character than Perry, and a more interesting one. His small-town life with its prejudices and friends, its wealth in land and poverty in dollars, drew me in from the start. Mai is a man struggling against the odds, and I urgently wanted him to succeed. And Vin's interaction with him was different too - more emotional, sexier, less certain, and more intense than with Perry in the previous book. This book is actually set earlier, and we see a Vin who is slightly less well-prepared, less sure of his methods. The secondary characters also mattered more, both to Mai and to me as a reader. There are sweeter moments than in "King Perry", and I cared more about Mai's life as the story ended. And there is a tantalizing hint of the magical in this book. Are there really Lost and Found Kings?
And yeah, I know this is release day for King Mai, but I want the next one... soon, please? Vin has shown us vulnerability and hurt in this book, and some deeper hints about his childhood and the abuses that shaped the mysterious man he is today. I'm becoming attached to him in a way I was not after the first book. I want to know more.
In the short term, I'll settle for the sweet epilogue given to Mai, and for the tantalizing first three chapters of Book Six that are on the author's website. Yes - Mr. Manning is giving us Book Six a bit at a time, interwoven in sections with the first five. The start is promising, with a hint of who Vin's own love may turn out to be. The process is unexpected, but that's one of the things I love most about this series and this writer.