Book Review – The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

PREMISE

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. And after several “accidents” and a dying soldier’s warning, he realises his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can act, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

The Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice.

Kaden, heir to the empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways, which Kaden must master to unlock ancient powers. But when an imperial delegations arrives, has he learnt enough to keep him alive?

REVIEW

This book is excellent. And I really mean – EXCELLENT. 🤩🤩

I think the best thing about this novel is the characterisation – of Valyn and Kaden especially, but also the many side characters who were all very believable.

The three siblings make up the POV chapters, however, it is the two brothers that get most time. What makes them so interesting is that their paths are very different.

Valyn is learning to become a deadly killer. He is becoming a Kettral – and the training scenes here are truly gruesome, especially the final initiation test.

Kaden, heir to the throne, is learning to “vaniate” which is state of blankness and nothingness. The shin monks want Kaden to empty himself of all emotion. This training often requires him to be buried for a week so that he can’t move, or to walk up and down a mountain over and over again blindfolded. He isn’t learning to fight or understand court politics. He (unknowingly at first) is learning something more important.

This allows for chapters to contrast nicely. We are getting some fierce fights and disturbing brutality with Valyn – and then reading something much slower and contemplative with Kaden. And it is never boring.

Adare, though her chapters are sparse, allows us to see what the court is like, which is basically a cesspit of intrigue with a murderer lurking somewhere. This is what Kaden must rule over one day – and it becomes quite obvious as we go aong that Adare’s emotions are getting her in trouble. She knows who everyone is, all the histories, the rules; but she is easy to manipulate because she can’t hide what she thinks. I hope her character will have more space going forward. She makes many mistakes in this novel, but by the end she sees what she has done and why.

I have a feeling that their father had set them all on these very different paths so that when he died they would be stronger together as a unit. Kaden’s traning will enable him to detect lies and distance his decision-making from emotion. Adare will know who everyone is at the court and which traditions are important to whom. Valyn will be able to defend them all.

At least that is what I think the Emperor had in mind before he was murdered, but now these three siblings need to find each other before the murderer find them.

The world-buidling here is immense and I feel like we are only scratching the surface in this first novel of the trilogy.

Since Adare’s chapters are few, we get an insight, but not an indepth one, to the relgious orders seeking to gain power. Through Kaden’s chapters with the Shin monks, we learn about the old Gods and the old wars they fought with the humans. At first these all appear to be seperate, but as the novel progresses we discover they are linked.

Through Valyn, we learn about some of the old magical powers that have lingered. There are some humans who can use “wells” which they draw power from – making them extremely powerful. Disdained by many, often murdered as children, these “leaches” try to hide their powers, however, some of them appear to have ingrained themselves at court. The Kettral (the assassin crew that Valyn is part of) allow leaches to become one of them because of their superior fighting skills, but elsewhere they don’t find such a welcome.

I compared the Unhewn Throne series in my previous blog to Game of Thrones – which is a bold statement. There are many authors who have a claim to that comparision and there are so many epic series out there. True, it isn’t as complex, there aren’t as many POV characters, and we aren’t getting any POV’s from characters outside the one royal family. However, there is something about the style of Brian Staveley’s writing that really struck a chord with me.

Perhaps it’s the way threads of narrative continue into each chapter (despite the siblings being far apart), or perhaps it’s the wit of some of the side characters that reminded me of Tyrion, or maybe it’s the sense that this book edges on the right side of grimdark to be dangerous but not depressing, something GRRM mastered too. Or maybe it’s just I haven’t read a book this quickly since A Game of Thrones. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Valyn was my favourite character. I also really liked some of his crew, Gwenna and Ha Lin especially. I really felt for him at times, he was put in some precarious positions yet always remained grounded. Likability of main characters is a big draw for me and this is a major plus in The Emperor’s Blades.

There are no dragons in this novel (so far anyway) but there are kettral, which are massive eagles that Valyn and his crew can fly. (If Valyn fails to deliver someone or something to the Annurian equiavelent of Mount Doom, questions will be asked!!) 🦅🦅🦅

There are other monsters too which were cool. This isn’t The Witcher by any means, but these strange creatures are well drawn out and add an additional layer of menace to the plot.

I don’t give starred ratings in my reviews, however, the fact I’ve already opened the sequel is evidence enough that I really enjoyed this book!

Brian Staveley is releasing a new book in July 2021. It is also set in this world with some of the same characters. I’m reading through this trilogy, then am going to start the new release, which I hear is absolutely blowing ARC readers away. If anybody has read these books or plans to, let me know in the comments.

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