Daily Archives: December 18, 2014

Review of The Emperor’s Blades – Book 1 of the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley

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This was an offering scooped up by Himself, who has a particular fondness for grim-looking book covers featuring sharp, pointy weapons. So I didn’t pay it all that much attention, until he plonked on top of the swaying pile by my bedside. “Have a go at this,” he said. “It’s really good.”

He reads a lot. Easily three or four times the number of books I manage – so I listen when he recommends a book. Particularly when it is in a sub-genre with all those long complicated names and sprawling plots featuring a cast of thousands. Yeah – I generally avoid epic Fantasy these days, unless it has something different to offer.

emperor'sbladesThe Emperor’s three children are in training. His daughter, Adare, is studying how to look after the financial side of running an empire, his eldest son Kaden is right on the edge of the empire at a monastery, studying how to master the art of becoming empty. While his younger brother, Valyn, has elected to become a cadet for an elite fighting force, where the training is merciless. These are the Emperor’s young blades – and each one has to surmount major obstacles, before facing trouble on a wholly different scale…

I’ve seriously mangled the spoiler-littered blurb on the grounds that if you read it, you’ll be robbed of several major surprises that kept me turning the pages waaay after I should have gone to sleep. Staveley has provided a gripping coming-of-age novel, keeping to the three main characters who I really, really cared about. The narrative flipped between each of them smoothly and because of the clear, unfussy style and sensible names, I knew exactly who was whom. While the book is about the three youngsters, it is not YA in tone or feel – the themes, action and progression were dialled to adult tastes. I liked the fact that magic is regarded with hatred and suspicion by the main characters – along with the majority of the population and while there are a couple of magic users in the story and they are important to the outcome of one of the main narrative arcs, is it from the viewpoint of someone on the outside of that world who has to grapple with what they can do. A refreshing change as a starting point in any Fantasy story.

One of the delights is the very different backdrops. Staveley manages to keep a constant sense of claustrophobia with his canny choice of setting. The island where Valyn is training is isolated and while he has a few friends he trusts, most of the cadets are too busy trying to survive to expend much energy in bonding with each other. And he certainly has his share of enemies. While the ancient monastery perched in a mountain range is as cold and comfortless as The Blank God the monks worship and the young heir is set a series of humiliating and pointless tasks by his overbearing new mentor, Tan. And Adare is right in the middle of the social shark tank that is the imperial court – trying to ensure that she is able to fulfil her responsibilities.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this gripping account and despite the fact that paperback version is over 550 pages long, I powered through it in no time flat in my quest to find out what would happen next. If you are an epic Fantasy fan who hasn’t encountered this gem, then go for it – and if you’re not, still go for it. This is a really enjoyable, action-packed ride – what epic Fantasy really should be and so often isn’t… We have the second book The Providence of Fire on order and I can’t wait to get hold of it.
10/10