After a brief hiatus for my State of Writing and a busy week at work, the Book of the Week returns! This time around we’re going for one of my favorite new fantasy series, Brian Staveley’s debut The Emperor’s Blades.
Staveley’s first installment in his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne was a pretty resounding success. It has a lot of the hallmarks of a first book, from a fairly limited cast to a couple standout locations, but he also eschews the contained ending you see in so many first books. Stavely didn’t rein himself in, in case his publisher only wanted to release one book.
The Emperor’s Blades follows three imperial children, Kaden, Adare, and Valyn. When their father, the Emperor of Annur, is killed and a conspiracy begins to envelop the empire, each has to deal with the changing world in his or her own way. While the heir, Kaden, is far to the north, studying under the tutelage of monks whom he does not understand, Adare finds herself alone in the capital, forced to uncover her father’s killer by herself. Valyn, the youngest, is off training to become one of the elite Kettral, airborne soldiers who undergo brutal training.
The most memorable of these three plotlines is certainly Valyn’s. There are several good, dynamic characters among the Kettral, and Valyn’s own journey through this book has profound ramifications. The final testing sequence for Valyn and his friends (and enemies) among the trainees is particularly vivid, standing up comparably to the likes of Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks.
However, the main mystery in Valyn’s arc felt rather telegraphed, and while it didn’t really take anything away from how much I enjoyed those chapters, it didn’t give me much fulfillment, either. It felt like Staveley was trying a little too hard, almost as if he were attempting a subversion of a typical literary subversion. The end result was narratively “meh”, though the climactic action sequences were very fun.
Adare was a deeply interesting character, but was sadly limited in page time. She only got a bare few chapters, but when she did, she shone. The second most striking chapter in the book (after the final Kettral test) featured incredible character movement and a simply beautiful setting that Staveley managed to implant indelibly in my mind. Thankfully, Adare receives a lot more attention in the sequel, The Providence of Fire.
Overall, The Emperor’s Blades is a fast-paced book. The prose is tight, and Staveley is not prone to the long-winded ramblings and descriptions that many other epic fantasists indulge in. The refreshingly economical movement of his writing pulls the reader in and kicks things off quickly. I give The Emperor’s Blades four out of five stars, and definitely recommend it to any fan of epic fantasy who wants a new flavor to the genre.