‘The Emperor’s Blades’ is a well written story, which despite being hailed as the next big thing, fails spectacularly to distinguish itself in a genre littered more and more each year with similarly generic examples.
Firstly there are the obligatory publisher’s comments on the reverse of the dust-jacket, which all but set this title up for failure with their allusions to J. R. R. Tolkien and comparisons with George R. R. Martin. It’s ridiculous, because if a book like this is to succeed at all it needs to come in under the radar and surprise with either good writing or imagination and shouldn’t be billed as one of the finest examples of the genre before its even hit the shelves. Especially if it’s the first work by a new author.
For anyone who’s read Paul Hoffman or Mark Lawrence, the setting and the tone will be familiar- this is an equally brutal setting where the majority of characters lack basic human empathy and violence is commonplace. The author also makes use of modern swear words, the frequency of which here more than ever strikes me as lazy and out of place- if an author isn’t inventive enough to create a new vocabulary of profanity for his characters, what hope is there for the other elements of world-building.
To write good fantasy there needs to be an appreciation for character, an interest in nourishing dialogue, a joyousness in the description of events whether they be ones of cruelty or kindness (or preferably both). It’s not enough to create an outline, a system of magic, a political landscape and characters who fit perfectly into the grand scheme, because if that’s all you have then you’re just writing by rote. Fantasy needs to feel not just raw but comforting. Unfortunately I didn’t find either in this title. The book is well written in general (the exception is the painfully predictable dialogue), but there’s no wonder in evidence, it’s just a monotonous litany of stock characters and events without weight.