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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wow
This is a confident and engaging effort from the author, especially considering it is his first book.

In brief summary an Emperor is killed and this is the tale of his two sons and his daughter. The main focus is on the sons, the heir undergoing training as a monk and the other training in an elite military unit.

As I picked this up it felt like a...
Published 13 months ago by Nick Brett

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two Men and Ignore a Lady
It may just be me getting old, but the thought of reading another coming of age book just does not appeal anymore. Imagine my worry then that part one of a new trilogy ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ by Brian Staveley has three separate stories, two of which are about coming of age and one that is mostly ignored. In the Annurian Empire the Emperor rules with a...
Published 12 months ago by Sam Tyler


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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok or bad?, 9 Mar. 2014
By 
JPS - See all my reviews
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I had a number of problems with this book, and one of the main ones was to make up my mind as to whether I liked it or not. I also took longer than usual to finish it, which is never a very good sign. The main reason for this is that the book contains a number of features that worked rather well for me, but also almost as many that did not.

Starting with one the later ones, I generally dislike it when the author makes it too obvious that the book is just the first volume of a series. In other terms, this is not a stand-alone book and it ends rather abruptly. Having mentioned this, the author did manage to create a strong sense of suspense throughout the book and it is mainly because of this that I finished it, despite everything else.

Another issue is that the basic plot is not exactly original: leader (here the Emperor, in other books, some kind of King, or Duke - pick your choice!) is killed, falling victim to a bunch of powerful conspirators who then move to hunt down and take out his two sons who are of course far away when the murder happens. This feature has a strong sense of "déjà vu" and appears in numerous other fantasy novels. Also largely "déjà vu" is the reference to half-legendary cruel non-human races who used to dominate the earth and are allegedly extinct but whose heritage remains after a few thousands of years.

While it is not necessarily a problem in itself, it is compounded by the fact that the two sons were sent some eight years before at the two ends of the Empire - one to become a "Ketral", a member of the Empire's equivalent to modern "special forces", and the other, the heir to the throne, to a very remote monastery high up in the mountains, also to learn some special skills. The author tries to explain this by mentioning at some point a kidnapping of the two boys when they were only four years old. The explanation is somewhat unconvincing. If their security is so much at stake, sending them off on their one to places thousands of leagues away from their father to learn some arcane skills that supposedly cannot be thought in the capital seems like a rather strange way to guarantee it.

Then there are the trainings themselves. In both cases, I found them rather unbelievable, with the respective ordeals that the boys go through being quite excessive. Regardless of whether any princes would realistically be treated in such - highly unlikely - ways, some of the treatments seemed designed to kill the pupils, or at least make them fail, more than anything else. I will not go into details to avoid spoilers, but the Ketral training seemed particularly "over the top" at times while burying the heir to the throne and leaving him in his hole for days without food or water seemed somewhat unnecessary.

The treatment of the female characters was also somewhat odd and inconsistent. While I am not quite sure I agree with another reviewer who found that the book expressed misogyny and sadistic features, it is a bit strange to note that the Emperor felt obliged to exile his two sons far away so that they would acquire "special skills" but did not bother doing the same with his daughter and kept her at his side. It is also rather unlikely that any of the courtiers or any of the high priests would have dared treat an imperial princess with the kind of lack of respect shown in the book.

Another bit that was somewhat inconsistent was about the Aedolan Guard. These are the Emperor's elite bodyguards, yet they seem to die a bit too easily both at the beginning of the book, where one of the sons finds a boat full of corpses, and at the end, when they get killed by the dozen, although by ultra-skilled enemies. Another potentially inconsistent feature is the absence of any qualms when they are tasked with murdering the Imperial family, especially coming from those who are supposed to be the most loyal.

A final disappointment was that there was not much "world-building" in this volume. To be fair, however, a remote monastery up in the mountain and a no less remote base on an archipelago of far-away islands do not lend themselves very well to this. Despite this, the author could have, for instance, shown us much more of Annur, the imperial capital and the palace, through the eyes of Adare, the Emperor's daughter.

I hesitated between two and three stars, but will finally settle for a somewhat generous three stars, mainly because there is some suspense to the story and because, despite all of my misgivings, the author has managed to make me want to read his second instalment. I hope I will like it more than this one...
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4.0 out of 5 stars Potential, 11 Feb. 2015
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A "beginnings" tale, but one that shows notable potential for an epic series.

Plot set-up is not complicated. Huge, dominant empire is ruled by Emperor Sanlitun – he has three kids: Adare, the abandoned daughter with no chance for the throne; Valyn and the direct heir, Kaden.
These three POV characters start the book in different locales and on completely different paths; they are all essentially "learning-the-ways". As the plot progresses, older-darker things emerge as threats and betrayal of others a primary driver.

Most of the time is spent between Kaden, sitting in a mountain-top monastery learning to perform a particular skill – though apparently doing little at all toward that goal most of the time – taught by monks who speak in riddles, beat their charges bloody when they don't understand concepts immediately, and are a little insufferable throughout.

The Kaden sequences I found a little trying for the first half of the book. His interactions with his friends (Akili and Pater) provide a nice balance, but the over-wrought teach-then-beat rigmarole gets a bit much after a while. Kaden's story does have an element of mystery to it, which does help a great deal with my interest in these chapters.

As the book moves on, Kaden's progression suddenly becomes far more interesting as he is involved in the larger world – the thrilling denouement is largely driven my the character.

Valyn, the other main POV, is a student at an elite military school that is named for the giant birds they fly into battle with ("Kettral").
This side of the story has a thread of a mystery woven in from the beginning chapters, and it is this together with his interactions with certain others (notably Ha Lin) that delivered my favourite sections of the first half of the book. Dark, grimy and fascinating throughout.

Certain (sad) events unfortunately cloud over the Valyn-storyline toward the back-end of the book, and he is all the more uninteresting for it. He and his little wing of soldiers are in danger of simply becoming killers – through there are hints at wider implications from their training (and more importantly their "trial") which could be interesting going forward. His bond with his brother I feel is somewhat crucial to him being involved at all from the end of the book.

Adare has very few chapters in the book, but by the end it does seem her path is more of set-up for later books.

One of the main strengths of the book, especially considering this is from a debut author, is the world that has been built. Different lands and people (some not human...) described with depth and vibrancy.

In all, I really enjoyed this. The world the author has built, the mysteries to be revealed, and the characters employed – at times it becomes a true page turner, a mark of some really good writing: I really wanted to know what happened to so-and-so in the next chapter.

There are aspects that become trying, but the book is not long enough for that to be a fatal flaw.

Sets the table for a rich fantasy adventure; an epic series to be. (I hope)
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5.0 out of 5 stars I've found another good author, 22 Jan. 2014
By 
C. C. Chivers "ccchivers" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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This is a fantastic book. The characters are seriously well written, the story is engaging right from the start. Be warned though, it is full of bad language, violence and death.

Two brothers, Kaden, heir to the throne of the empire, Valyn, his younger sibling. Kaden was brought to a monastery by his father eight years ago and told that the monks would teach him a crucial lesson, one his father was unable to teach. The monastery worships the Blank God, the God of nothingness. Kaden is taught in harsh and cruel ways, but taught for what reason? He is not destined to be a monk, so why is he there, what is it he is supposed to learn? Unknown to him, his father is dead, murdered. As something lurks around the monastery, killing goats and then worse, will he survive? Will he survive the tortures of the monks who demand repetitive, seemingly pointless and sometimes dangerous tasks, beating him for little to no reason?

Valyn has been sent to learn to be a Kettral, an elite soldier, a professional killing machine. Few survive the ordeals of training, let alone the final trial and here he is just another cadet. If he fails, he dies. One of the training exercises brings him to a ship that was attacked. On it he discovers a man, an elite imperial guard who tells him they were sent to protect him - him! A trained and deadly soldier. So now, not only is his father dead, but someone is trying to kill him too. How can he survive the training as well as assassination attempts. Who is trying to kill him: a teacher, a student, a civilian? Who can he trust? Is Kaden safe or is Valyn himself the next Emperor?

Then Kaden learns the reason he was sent to this particular monastery and legends and myths become reality.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Blessed relief from the darkness, 19 Jan. 2014
By 
Ann Smyth (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
The Emperor's Blades is good old-fashioned epic fantasy. Which is not to say that it's derivative. Sure, there are tropes here that will be recognisable to fantasy readers, most notably the "something happens which gives a character a special power" thing, but honestly, that doesn't matter. It's well-written and well-paced, keeps you turning the pages, and there weren't any parts when I was flicking ahead.

When the emperor is murdered, his three children are left to secure his throne for the heir, Kaden. Their father has chosen different ways to harden his children for the task ahead: Kaden, the heir, has been sent to study with monks in a Tibetan-type setting; Adare, the only daughter, is trained politically within the court; Valyn has been sent to become a Kettral--one of an elite fighting force. Their stories seem destined to meet and part at intervals during the story, and for much of this first book, we see the three youngsters individually, learning what they will need to know.

There are fights in this. There are murders, battles, and so on, but without the glorying in blood and gore which has become so prevalent in fantasy of late. I'm not a grimdark fan, and this for me was a clearing breeze, blowing away some of the despair and torture I've been reading of late.

4* because I'll recommend it and read the rest of the series. It's maybe not a book I'll reread, though, so I'm reluctant to give that fifth star. If I could give halves, it would be a sound 4.5*, though.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A decent first offering, 19 Jan. 2014
This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
The Emperor's Blades is the début novel by fantasy author Brian Staveley. It's been getting plenty of high praise and it's easy enough to see why as it's generally well written and mostly well paced. The storyline is relatively straight forward, but then it does give plenty of room for little side stories where we can learn more about the characters and settings, and there's a nice twist that really gets things moving as the story builds towards the end.

In general, I thought it was an entertaining read without quite managing to be an excellent one. It didn't fully grab me until about half way through, or perhaps even further than that, and for a long time seemed like it was the story of one young man trudging around in the mountains and another running around battling paranoia as he tried to solve a mystery.

Of course, there was always much more to it than that, but for the first half or so of the book, I was never quite sure where it was going. Part of this may have been down to it having a prologue which, for me, added absolutely nothing whatsoever to the book. I know some people who have problems with prologues but I've never shared the sentiment. Saying that though, this is the first time I've read one and thought it should have been left out completely. Take this prologue out however, and you open with the young Kaden tracking a lost goat through the mountains and although it is important for later plot points, this wouldn't work as an opening if you want to ensure I carry on reading.

Much better would have been the intrigue of Valyn's first chapter, though I almost felt like banging my head against the wall when his companion was introduced as the similarly sounding Ha Lin. This opening piece sets up the story and also sends Valyn on his way to always looking over his shoulder and the difficulties he faces in not trusting anyone. When people are asked to help in his investigation it's without knowing what they're helping with, but they still go along with it anyway. This didn't quite read right to me and perhaps a bit more interaction with these characters would smooth over these rough edges and make the flow of these parts a bit better.

I did like the idea of the special forces that are Valyn's Kettrel, even if I wish the great birds they fly around on weren't also called kettrel, which can get a little confusing if you don't note the difference in capitalisation. I also like how everyone on the Kettrel Wing has their own separate function (flier, sniper, demolitions, leach, duellist) although it seemed a little too convenient that there would be an even number of each function when it came to assigning graduates to their Wings - maybe that's why some characters don't make it through the trials, to avoid any issues with uneven numbering.

Another plus for me is the subtle magic of the leach, although I'm still not sure whether I'd prefer to know a bit more about what a leach is when I'm first introduced to the word or not. As it is, I was left thinking one thing and it ended up being something completely different. Learning more about leaches and what they can do is good when it is addressed, and it's easy to see why they are valued by the Kettrel even if they are reviled by the rest of the world. There are other subtleties that work well for me too, such as the way passing Hull's Trial will change a person who graduates to become Kettrel, and the way this isn't told, but instead is gradually pieced together by our characters.

Overall, I'd say there's definite promise here. Although personally I don't feel that the ending sucked me in to eagerly awaiting the next in the series, I'll happily pick it up when I do get the opportunity. One thing I look forward to is seeing more of the world coming up, not just with more of the city where Valyn and Kaden's sister can be found, but as Kaden will be doing some exploring and perhaps Valyn too, with a kettrel at his disposal.

(Note that this review is based on an ARC copy of the novel, not the official release version, and so some changes may have been made between the two volumes.)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Off to a good start!, 6 Jan. 2014
By 
Sam Woodward (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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This is a well-crafted & engaging novel which is occasionally let down ever-so slightly by the characters but the fascinating world & intriguing plot left me eagerly awaiting the sequel.

This may be his debut novel but Staveley writes like an old hand in the way he deftly handles his world-building. Rather than making this aspect boring, he teases his readers by adding a few intriguing elements at a time & seamlessly mixing them into the 'whodunnit' aspect of the plot. And he doesn't overdo the detail either, leaving everything to the imagination until the story demands more clarity.

And what a fascinating world it is! The beings known as Leaches are a marvellous creation whose very existence suggests a larger mystery surrounding the world which they co-habit with regular humans. And since the author is American it may be unintentional but I was intrigued that 'Hull' is the name of a dark god & ''kent-kissing' is a popular insult!

The plot revolves around the murder of the Emperor & how his 3 children cope in the aftermath, where the unknown conspirators are still at large. Each of them is being groomed for a different role at very different locations, so we learn a lot about the Annurian Empire as the story progresses. Such as the harsh military system as one of the Emperor's sons is training to be an officer; the Empire's religion as another is learning the esoteric ways of the Faceless God (similar in essence to Zen Buddhism); & the political system as the Emperor's daughter is being prepared for office.

Personally I feel that the most important aspect of any story is good characters. So the fact that I kept on reading despite thinking the main characters were a little weak demonstrates how much I enjoyed the story & Staveley's imaginative world. The main problem is that the Emperor's children have a rather naive & modern outlook. This is totally at odds with the harsh world they inhabit, where few have the luxury of putting morality before expediency. But I guess it's necessary in a way because the conflict between doing what you think is right & doing what is necessary is an ongoing theme throughout the novel.

While Staveley has inevitably been compared to George R. R. Martin his book doesn't have the same grim realism to it. But it's still a great read & I look forward to the next volume.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 5 Mar. 2014
By 
T. Walker (Bedfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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If you liked Game of Thrones you may well like this. In a world different to our own, the emperor has three cildren who have all had different training - one a monk, the second a waarior and the third an academic.
When the Emperor is murdered the three must work together.This is the first of a really promising trilogy and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters are engaging, the storyline gripping . I can't wait for the next book!
Recommended!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent fantasy novel, 6 Feb. 2014
By 
Jeff "roadrunner" (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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And the actual 'blades' of the Emperor, I realised very late on, are his three children. Their father has just been killed but they don't all know about it as they follow their own separate adventures in various parts of the land. Kaden, the eldest, and unbeknown to him the new emperor, is in his eighth year of a hard existence in a mountain monastery. Valyn is a would-be soldier and their sister Adare is the only one left behind to seemingly hold things together. I think I preferred Kaden's story most, the tough tasks, the struggling with the monks' philosophies, not to mention the menacing threat of something that's been killing animals up in the mountains. Valyn's story is fine, it's action-packed and has another mysterious killer on the loose. I did however feel there was too much unnecessary bad language between him and his colleagues, which added nothing and felt wrong. Adare's story is the most intriguing and the least dwelt upon though it's left with a brilliant cliffhanger which will be taken up later [this is first in a trilogy]. Thrill-filled finish but there's plenty of business to be resolved and I look forward to the next instalment. Recommended!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great debut, 8 April 2014
By 
B. J. Browne - See all my reviews
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Fantastic fantasy,great debut by Brian Staveley,can't wait for next book.Story telling at its best.The Blades are the Emperor's three children,and both the Blades and there allies,friends and enemies characters are all slowly revealed during the course of the story,leaving you wanting more.Highly recommended,
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4.0 out of 5 stars Could be three could be five, 1 Feb. 2014
By 
Amazon Customer (Letchworth Garden City, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One (Hardcover)
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Since the advent of Game of Thrones there has been a plethora of Fantasy Novels that revolve around a similar theme and this is no exception. They say that it is extremely hard to introduce a new chocolate bar onto the market and the same can now be said about fantasy novels. They have to be very good indeed to succeed. This one (as a first novel) does deserve a bite or two. I am not put off by bad language in books and films - so what, as long as it doesn't become the point of the book - ignore them and get on with it. More importantly are plot and characters. This has a slow start, firm characters and a somewhat predictable pace and outcome. It is nevertheless good for a first novel and hopefully future ones will have more twists in the plot to keep us focused.
If you like fantasy you wont be too disappointed. If you are new to fantasy it would be an excellent starting point.
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The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One
The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne: Book One by Brian Staveley (Hardcover - 16 Jan. 2014)
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