21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
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 generic weighty volume of fantasy. The prologue also felt a little heavy and it was with a gentle sigh that I turned the page...into a story that flew off the pages. There were some elements we will have seen before ( a harsh teacher) but you are turning the pages so quickly that you barely notice. The story switches between viewpoints and throws lots of twists and intrigue in there to keep you reading `just one more chapter'. The world building is interesting and the characters work within it. Ancient myths are balanced with a magic by which various powers are leached from a variety of sources by a select and untrusted few. Our threads are mainly one of growth, one of comradeship and one of politics. They all work very well indeed. There is an overarching theme of not knowing who to trust and you really, really want to know `who' and `why'.
Recommended and I am gutted about how long I will have to wait for the next one.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Well, I wasn't holding out much hope given the description and the publisher's inevitable comparison with George R R Martin. And, indeed, I would not compare it to the fabulous Martin myself... but I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Emperor's Blade' and will be ordering book 2 the moment I can. A little slow at first, I soon found myself relaxing into this wonderfully reliable and inventive high fantasy debut. There are so many poorly written and crafted books out there that I found myself smiling with delight as I realised I had a good book in my hands, and inevitably I read faster and faster.
There are characters to cheer for, and characters to loathe and mistrust. The world is well built and while there are the occasional 'pause while we give you a helpful explanation of x' most of the time you gradually come to understand what is going on through picking up hints from characters thoughts and actions.
The three main characters are the children of the emperor, but there are strong supporting characters: plenty of people to care about, and to create a rich tapestry, so that what you have is a world, rather than a stage. While you may think that some of the book is quite cliched (both the sons of the emperor suffer for their training, for example) there are always good reasons, and just when you are thinking 'how can it get worse?!' Stavely cleverly makes it just that (loved Hull's Trial, simply brilliant!). I'm not going to talk about the plot, as the synopsis does probably a bit too much of that. Suffice to say that if you want a politically savvy high fantasy, with a well built world and problems from all sides... do give 'The Emperor's Blades' a try.
Looking forward to book 2...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This seems to be the author's first book and what a brilliant debut it is. I have not read such an excellent fantasy novel for years.
The Emperor has been assassinated. His daughter Adare is the Minister of Finance. The heir to the throne Kaden has been under training with monks in a very remote mountain region for eight years. His other son Valyn,has spent the same length of time training as a mercenary on a remote island. Then the attempts on their lives starts. You can get all this from the blurb. I won't give any spoilers.
I will say that the action is brilliant; the intrigues will have you guessing. The story leads one on through each stage with increasing tension and excitement.
The characters are all likeable, well, those that you are meant to like, they are strong but with human frailties.
The magic is there but subtle and clever. IT is quite unusual and the "leaches" or magic users draw their power from sources that are specific to them.
The story builds with plots starting to be revealed and tension rising. In fact we do not hear too much from Adare although what we do see is vital and shows her strength, especially at the end when her toughness and strength really show.
Kaden spends most of his time under training but here his side of the story starts with a mysterious and gruesome discovery and builds steadily.
Vanyl's story is probably the most active and again builds steadily from crisis to mystery and explosive action.
I can't fault this book and my only regret is that it will be a long wait for the next one.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2014
It's difficult to find fantasy books that are unique, and while this isn't the most original fantasy tale on the planet, it is interesting and engaging and kept me turning the pages long into the night.
My favourite character was Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne who'd been sent to a distant monastery for the past eight years and was constantly being told to do things that on the surface served no purpose, such as running up and down mountains blindfolded, being buried to his neck in earth so that he could learn emptiness. But it's when the reasons behind all these things are revealed that you realise something more is going on and you get hooked even more on the story.
There is political intrigue, attempted murders and like Valyn, the reader isn't sure who is to be trusted. There is magic, but magic users, Leaches, are reviled as unnatural and are few and far between because most have been executed when their powers are discovered. Are Leaches the conspirators behind the emperor's murder and the plot to gain the throne or someone more mundane?
Fantastic world-building, with an ancient race of mythical beings (or are they?) along with a panopoly of different gods. We get to see both Kaden and Valyn's training, one as an adherent of the Blank God and one training in the elite fighting force, the Kettral (the kettral are also the giant birds they fly into battle) but we didn't get to see much of Adare, their sister. She's the eldest but because she's female she can't take the throne. Maybe we'll get to see a bit more of her in later books.
The writing flows well and the pacing is good, nothing seemed there just to pad things out, every scene has a purpose, even if at the beginning the reader isn't sure what that purpose is.
I really enjoyed it and will be eagerly awaiting the next part in the series, which will hopefully be soon.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2014
One of the ARCs being given away at World Fantasy last year was Brian Staveley's The Emperor's Blades. I'd seen some talk about it and it looked interesting - epic fantasy is always of interest - so I snagged myself a copy, deciding to save reading it till closer to publication. In the meantime, I'd heard lots of bloggers I respected say good things about the book and I found myself looking forward to starting the book to see whether I'd enjoy it as much as they did. The answer is yes, yes I did.
The book is told through three strands, one for each of the titular Emperor's children: Kaden, Valyn, and Adare. Kaden is the heir, by dint of his inheriting the imperial fiery eyes and his gender, even though Adare is technically the eldest. All three are very different people, made more so due to the differences in their rearing. Kaden was sent early on to be raised by the Shins, an ascetic order of monks that reveres the Blank God. His world has been limited and bare and his training has been cerebral and one of learning to deny the self. In almost complete opposition to this, Valyn was trained to become part of the Kettral, elite and merciless mercenaries, living a life where survival means winning and where combat and physical strength are key. Valyn was taught to be a leader, to lead a wing and command, while Kaden was to be taught how to be emperor after his time with the monks. Adare was raised at the palace and unlike her brothers she was raised not to lead, but to administer, to become Minister of Finance to the Empire and at the same time, her sex means she'll never rise above that station; she can't sit the throne and she has to marry for the good of the Empire, not for love, as is often the case for those of royal descent, especially women.
I liked all of the narrative strands, but Valyn's was my favourite. I tend to have a weakness for his sort of military training narrative and his story is at once exciting and horrifying. He's also a very sympathetic character, one who tries to adhere to his beliefs and values in an environment where not all of them are seen as positive. The boys' sections outweighed Adare's chapter, though that might be because they are less constrained and in the more action-heavy areas of the narrative. Still even in her smaller number of chapters she becomes a well-rounded character, smart, tough-as-nails, her father's daughter in many ways and I really liked her as a character. I had a far harder time connecting to Kaden, who at first is rather strange, mostly due the outlook on life that has been ingrained into him by his education with the monks. But he honestly grew on me and by the end of the book I was genuinely rooting for him as well.
I liked the way Staveley treated his women, or rather how he challenged his male characters' reaction and treatment of women. Most of his female characters have agency, even those who are circumscribed in their actions, such as Adare. While he does at times write from a male gaze, when his characters, especially Valyn, treat their female companions like they might be less competent or more in need of protection due to their sex, they get called on it, more often than not by the women themselves. This happens quite often between Valyn and his best friend Lin, who calls out Valyn and their friends time and again and even gets Valyn to be aware of his behaviour without her prompting. Also Adare breaks out of the mould by not only becoming a Minister in the Emperor's council, but by demanding justice for her father - loudly, I might add - and taking an active hand in obtaining it when it turns out to be the only way. And she takes the lead in her relationship with Ran il Tornja, something which felt boundary-breaking for a woman in her situation.
All of this is set against the background of a really interesting world. The Emperor's Blades is epic fantasy by the book, but certainly not by rote. There is a lot that is familiar in the world, but it is done well and in some cases with an interesting twist. I loved the Kettral, both the mercenary company and the giant birds of the same name that serve as their transportation. Staveley creates an interesting religious spectrum, in which the Shin are developed the most clearly and I found their beliefs fascinating, if rather harsh. Similarly, the mystery surrounding the Csestriim and the Nevariim is quite interesting and while the reader is given some history on the former, I hope we'll learn more about the latter in the future.
The Emperor's Blades is an interesting and enjoyable start to the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne and if this is only Staveley's first novel I'm excited to see how he'll grow into his craft. If you love traditional epic fantasy, but would like to see a more updated version then The Emperor's Blades is a book you'll want to read. I am looking forward to reuniting with the siblings and seeing where their story takes them next in the second book The Providence of Fire.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Don't get me wrong - this is a very good debut. The story begins with the death of an emperor and focuses on his 3 children.
Kaden is the oldest, and his story is like an R rated Harry Potter as he lives in a monastery fully of seemingly sadistic monks who strive to feel an absence of emotion. This is an interesting concept and reminded me at times of the earlier Scott Bakker books.
Valyn, the younger son, has been sent off to join an elite fighting corps. His segments reminded me of the Battle School in Ender's Game. It is here that we get the best characterization from the various members of his team and the intrigue surroing a series of murders is also handled well.
My main quibble comes with the third stand, which is about the Emperor's daughter, Adare. This receives much less attention and in some ways feels like an afterthought. And you'll never guess who the silly girl goes and falls for - women. eh?
So, because the Emperor's Blades is well written, tightly paced and builds to a very nice conclusion, with an interesting unfolding secret history, the atrocious handling of Adare only loses one star. But the whole novel (almost 500 pages) manages to fail the Bechdel test, which was barely acceptable for the Lord of the Rings but unforgivable nowadays. Hopefully this will improve in subsequent novels.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2014
Set in a world where glorious empires and sinister theocracies and cults dominate, Staveley has created a realm, and a family, unprepared for change. Something ancient is emerging from the shadows, lacking any hint of morality it thirsts to exterminate mankind, only the fallen Emperor's children stand in its way.
A thoroughly mesmerizing read, packed with; engaging characters, an esoteric evil and exciting plot twists.
I am hugely impressed by this book, if you've enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Game of Thrones or The Name of the Wind then this book is one you'll want to read too.
A great debut!!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
.... though fairly standard fantasy.
But for me and many others, that's recommendation enough!
The style of writing is engaging and easy to follow. Characters are well drawn, with realistic and convincing dialogue and behave consistently.
The story is the common mixture of Oriental monks and ancient empires, soldiers and princesses and a young hero, destined to journey from novice monk to ruler of a huge empire.
This begins to happen early in the book, when a rival leader murders his father and the young man must survive various attempts on his life. Meanwhile the dead emperor's daughter is trying to rule in his place.
Throw in a mysterious monster, an elite group of assassins and several interesting sub plots and you have a really solid read that can easily sustain more books in the series.
Not exactly a page turner but a very enjoyable read.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Staveley has produced a highly competent debut here, which hits a lot of good notes as part of the “gritty fantasy” sub-genre.
The world, broadly speaking, is quite well realised. The geography of the areas that the protagonists inhabit is well described, and well defined. There’s a nice mix of icy crags, urban sprawl and tropical islands, and the author manages to evoke each reasonably well – though the city setting doesn’t get as much time as the other two, which is a shame, as it would have helped to bring some of the action within that environment more fully to life.
The social terrain is a little fuzzier, but the author has clearly put in a degree of effort here. Each of the protagonists is in a different part of the world (as above), and we’re given three different micro-societies as a result. There are the monks seeking to empty themselves of self, in the aforementioned mountains. The tropical island is populated by the equivalent of a special forces training camp. And the city segments open up the world of palace intrigue.
As with the geography, the city sections suffer in comparison to the other two. The alpine monks have a well realised set of goals and social mores (some of which are rather surprising). The military teams are driven by camaraderie and competition, and the delineation of relationships around a team dynamic is well done. The city piece, which had the potential to be the most complex, dealing with the intrigue and plotting after an Imperial demise, pushes out a functional society, which looks interesting, but really doesn’t get enough time on the page.
The characters themselves have similar issues. Following the death of an Emperor, the reader is provided with his three teen-age-ish children, two brothers and a sister, as protagonists. One brother is on retreat with the aforementioned monks in their alpine retreat. One brother is training to be part of the equivalent of the SAS. And the sister is in the city. The two male protagonists get a lot of time on the page, and are quite readable. There’s some character growth over the course of the page, but really the majority of the work is defining their characters, and showing their responses to events around them. The female lead, however, whilst interesting, is criminally underrepresented, and clearly needs more ‘screen time’ to be interesting That said, all three are believable as characters, it’s just a shame more room wasn’t available to explore them.
The plot on each front is competently executed. There’s some nice mystery on each front, and the result of at least one of those was rather surprising (to me, anyway!). It takes a while for the plot strands to really get going, but somewhere around the first third of the book, it really starts to rattle along, and becomes very hard to put down.
Overall, this was a very good read, and I’m looking forward to the sequel; it’s well written, the characters are three-dimensional, if not as fully explored as I’d like, and the world they live in is interesting and well realised. Well worth a look.