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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing debut, with great promise
"The Emperor's Knife" is a debut fantasy with both an original and classic feel. It draws on some classic fantasy elements, but puts a new spin on them, making this a refreshingly original politics-infused novel. While not a page-turning action adventure, the novel has a strong grasp on political intrigue and a slow-boiling plot that will draw the reader in and work its...
Published on 6 Nov 2011 by Stefan

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A real slog to get through
New author and new publisher, I really wanted to enjoy this but sadly failed to.

I bought this on it's release and since then have picked it up many times before putting it down and reading something else and I only finished it this Christmas through determined effort and insufficient pleasure.

It is a fantasy with deep and complex politics, against...
Published 22 months ago by Nick Brett


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing debut, with great promise, 6 Nov 2011
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"The Emperor's Knife" is a debut fantasy with both an original and classic feel. It draws on some classic fantasy elements, but puts a new spin on them, making this a refreshingly original politics-infused novel. While not a page-turning action adventure, the novel has a strong grasp on political intrigue and a slow-boiling plot that will draw the reader in and work its way under your skin.

Williams has created an interesting culture for his series - it is partly influenced by Middle Eastern nations, with a quite a strong (apparent) Turkish or Ottoman feel, only set in a desert location. Some fantasy tropes are featured - for example, the conniving Lord High Vizier - but the world, characters and plot manage to steer it away from unoriginality and deja vu.

"The Emperor's Knife" is steeped in palace politics, intrigue and power squabbles. The Emperor describes the Imperial Palace as a "garden full of snakes", filled with factions vying for attention or power, manipulating others into position for maximum gain and effect. There is also some well-placed commentary on the historical nature of international and royal relations, comprised of "deals with wombs and weapons" - which is probably one of the best phrases I've read in years, fully encapsulating the reality of much of the history of international relations.

To delve too much into the events of the novel will potentially spoil things for a first-time reader, so I'm going to keep the review pretty general and focus on impressions of characters, plot and style.

The novel follows a number of perspectives, but there are three that are more central to the story. Mesema, the daughter of a lord from the steppes, traded to the Cerani in return for favour. Eyul, the world-weary assassin of the synopsis - idealistic in his way, uncomfortable with the frequency with which he is called on to kill, yet peerlessly capable at his profession. Caught up in the conspiracies, Eyul sets out to discover the root of the pattern, and perhaps save the Empire he serves and loves. Sarmin, the hidden and last-surviving brother of the Emperor, locked away in an opulent prison for decades, away from the eyes and attention of those who might wish him harm. He's gone a little mad, locked away for so long in a single room, under guard and with minimal contact with the outside world and its people. His isolation has had a profound impact on his psyche, manifesting his gifts and potential as a mage into an affinity for patterns and other related arts. All three of these characters are engaging and fascinating to read about. Eyul in particular stood out for me, but both Sarmin and Mesema also offer some great chapters and scenes.

While the language Williams uses is predominantly very atmospheric and engrossing, it can at times be a bit florid or opaque. The first handful of chapters will completely draw the reader in - I found myself utterly engrossed and seduced by the world the author has created, and ended up spending hours in a Starbucks as my coffee grew stone-cold, forgotten while I was reading. This quality didn't, unfortunately, last all the way through the novel. As the novel progressed, there were a few instances of slight confusion as to what was going on, which unfortunately meant the momentum suffered. It was difficult to get a handle on, and prevented it from being totally engrossing throughout. It's an issue that is easily fixed, I think, so I have no doubt that by the second novel in the series, Williams will have solved this problem.

On the whole, however, the gentle pace and plotting drew me in - one doesn't always want a rip-roaring adventure, after all - and I found myself losing track of time on a number of occasions. It won't suit everyone's tastes - the pace may be too slow for some readers who prefer more action-oriented fantasy and, while not devoid of action, The Emperor's Knife is more slow-burning political drama than action-adventure. The overall flow and momentum of the novel is perhaps its main weakness.

All of the characters featured in TEK are interesting and often original takes on some classic fantasy types. However, there are moments when seem to act out of character, or certain developments happen a little too suddenly (particularly love-interest). Part of this is down to the aforementioned pacing/flow issue, but also the stripped down narrative and world-building. It leaves the reader in a strange position: we want more world-building and character development (the setting is great), but are already a little concerned with the pacing. Strange. I can see that the author kept things lean in order to allow for a proper ending to this novel, however a couple of these characters develop in a relatively short space of time what other series might allow two or three novels to accomplish (or, if you're unlucky, far more than three novels, seemingly without end...).

We see an Agrippina-like mother figure in Nessaket (Beyon and Sarmin's mother); plotting now that she is free of her husband, working only to forward her own agenda. As the various factions start moving their pawns into position, executing their plans, her place changes and we see a far more vulnerable and fearful side of her. Nessaket and Tuvaini, the Vizier, are truly Machiavellian, and it is through their actions that we see just how dangerous and complex the palace politics of the Cerani Empire are. It's great drama, played out subtly and delicately, with the patience of a master chess player.

It is through Mesema's eyes that we get a better picture of the Cerani culture - she is an outsider, Sarmin's prospective bride - and her perspective shows us the differences in character and temperament between her people and the somewhat arrogant Cerani. Mesema's perspective is also a window into the hard lot of women in this world. Her people treat them like slaves or breeders, not much use other than serving the needs of the men. The Cerani treat them similarly, although the royal household does enjoy some extra freedoms. There are some good parallels with some of the customs of the cultures he's used as inspiration for the world he has created.

There are a couple of interesting magic systems at play in the novel. First up - but not featured overly much - is the elemental magic of the official mages, which I thought has a lot of potential (the mages take an elemental spirit into themselves, and when they die they seem to swap places). The other, more central magic of the novel is that of the mysterious patterns that have plagued the Cerani empire, turning Carriers into mindless automatons. It's intriguing from the start, to learn of this pattern-plague, and as we start seeing hints of what it might be and mean the mystery is unveiled in a rather satisfying way. That being said, it was not always clear how it worked, which left me feeling a little confused at times - this was mainly the result of the prose-issues I mention, above.

"The Emperor's Knife" is sure to whet the appetites of lovers of epic fantasy, as it did mine. It offers so much potential that it is next to impossible not to sit up and take note, to be intrigued by his characters and setting. Mazarkis has gone for an uncommon setting, and populated it with some classic characters altered to suit his unique premise. However, I think it may be too soon to tell just how much of an impact he is going to have on the genre. There's huge potential, so now I just have to wait until I get my hands on book two to know that he's fulfilling it.

The novel is not flawless, and there were the aforementioned few momentum issues, but overall this is a solid debut from an author whose work I will most certainly be following in the future.

Recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A real slog to get through, 6 Jan 2013
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Nick Brett (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Emperor's Knife: Book One of The Tower and Knife Trilogy (Kindle Edition)
New author and new publisher, I really wanted to enjoy this but sadly failed to.

I bought this on it's release and since then have picked it up many times before putting it down and reading something else and I only finished it this Christmas through determined effort and insufficient pleasure.

It is a fantasy with deep and complex politics, against a consuming evil known as the 'pattern' - princes locked in towers, visions and infanticide. The Emperor's Knife is an assassin who takes blood on behalf of the Emperor and is a central character. He, like many of the characters in the book was hard to like and to emphasise with and this was a main failing in the book - insufficient people I actually cared about. Then these people are placed in a deep and complex plot that you have to work very hard to get any joy out of.

Maybe there are those readers who love complex plots and want to absorb every word but for those who like fast paced, entertaining fantasy with engaging characters, this is probably not the book for them.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Something Missing at the Heart of the Empire, 2 July 2012
By 
Mr. C. Horner "hierath" (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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"The Emperor's Knife", first off, is a beautiful-looking book. Embossed hardback, with the obligatory "mysterious hooded fantasy figure" in the foreground, and an exotic city of dreaming spires in the background, ringed around with the pattern so central to the plot. Jacket design is by Ghost, and the front cover is credited to Archangel images, but I'd like to see the artist credited on the jacket, as it's a stunning piece of work. But we try not to judge books by their covers round here, so on to the content.

The novel, Williams' first, is set in what appears to be a fantastic version of the Middle East - there's more than a spicy whiff of "Arabian Nights" about it, with its deserts, marbled palaces, harems, assassins, and scheming Grand Viziers (is there any other kind of Grand Vizier, I wonder?). Prince Sarmin is spared from death and imprisoned to provide a spare should anything befall his older brother, Emperor Beyon. He is trapped in a tower in the palace while a curse stalks the city, a mysterious pattern that marks the skin of the afflicted, killing the sufferers or turning them into mindless zombies. The Emperor has decreed that all who carry the marks of the pattern should be put to death. But now Beyon himself has fallen victim to the disease, and it's time for Sarmin, the forgotten brother, to be pushed into the spotlight.

Williams' ideas are original and fascinating; the Pattern, controlled by a mysterious Master, that stains itself on to the skin of its victims, mysterious cities rising and falling in the desert, mages bonded with an elemental spirit that will eventually destroy them. The ideas are rich, and the language that conveys them is lush and ripe, flowing like poetry, or patterns on skin. But...but...

The characters - courageous horsegirl Mesema who sees patterns in the grass, damaged Sarmin in his tower room, Eyul, the Emperor's knife himself, are all drawn with broad and narrow strokes, but with the possible exception of Mesema, they're hard to warm to, difficult to care about. I got the impression that Williams loves the beautiful world he has created more than the people that inhabit it. I didn't find myself loving them, or mourning the ones that died. Williams makes repeated references to Settu, which seems to be a game rather like chess, played with tiles, and the characters feel more like carefully placed Settu tiles, positioned to serve the plot, than living breathing beings.

"The Emperor's Knife" is skillfully executed, well set, beautifully written, but it lacks something at the heart of it and I'm not sure what. From the blurb on the flysheet, I wanted to love it, and I couldn't. Sadly, while it's a very easy book to admire, it's a difficult one to love.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not convincing, 20 April 2012
Hate to be the first doubting review, but I really didn't find this book to be amazing. It was OK, not awful, just not great. Probably a personal thing, but I didn't enjoy the prose style, I found it a bit dreamlike, verging a tiny bit on magic realism, which I detest. I never felt that I was drawn in enough to be reading it with 100% attention. The pattern magic isn't really explained enough to be solidly convincing and there is no real feeling of depth given to the world. I didn't really care about any of the characters and probably won't want to find out what happens in the next two books.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, slick, and well-crafted début., 21 Dec 2011
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Leo Elijah Cristea (UK) - See all my reviews
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The Emperor's Knife, the first in a new trilogy (The Tower and the Knife), is Mazarkis Williams' début novel--and one of the first offerings from brand new SFF imprint, Jo Fletcher Books (Quercus).

I recently interviewed Mazarkis (interview link to be added when it goes live over at Fantasy Faction), before I'd finished up with the book, and found him to be a great guy who told a great story. It may sound obvious, but sometimes in the modern market, writers are so bogged down with what they "should" be writing, that sometimes the story suffers. Williams tells a story; nothing more, nothing less. And for it, The Emperor's Knife is an engaging, interesting book that really whets the appetite for the following books in the series.

The Emperor's Knife offers a setting with a definite Persian/Arabian flavour--picture both Prince of Persia and Arabian Nights, then meet somewhere in the middle, and we're there--which is both exotic, a break from the pseudo-European worlds that permeate fantasy, and exciting. We're treated to tall towers, hot desert sands and nomads, glittering palaces, and an almighty Emperor, seen as the Son of Heaven. It's a spectacular setting that stretches from the beautiful palace and the urban expanse it sits at the heart of, across the desert, and to flat plains where the grasses are tousled by the winds and the Windreaders dwell. It's a beautifully set book, with a very clear sense of imagery: you are very aware of what everything looks like, and the level of immersion is unusually deep.

For a début novel, this is utterly stunning. Williams weaves a deeply subtle and mysterious story with very little effort, and to the very last page, the plotting is tight, clean and strong. In fact, the book was an absolute pleasure to read: a pleasure to identify with each and every character, even in a small way; a pleasure to turn each page, constantly guessing at the nature of the villain and his "weapon"; a pleasure to reach the final page with a huge grin, eagerly seeking the rest of the story to see what happens to the characters you've come to know.

Williams' styling is different, cleaner, and definitely more simplistic in parts, than what I'm used to. My ideal fashion of prose is somewhere between Patrick Rothfuss and Elspeth Cooper, with Blake Charlton's exposition thrown in. Williams' style is close to none of these; it is entirely different. Whilst he does flirt with exposition in parts, the presentation is so different and integral to the narrative of his characters, that he comes exceptionally close to the idea of "show, not tell", for a fantasy novel. Personally, someone tells me to "show, not tell" and I want to run a thousand miles in the opposite direction. It reminds me far too much of non-genre lecturers slowly killing the art of exposition, word by word. However, I enjoyed Williams' style: it added to the mystery and effect of his setting, somehow.

It's an incredibly subtle novel, but one that compels you to keep turning the pages, right until the very end. The characters are interesting and likeable--Sarmin, trapped and kept from the world; Mesema, taken from her home by duty, and thrown into a tangled web of intrigue; Eyul, ever seeking forgiveness for the blood on his hands--and keep the reader's attention rooted, even when there's little action taking place.

In fact, there isn't much in the way of action, and this certainly isn't a "swashbuckling" tale of scimitars. Instead, it's a fantasy-mystery with one of the most subtle, yet ingenious plots I have seen in a long time. Perhaps what really makes The Emperor's Knife succeed as a fantasy-mystery, is that is lacks the necessary components that make a classic mystery: there is no hint of a "whodunit", and no real way of tracing events to their source in order to figure out the villain. Of course, throughout the story a list of "possible suspects" is built up, but it is a small one, and one of the characters was struck from the list immediately, following the same line of thought of "the butler did it". Williams' is too slick for the blindingly obvious. (I am fairly proud that I guessed the villain (of course I won't reveal the identity here!), and prouder still that it was a single line that led me to guess just who was behind the Pattern.)

As one of Jo Fletcher Books' first offerings, The Emperor's Knife has definitely sealed my initial opinion at least: this new imprint is one to look out for. Williams' début was an anticipated read, for me, and I was not disappointed in the slightest. A fantastic book with a deep vein of emotion and thought about human nature beneath, The Emperor's Knife strikes a chord because it is such a human story--yet an ultimately positive story.

A brilliant, slick, and well-crafted début.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great find, 29 Mar 2014
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First book that promised much, good concept and fast paced read. More of a dark ages storyline with the fantasy side well executed nd realistic.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting start to the Tower & Knife trilogy, 6 Jan 2014
Mazarkis Williams is an author I've been aware of for a couple of years. They - since Mazarkis Williams is a pen name and the author's identity and gender is unknown (to me at least, though I have my suspicions) I'll be referring to the author as they - are part of the group of authors known as the Booksworn, several of whom are authors I've read and enjoyed and some of whom I regularly chat with on Twitter. So it was to my shame that I had to admit I hadn't read any of their books, when I was approached about reviewing the final book in the Tower & Knife series, The Tower Broken, which was published late November last year. Fortunately, the publisher was kind enough to send me the whole series for review, so I could rectify the oversight. And I'm glad I got that chance, because judging by the first book, this trilogy and Williams' writing is right up my alley.

The setting for The Emperor's Knife is an interesting mix of desert and plains cultures. Most of the story is set in Nooria, the Cerani capital, but we also travel to the desert and to the plains of the Felt. The desert culture actually felt more Northern African/Egyptian than Middle Eastern, but that might be due to the fact the Nekasset seems a name that one of the Pharaohs' queens could have worn. There are a lot of juxtapositions between the desert and the plains peoples, not least in their treatment of their women, but also in their architecture and their religions. I loved the different forms of magic Williams created, the elemental magic of the Tower and the more mathematical magic of the Pattern Master. The genesis of the pattern magic is hinted at, but never really identified and I wonder whether we'll learn more about that in the next book.

The main characters, who had their own point-of-view, were Sarmir, Mesema, Tuvaini, and Eyul. All of them are compelling in their own way; Sarmir's slightly unbalanced outlook on life is fascinating, yet his still having retained his innate good nature makes him oddly appealing; Mesema's unfettered ways and tongue might have gotten her into more trouble than she could have gotten out off, if not for the events of the book and the natural rapport she has with both Emperor Beyon and Sarmir; Tuvaini is the villain you love to hate, yet he's also very human and in his flawed nature strikingly capable of love; and Eyul, the titular Emperor's Knife, was astonishingly well-drawn. He might actually have been my favourite point-of-view. Not just because he travels beyond Nooria, but also because his is the more quietly profound emotional journey. He rediscovers his humanity and has to learn to live with who he is after his armour has been cracked. Beyond these four the most important and intriguing characters are Empire Mother Nekasset, High Mage Govnan, Fire Mage Amalya, Emperor Beyon, and the Pattern Master. I found all of them intriguing, though not all of them equally sympathetic. All of them are multi-faceted and complex, though I would have liked to learn more about Amalya and Govnan in particular as, comparatively, they were less developed.

All four major female characters defy their designated role in society, though all in their separate ways. The position of women in the two cultures we encounter closely, the Cerani and the Felt, is almost completely opposite of each other; Felt women are required to prove their fertility through the bearing of plains-children before marriage, while the Cerani value virginity and at least the royal women are locked away in a seraglio, where Felt women live among their menfolk. What they have in common though, is that the women need to obey their husbands, fathers, and lords and it is here that Mesema and Nessaket differ. Mesema doesn't fit the Cerani seraglio, because she'll always speak her mind and Nessaket isn't content with the pampered, but powerless position of a wife and mother, she actively schemes to gain the throne for someone she can dominate. Amalya is set outside the usual societal expectations for women, due to her nature as a mage, while Grada is an Untouchable who dares to strive for a life beyond her class. Grada's circumstances are complicated or rather her desires are wakened due to her connection to Prince Sarmin, who befriends her, even though contact between an Untouchable and a Prince is impossible. I like that these women break the norm in such different ways and show those around them that things can be different. They also give the book plenty of opportunities to pass the Bechdel test, which it does.

In addition to an interesting setting and characters, The Emperor's Knife has an equally interesting plot featuring the puzzle of the pattern master's identity and motivation, intricate and cut-throat palace politics, and the role of the Carriers. The ending of the book was satisfying, though a little sudden. It wraps up well, but at a rapid pace and I hadn't expected it to wrap up quite as thoroughly. I really enjoyed this first book of the Tower & Knife series and The Emperor's Knife scratched the epic fantasy itch I'd been feeling since finishing my last epic fantasy read in mid-December. Williams' writing is good with sometimes lovely descriptive flourishes and compelling characters, none of whom are safe, all of whom might not survive the book. It also stands alone quite well, while still leaving you wanting more and I was glad I could dive into the second book, Knife Sworn, immediately. Expect a review for that soon.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Where it starts, 16 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Emperor's Knife: Book One of The Tower and Knife Trilogy (Kindle Edition)
The first in the series and enjoyed the introduction to the "new world" where the story takes place. Characters develop at a pace that I can handle and this set the scene for the next book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good start, 22 Nov 2013
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Not a bad start to what i assume will be a trilogy, it took me a couple of chapters to get into the story but once there it was entertaining.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a struggle, 9 Aug 2013
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I struggled with this book. Whilst I like the concept of the story, I found the narrative tended to bounce around between plots and characters and at times i struggled to follow what was going on.

I thought that the story lacked any kind of context and the history of Nooria, the Pattern and the culture of the Cerani were skirted over which resulted in my having to piece together these valuable pieces of information from bits of different chapters.

I thought the idea of the pattern and the mysterious pattern master would serve as a great main plot with other sub-plots running throughout the book but this failed to materialise and I found that I was completely unable to relate to any of the characters in the book.

I think the book started far too late in the overall storyline of the pattern, Beyon's rule and history of Nooria and it would have been a much better novel (and trilogy) if it has used the three novels to build up final culmination of the pattern at the end of book three rather than doing it all in book 1 and then having to find extensions of the story in later novels.

I am still mulling over whether to give the trilogy the benefit of the doubt and give the 2nd book a go but at this point in time I doubt I will.
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