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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 9 March 2014
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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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have to prefix this with "I'm a Wheel of Time fan", and as such I pretty much hold most writing in this genre up to comparison with Robert Jordon's great work - and to give it dues "The Emperors Blades" is standing up to the test, its interesting, one can see the multiple layers and structure of a large expanded universe being explained and you can see the depth of detail being expressed.

First off the plot did unfold but perhaps unfolded too quickly, in the initial quarter you were kept guessing a few things, but other things were explained far too quickly; this is perhaps good for those in the readership not patient enough to read, but for those of us expecting an epic it perhaps has you haphazardly second guessing what's going to go off. Either way you are rewarded with a plot moving along at a fair pace.

However, I do have a bug to raise with how its being expressed. The writing style introduces terms, places, people, races and countries, it even starts to introduce colloquial curses "Kent-Kissing"... Standard fair, you'd think in such writing the audience would be open to being any age willing to read, but I'd have to say NO, because the text also insists on using foul language, the F-Bomb, there's really no need for this, indeed in places it has characters curing in a colloquialism and then simply swearing in English. If you're in a fantasy setting there are ways to let people swear without the need to shock with the F-word like this. I found it very annoying when characters did this, they didn't do it a lot, because often they'd speak in the set out world's jargon, but when they did swear in English it was many times out of place, distracting from the stories setting, because... well that swearing doesn't belong in that world... the colloquialisms did, and the author invents them, but brash swearing to me had no place.

I suppose it maybe a vain attempt to shock the reader, but really I found the bad language distracting and out of place, not least because the author ends up running two concurrent forms of cursing, English and Fantasy setting... Not needed, just one way to tell someone they're a fool is enough.

That said, I will be reading the whole series, I think the Empire setting in the book is a strong one, the characters are set out, and there are some nods back to my favourite WoT... Golden Eyes anyone? - Read more yourself, I'd recommend it, but don't blame me for the foul language used in places.
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VINE VOICEon 27 January 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Being a fantasy fiction fan I'd hoped for great things from this new author. The plot is well-conceived but a bit predictable; I found it hard to engage with the main characters although the supporting cast is well-handled. The fantasy world Mr Staveley conjures works quite well and has the necessary elements to keep the reader going. The politics of the plot work. The interweaving of three distinctly separate threads is well-managed.

The book is slow to develop, very slow indeed, so I can't say it swept me away to another time and place. The narrative prose is far too wordy for me. It feels as if the author wants to drag each adjective and simile he knows into every sentence, which makes reading them a slog. The writing feels as if it has been a real, 'give it all you've got', effort and for me could do with a good editing. I don't like four and five lines long sentences as the default style. It makes the reading lack pace. It is more important to use words that count rather than achieve a word count.

The main thing I dislike about this book is the frequent use of obscenity in the dialogue. The f-word starts slowly and progresses to full gallop as we near the climax. People throughout the ages have sworn and of course still do. I accept that and can live with it but if we are in a fantasy world, it is likely the swearing would be of its own time and place. The author uses the parlance and vulgar vernacular of US 2014; it breaks his fragile spell to read f-this or f-that so frequently. Mr Staveley has made up many strange names and words for his novel that fit within the world of which he writes. I would have thought he could have also made up a word to express annoyance and contempt. This single thing robs his novel of the maturity it could have. I hope he addresses it for the next book.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 December 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a fantasy novel. It's the start of a trilogy entitled 'Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne.' So don't expect anything much in the way of closure at the end of this volume.

It runs for four hundred and seventy six pages of narrative. Which has a prologue and fifty chapters. There's no map or cast of characters, just a two page glossary right at the end of the book listing the gods and races of the setting.

This does contain strong language and it can be brutal and occasionally gory, also there are adult scenes and references. Thus it's really only ideal for grown up readers.

The prologue tells us of a man. Who is disappointed with one of his children. Because the siblings of his race have developed a trait which their parents cannot countenance. It's immediately apparent what this is, and thus this three page opening intrigues. Since what follows after seems to go off in a different direction, you may wonder how relevant the prologue is. Be advised that it does come into play in due course.

This story takes place in the Annurian Empire. Where the Emperor has just been murdered. Three of his children are the viewpoint characters, and the story follows each of them, with a different one each chapter.

There's his son Valyn, who has been training to join the Kettral for eight years. An elite military unit who fly into missions on the back of giant birds.

Valyn is great friends with a girl cadet. But when he gets wind of a conspiracy against him, he has to decide who to trust.

Then there's Kaden, the imperial heir. Who has been training for years with a group of Monks to learn their ways. When something monstrous attacks local animals, and Kaden is assigned a very strict new tutor, great challenges await him.

Back in the capital, there's also Adare. Daughter of the Emperor, she has to play politics and deal with her father's killer. Who is awfully sure that they are in the right.

Far bigger things are, of course, going on here. Will the three siblings uncover what's happening in time to save their lives?

Some fantasy novels can take a while to get into, since they throw you into a strange world with made up names and language and terms, that all take a bit to get used to. Whilst this does have some of that, it becomes supremely readable within the first few pages. Thanks to the made up words being used judiciously and the prose being good and clear.

It does have settings that could be clichéd. A military academy with tough but wise tutors, friendly cadets and bullying ones. Plus a remote monastery with wise monks who are great fighters teaching young apprentices lessons. But all the supporting characters are just so vivid and three dimensional, it never feels that way at all.

There's also some excellent plotting going on in Valyn's chapters, because he has a mystery to solve. There are twists and turns and developments to this that you won't see coming.

Suprises await in Kaden's story also.

Adare actually doesn't figure in the tale as much as her brothers, only getting a handful of chapters by comparison. These are strong chapters and very memorable. The military man she has to deal with being a memorable creation. Surprises await here, also.

There's lots going on, and the plotting reveals new things at just the right point to keep it all moving along. It's the kind of novel that will have you saying 'just one more chapter' and makes putting it down an effort.

The only slight flaw is that the two brothers aren't the strongest of characters. But then they are meant to be people who have a lot to learn and deal with and grow and change as a result. Which they certainly have done by the end. So that's not really a complaint.

A great start to this series. Roll on book two.
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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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on 18 May 2017
“The circle is closing, the stakes are high, and old truths will live again.”
A classic epic fantasy with a twist, this is an exciting, fast-paced and immersive read. If the story continues on this level, this is going to be an excellent series and I cannot wait to get my sweaty hands on book two.
This story follows three siblings, two boys and a girl, the children of an Emperor. On the Emperor’s murder, these three must find out who is behind the murder and survive attacks on their own lives.
Brian Staveley has created a vivid story filled with action, treachery, and conspiracy, based in a complex world filled with religions, mythology, and history. In those histories are tales of ancient powers scoffed at by most but believed in by a few.
It begins with a prologue providing a window onto an ancient time, long before the events in the main narrative begin, and where the protagonist’s point of view proves to be quite alien.
“’When you know nothing about a creature,’ the monk ground out, his voice hard as a rockslide, ‘expect it has come to kill you.’”
Then we are thrown into Kaden’s POV, the eldest of the siblings and heir to the Empire. He lives a severe life in a monastery until the outside world barges in on the death of his father. He is frustrated by his lack of learning, and wonders why he is there at all, so far from the court and all he feels he should be learning about the Empire. He is mentored by the harshest of all the monks, who seems intent to make him learn something or die trying. As a reader I was becoming as frustrated as Kaden in trying to figure out what it was the monks truly wanted of him.
Next, we meet Valyn, the middle child. He trains at a college for assassins. An odd choice for a prince, but by now we realise these youngsters have no choices of their own in this world. Valyn is good, but not the best, loyal but impetuous. He quickly discovers he’s next on the hit list and tries to discover who is out to kill him at the same time as train for his ‘finals’. An even which could easily lead to his death.
Lastly, we meet Adare, the daughter, a princess and the Minister of Finance. With the poisonous environment of the court and the religious orders of Annur all about her, she walks a fine line between what she wishes to do and what she may do. She is clever but anger makes her react in uncontrolled bursts when she must be very controlled to survive. I’m hoping Brian develops the character of Adare more as she is only touched upon throughout the book. Having said that, her last chapter is very promising indeed, and its twist is something to relish.
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on 11 February 2015
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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on 25 November 2016

This was a fantastic read. I'm not surprised it has such a high rating.

The book focuses on three siblings; all living in different parts of this fantastic fantasy world and all with their own struggles. Adare - the eldest - cannot sit on the throne due to her gender, but has been appointed Minister of Finance and has set about trying to prove who murdered her father: the Emperor.

Kaden, the eldest male, will now be Emperor. But he's been sent to a Monastery - just like his father - to learn inner discipline that will one day enable him to rule.

Finally, there's Valyn. Sent away whilst very young to train as an elite soldier. He has to survive gruelling trials as a cadet in order to lead his own 'wing' - a small select group of soldiers loyal to him.

This is just the outline, the book itself is full of incredible world building, intrigue and conspiracies. Looking back, the main reason I loved this book and will definitely read the next is due to the care taken by the author. He has created a fully realised and deep world. Each sibling and the characters they interact with feel fully fleshed out.

The journey throughout the book is very enjoyable; Valyn's trials (really original scene setting and scenarios from the author here) and life as a cadet are fascinating, as is Kaden's inner journey, trying to find the ability to 'empty yourself' and achieve a deeper understanding of his true purpose as Emperor. There's clever mysteries throughout that need to be unravelled.

The writing is straight forward in a positive way but rich at the same time. Events happen, pushing the overall plot forward, but the stories and events themselves are fantastic outright. I was happy to inhabit the world as opposed to being eager for it to hurry itself along which is always a good sign.

One slight disappointment was that the three stories were given around a 45/45/10 percent split, with Adare's story being given the least time. Hopefully the distribution is a little more balanced for the next book. Also, the bad guys were a little thinly sketched but it's implied that there is something grander awaiting the protagonists in the next book.

Excellent stuff.

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on 28 April 2016
Gotta say it. I loved this one. An excellent epic fantasy opener to a series. I have just picked up the 2nd book, The Providence of Fire, and I can't wait to get started.

First off I'd have to say I 'read' this via audiobook. The narrator, Simon Vance, did an excellent job. He has a good range of voices and none of them sounded like he was stretching too far. He made most of the main players sound different enough that it was immediately obvious who's point of view we were in.

So the tale starts just after the death of the Emperor. It follows his 3 children. Kaden as he trains to be a monk, learning how to zen. Adare as she tries to uncover the truth behind her father's murder. And Valyn as he struggles to complete his training to become... what is essentially an assassin-y soldiery... kind of thing.

Most of the story centers around Valyn and that's a good thing because his is by far the most interesting. His portion has the most action and excitement. Kaden's part of the tale is largely exposition, setting the scene for the larger conflict that is to come. Adare's portion is... disjointed at best. It almost feels as though it didn't really need to be there at all, but she's being set up to have a much larger part to come.

There in lies my biggest criticism of the book as a whole. It feels very much like setting up a much grander story. The stakes for the finale were high, but the book did a good job of pointing out that they were soon going to be much higher.

Other criticism are the occasional bloating. At times it felt like chapters were bloated and could have been much shorter. It dragged the narrative down in places. I also feel that there were some large plot holes.

What I loved most about the book was the world building. The characters, especially Valyn and his Kettral, were very detailed and individual. Some of the interactions with bit players were a joy, and Valyn's side of the story was both riveting and gut-wrenching in places. Well-paced and well told.

The world building was fantastic. It's clear that Staveley has a good idea of the world he's created and how everyone and everything fits into it, both in the past and the present. He has an interesting depiction of magic, with defined boundaries and mysterious capabilities. He has created an interesting bestiary of creatures to populate the world. I don't usually say this, but I'd have liked a map to see where everything is located in relation to everything else. There might be a map in the book version, but they don't tend to come across too well in audio format.

Overall I give The Emperor's Blades about a 4. A thoroughly enjoyable start to a fantasy epic and I can't wait to start the second book.
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on 11 May 2016
How do I begin to explain how much I loved this book? Let's begin with the first thing that really grabbed me and kept me reading day after day, the characters this book has some truly fantastic characters that grow in small logical steps every few chapters. Some matured very quickly and others took right up until the end of the book. The characters come from various backgrounds, a peaceful monk, the mercenary like Ketral and a princess caught up in a net of political intrigue and drama. The setting of the book itself in terms of the world and the lore built up around it was also utterly engrossing. I haven't found myself wanting to learn so much about the world and it's lore since Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher. Something else that enamoured me to the book was how incredibly dark it became in places, the two villains of the piece (Or the more obvious ones) Balandin and Yurl are a real pair of heartless bastards. I hate them on a molecular level, but there's also a begrudging respect for the way they have been written.

I should note that other characters alongside the main three are also wrote in such a way that you find yourself caring for them, despite arguably being outside of the three main POV characters. Glenna, Laith, Tan, Annek to name but a few of the top of my head really stuck out to me in that they had stories of there own just waiting to be told. And as the book unfolds we learn more of them and as such they become all the more endearing. Also this book continues to be a real page turner from the sheer amount of adrenaline and cliff hangers that happen from one POV to another. I'm trying to avoid rabbiting on about nonsense or going of on a tangent so I'll wrap this up.

If you enjoy a coming of age tale? Characters with flaws, history, unique personalities and feelings? A well fleshed out and captivating world? Great villains that you love to hate? and three different but vital points of view? Then The Emperor's Blades is for you. Check it out, I promise you will not regret it.

Well done Brian, I'm reading the second book now and nearly done so expect a review shortly.
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