April 3, 2016

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

“Resist faith. Resist trust. Believe only in what you touch with your hands. The rest is error and air.” -Brian Staveley, The Emperor's Blades

Blurb: The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

Format: The Emperor's Blades is the first book in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series. I am reviewing the hardcover edition of the novel which is 480 pages in length. It was originally published in January of 2014 by Tor books. The novel is told in the limited 3rd person POV split between the three main characters Valyn, Adare, and Kaden.

Setting: The novel has three primary locations: the capital city of the Annurian empire, a small monastery in the mountains on the fringes of the empire, and the island where the Kettral (the empire's elite fighting force) trains. The three settings are vastly different from one another and each setting plays a key role in the shaping of the three main characters and how they deal with the challenges the plot passes their way. The world building is careful and plenty of time was put into fleshing out not only the environments the characters are placed, but their history as well. 

Characters: The three main characters are siblings, children of the Emperor of the Annurian Empire, and were separated early in childhood to different parts of the empire. Kaden, the heir, is sent to a monastery where he learns with the monks to master the teachings of the Blank god. Though Kaden does not understand how the role of a monastery and its teachings are relevant to ruling an empire, he soon discovers purpose and weight to what he spent most of his childhood learning. Valyn, not being the heir to the kingdom, is sent to join the Empire's fiercest fighting force. Though the Kettral are not easy people, he becomes hardened and becomes part of a tight fighting unit that will become an invaluable asset to the challenges he faces. Adare, the daughter of the Emperor, does not fit well within the society that is not favorable to women. Earning the title of Minister before her father's passing, it is she who must take charge until Kaden can be found. She will learn how hard it can be as a woman when no one wants to heed her words. 

Plot: The Emperor is slain. While people have been dispatched to find Kaden and bring him back to rule, Kaden must discover and survive the source of mysterious killings at the monastery. While on a training mission, Valyn is confronted by a dying soldier that there is a plot to kill the heir, his brother, and unseat the dead Emperor's line. Soon after, 'accidents' start happening around him and he fears he may be next. Adare seeks to discover and handle her father's true murderer. But her actions may cause instability to an already unstable empire. 

My Thoughts: This was one of the best debut novels I've read in a very long time. Though there were points where I was eager to leave one character's story line for another, it wasn't because of a lack of satisfaction with any of the characters. Rather, I felt that I gravitated towards Valyn's story arc as it became very intense towards the middle and I didn't feel like visiting Kaden or Adare until I found out what happened. The characters were each given a very distinct voice that was molded well by the settings they were each placed in. Seeing how each child of the Emperor dealt with their father's death and the aftermath was really interesting with the tools each child was given in their raising. By the end, the story wrapped up nicely with an action packed grouping of events that lead to a sort of "what are they going to do now?" ending. I am very eager to get into the next book when time allows!

About the Author: Brian has taught literature, religion, history, and philosophy, all subjects that influence his novels, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. He works as an editor for Antilever Press, and has published poetry and essays, both in print and on-line. He lives in Vermont with his wife and young son, and divides his time between running trails, splitting wood, writing, and baby-wrangling.

Author's Website: Brian Staveley's Website

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