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October 28, 2013 / minusbar

Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades, by Brian Staveley

Book Review: “The Emperor’s Blades” by Brian Staveley

Under the recommendation of Peter Ahlstron, assistant to Brandon Sanderson, I took an interest in The Emperor’s Blades. I figured a guy like him who makes a living working and reading for Brandon Sanderson probably had pretty good taste in epic fantasy. That hunch definitely paid off. Brian Staveley’s debut novel was a wonderful debut to what will no doubt be an epic fantasy trilogy. This is the first in his “Chronicles of the Unhewen Throne” series.

Like Sanderson, Staveley’s novel leans heavily on well fleshed out world building and visceral descriptions that pull you into the story he’s created. The backdrop is mesh pot of elements of Asian and Middle-European cultures, intertwined wonderfully to create something that is both familiar and uniquely different all at once. All of the fantastical elements of folktales are brought together with the more realistic intrigue and deceit of politics and religion. I’m not particularly a fan of too many political twists and turns in my fantasy, but it’s hard not to enjoy it in examples like this when it is done so very right.

Despite all of the wonderful elements of the world building, the true strength of The Emperor’s Blades is in the characterization. The three children of the previous emperor are the leads, Kaden, Valyn and Adare, . Kaden is the successor to the Annurian throne, and a monk striving to learn a meditative state called the Vaniate in a remote monastery, Valyn is in training to become an elite warrior known as a Kettral, and Adare is in the capital having to deal with the immediate aftermath of the death of their father. While they all share the spotlight, the heart of this story really seems to rest with Kaden and Valyn, and their bond as brothers. I enjoyed seeing how the two brothers lives take them on such distinctly different paths, both experiencing growth in their own way. Because of this and the Asian feel to the world, I kept being reminded of a quote from Miyamoto Musashi: There is more than one path to the top of the mountain.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about a bit about the magic that Staveley has crafted. The world is filled with creatures, monsters gods, and men with the ability to manipulate the world around them known as leaches. Despite the mystical and monstrous things within, the story handled magic in a very grounded way. All power seemed to come with a weakness, and no one element trumped all. It’s nice to see so many unique creatures and elements all forced to fight on leveled ground. Ultimately, this approach to the world made for nail-biting suspense while reading because everyone in his world can bleed, and ultimately die.

This book had wonderful pacing. The fast tempo of the scenes with Valyn are balanced well with the more thought provoking chapters focusing on Adare and Kaden. While the beginnings are not always action packed, it’s abundantly clear that a story is being told, so these developmental chapters read very smoothly while leading you into a very fulfilling ending. This one comes with a high recommendation from me.

 

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