The Emperor’s Blades – Brian Staveley

About the Book

When the emperor of Annur is murdered, his children must fight to uncover the conspiracy—and the ancient enemy—that effected his death.

Kaden, the heir apparent, was for eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, where he learned the inscrutable discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power which Kaden must master before it’s too late. When an imperial delegation arrives to usher him back to the capital for his coronation, he has learned just enough to realize that they are not what they seem—and enough, perhaps, to successfully fight back.

Meanwhile, in the capital, his sister Adare, master politician and Minister of Finance, struggles against the religious conspiracy that seems to be responsible for the emperor’s murder. Amid murky politics, she’s determined to have justice—but she may be condemning the wrong man.

Their brother Valyn is struggling to stay alive. He knew his training to join the Kettral— deadly warriors who fly massive birds into battle—would be arduous. But after a number of strange apparent accidents, and the last desperate warning of a dying guard, he’s convinced his father’s murderers are trying to kill him, and then his brother. He must escape north to warn Kaden—if he can first survive the brutal final test of the Kettral.

480 pages
Published on January 14, 2014
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

The Emperor’s Blades is the book that everyone is talking about these days. It is smashing its way into the speculative fiction scene and quickly becoming the book that everyone should read. I almost always hate reviewing those sort of books because everyone is reviewing them and honestly, what can I possibly say that “everyone” hasn’t already said? Nothing. Well, whatever. I’ll do it anyway.

The Emperor’s Blades is epic. The world is huge and sprawling, and the cultures are complex and multi-fasceted. In fact, as the book progresses, readers are given even more history, culture, lands and countries to keep track of rather than less. However, Staveley really gives readers his dish of epic in a really graceful way. Yes, there are a lot of names, countries, histories, and cultures to deal with, and yes, it can get confusing, but the writing style keeps it interesting and accessible.

In my humble opinion, accessibility is what can make or break epic fantasy. I don’t mind learning languages, or reading about obscure countries that may or may not matter later in the series. What matters to me is how easy it is for me to remember these details and make sense of them. Sometimes epic fantasy can get so epic, so sprawling and so lost within its own jargon that it is hard to puzzle out exactly what matters, and what is what.

That’s really where Staveley succeeds with The Emperor’s Blades. It’s epic, and sprawling, and complex, and political, and all those things I love so much, but he keeps it all accessible and easy to digest. You never really get lost in his jargon, or his world, or get confused about who is who and why they are doing (insert thing here). That’s a huge bonus for any epic fantasy book and it says a lot about his writing style and characters.

On the other hand, the accessibility does come at a price. Despite the fact that this has all the bells and whistles and it has them all tuned to the pitch I enjoy so much, there isn’t really anything absolutely new here. There’s the empire in turmoil, and the focus on three different main characters – some of whom readers will find more interesting than others. There’s the wise elderly people who give out wisdom in the form of a few infodumps. There’s political maneuvering, and backstabbing. There’s also mystery. It’s everything you expect in your epic fantasy, and that’s kind of a problem. It’s everything you expect, but nothing you really don’t expect.

Sure, there are some unique things here, for example, I absolutely loved the world, which wasn’t Europe-esque at all (Disclaimer: I’m kind of sick of Europe-like settings). The three protagonists are all separated from each other, so their storylines are quite different and their voices are all very individual, rather than having them blend all into one homogenous lump which can easily happen in books. Furthermore, Staveley does weave together all the aspects of his novel fairly flawlessly, which makes it feel both epic and easy-to-enjoy at the same time. Something is always happening somewhere, and it’s quite fun to puzzle out the larger picture from the three diverse viewpoints readers are given.

Usually I don’t really like to pick on writing issues too much, but in truth, when they are present and they can affect reader enjoyment levels, I should probably mention them. One of Staveley’s habits that I noticed pretty early on is that he can occasionally fall into the tendency to tell (repeatedly) rather than show, when showing would have been just as effective, if not more so. Also, some of the scenes feel a little drawn out, and/or convenient. While this shouldn’t make you put the book down and read another time, it is noticeable on occasion, but I chalked it up to new-writer hiccups. These hiccups can, occasionally, make the book feel rather meandering, or stagnate in places. But, they are hiccups. Everyone has them, and they are always kind of annoying.

So, the final verdict? The Emperor’s Blades is a lot of fun, and it is very well done, but it does feel a bit cookie-cutter. This is a very accessible novel that will give you everything you expect, and not enough of the unexpected. That’s not really a terrible thing, though. There’s something to be said for a novel that is both familiar and incredibly well done so it remains enjoyable. The Emperor’s Blades hints at more to come, and with a world this unique and sprawling, I have no doubt that Staveley will be throwing us through some unexpected, incredible plot twists in the near future. I’ll pay close attention to this series.


4/5 stars

5 Responses

  • You were significantly more forgiving than I was with this book. I think I may have been the most critical in our circle of reviewers, come to think of it.

  • I am also on the outside looking in on this title. I just didn’t see what everyone else was seeing. Especially with the world building people saw, I saw names and lands that were mentioned but had no effect on the story.

    Glad others are enjoying it though, because the publicity its getting means there will be lots of happy readers.

  • I found this book to be similar to Blood Song, in that there wasn’t really anything new in it but it was written well enough that I found it to be a good overall book.

    One thing I found refreshing was there wasn’t any tropey love-relationships crammed down my throat – and I saw this as a closet Romantic. The one romance that looked to be developing was rather quickly ended.

    One thing I didn’t like was the ending just sort of… happened. I’m not saying it should have been some epic hangover, but the book was at its best when the characters were learning and developing. At the end, when everything and everyone came together, Kaden rather conveniently masters the ability he was sent to the monks to learn right when he needs to… and all he needed was some guided meditation to do it. Makes me wonder why they didn’t try that out earlier.

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