Sunday, December 8, 2013

Review: The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Title: The Emperor's Blades
Author: Brian Staveley
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Book 1
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: 14 January 2014

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.

I requested this book without even reading the book-blurb because a friend told me, while still in the middle of reading it, that it was the best fantasy book she'd read in a long time. Fantasy is my home in genre novels, I come back to it time and time again because it's comfortable, exciting, interesting, detailed and emotional. So I started The Emperor's Blades with incredibly high expectations and excitement.

I was absolutely and thoroughly Blown.Away. This book is amazing. I highlighted dozens of moments throughout this book, was on the edge of my seat for most of it, and was absolutely enthralled the entire journey.

The intricate, sweeping story that follows the Malkeenian royal line - two brothers and a sister maneuvering between, around and through plots to take the Unhewn Throne from them - is full of intrigue and twists, danger and valor, despair and determination. I can't even do this justice, but I will say it's only the second book to surprise me so completely and throw twists at me I didn't even see coming. After I spent a good portion of the book detailing theories in my head, only to be wrong most of the time, the final twist absolutely blew my mind.

Kaden, Valyn, and Adare are some of my favorite characters - I was utterly and completely on their side from the very first moments we met each of them. Though I admit Valyn, the warrior, is my favorite, I love all three of them. As I was reading I was eager to see them succeed, to beat the insurmountable odds stacked against them, and terrified that they wouldn't. They aren't infalliable. They aren't perfect. They are, however, absolutely loyal, strong, intelligent, and full of determination. Thank goodness, because this war is going to test the depths of their resolve. Additionally, there are more than a few other characters that I'm dying to know more about. Those for, and against, the emperor both.

I can't end this review without speaking of the writing itself in The Emperor's Blades. I primarily read for characters, then world, then plot. Prose is important, the way the words are strung together can make or break a story, but it's often the last thing I consider when I decide how much I like a story or not. And if the story here hadn't been so utterly fantastic, if the characters hadn't been so completely intriguing, the world so fascinating - then the words that formed it wouldn't have delighted me so much. But Brian Staveley did something amazing here. He weaved words together in beautiful sentences, gorgeous paragraphs, and painted me a picture that I couldn't look away from. As engrossed as I was in the story, as much as I had to know what was going to happen next, I still stopped and had to re-read a section that was so arresting, so gorgeous, that I couldn't go on without appreciating it for a second, or third, time.

Part of the journey is complete in The Emperor's Blades, but it's clear there's a lot left to be told. And I, for one, couldn't be happier.

Grade: A+

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