The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley [Review]

Title: The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
Published: January 14th 2014 by Tor Books
Page Count: 480
Where’d I Get It: Purchase (ebook)
Rating: 4 stars

The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

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?

I will be the first to admit that this book was set down multiple times and picked up multiple times literally months apart. I read to my husband a lot when he’s editing photos, doing art, staying at work super late (over voice chat) or when we’re in the car. He’s not been doing much art lately (more Overwatch) and we’ve not taken as many a long drive as we used to. In the interim between starting it, the author released two more books. It’s less to wait for, but more to catch up on.

I’m 100% into this series, but let’s get a few things straight. It’s by no means perfect. There are giant birds that people paratroop off of and they’re not even really described more than, “Huh, yeah, that’s a giant bird, and I’m strapped to it,” for most of the book. Giant birds, you guys. I love me some raptors, so this was literally a huge disappointment. I still know way less about giant birds than I want to know.

The monks themselves weren’t that interesting. It might have been the fact that religious orders aren’t, in and of themselves interesting. I mean, I don’t have a lot of experience reading monastic living. I mowed through what Redwall books were out in my pre-teens, but those were always more hero’s journeys and less monastery life. Either way, the chapters with Kaden, new Emperor of the Unhewn Throne, were tedious to read through. If he’s not running for hours just because, he’s buried up to his neck in scree. Or he’s making pots. Or he’s too dim by half to deal with obvious plot points that are right in front of him. It was beginning to seem like all that monk training that took him near death had done a ringer on his brain there. I absolutely hate when authors do that, where they make it seem like the main character is almost thinking in slow motion. Terry Goodkind is a great perpetrator of this. It makes Richard sound wicked dim. Hell, all the characters had the mental clip of molasses. It’s probably just how the author writes.

The paratroopers on the birds, though, A+ material. There were some harrowing moments there. Valyn, the Emperor’s second son, is training in an elite squad, that functions on high profile missions, outside of the military. He got hurt more often than not, partially from treachery, partially from his own dumb mistakes. Valyn himself seemed the most grounded of the characters, the most fleshed out. His squad mates were also varying and interesting, unlike the monks, who seemed to fulfill certain archetypes instead of retain an actual personality. There’s a few unsteady and demeaning scenes involving sexuality and gender preference that I would have preferred not to have read. Sometimes I wish everyone wrote in the same normalcy and tone that Seanan McGuire does when discussing these things. It makes all of that less painful to witness.

Anyway, our third main character is the Emperor’s daughter, Adare. She’s pretty headstrong and interesting in her own right. Unfortunately, unable to actually sit the throne because she’s a woman. Boo. So, they can paratroop off birds, but they can’t be in charge of stately matters? It was even an issue that she was the Minister of Finance, or whatever, that her dad put her in charge of the funds. She was the first woman in the role in ever, and everyone was constantly demeaning her. It was pretty gross. What was also unfortunate is that she maybe got a handful of chapters, so hopefully there’s more to her story line in the next installments, because she sure as hell was more interesting than Kaden, who was basically a deer in headlights the entire book.

Now for the plot, Kaden spends most of his in the monastery, all of it within the Bone Mountain range surrounding the monastery. There’s the boring monk training described above and then some mysterious visitors. I actually came to love those visitors, they were pretty bad ass and awesome. Kaden’s mentor (umial) is also technically “bad ass”, but he suffers from being an archetype instead of a character. Until he grows more characterization, I can’t find him that interesting. Pyrre Lakatur, on the other hand, give me more of her. I’m glad to see she’s got her own book, now. Can’t wait to get to it.

Valyn’s plot is a bit more complex. He’s thrown into a murder plot, an assassination attempt, almost right off the bat, but also needs to complete his training. He spends most of his final training tests suspecting everyone of trying to kill him. A death in the face of one of the more dangerous tests, involving gross cave beasts that reminded me a lot of the things from The Decent, but more feral and less human, sends him over the edge parinoiawise. He literally considers nothing else except where his death will come from and how swift it will be. He eventually takes a trip to the Bone Mountains himself, complicating the climax and all the rest of it.

Adare’s plot is short and succinct. I think she has maybe six chapters, tops. She’s gunning for the guilty party in her father’s murder, painting herself as the heretic as she attacks one of the major religions in the land, one with an army of its own. I’m pretty sure every one of her chapters ends with a twist of some sort.

I forgot to mention the giant Eldrich horror spiders. There, I did it. Nightmare fuel. Terrifying. Not at all okay. They also basically stalk you like the thing from It Follows, an unrelenting force that’s after only the person it’s told to hunt. Yep. I can’t imagine what the rest of the beings from that world look like. Golly.

Anyway, I, overall, really enjoyed the book. Hoping it just gets better from here on out.

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