Review of The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

March 4, 2014
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Emperor's BladesThe Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1)
By Brian Staveley, read by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 16 discs; 20 hours

Themes: / fantasy / brothers/ monks /

Publisher summary:

The emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, their destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it’s too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor’s final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.

I’m not sure what in the description made me choose this book to review. Maybe it was simply the fact that it was the first in a series. Since doing so I’ve seen a bit of buzz about this book, so I was eager to get my hands on my review copy.

This being the first book of a new series, there is a lot of character development and world building to get through. For the most part I think Mr. Staveley does a good job of this, especially as a first time author. However it does suffer from a few slower parts and some predictable twists.

His characters are interesting and have depth. The lore of his world is intriguing. The prologue seems confusing at first, but later on the reader discovers its significance, so just tuck it away for future reference.

For the most part this is the story of two brothers. They just happen to be sons of the Emperor of the largest nation in the world. First there is Kaden, the heir to the throne who is studying with the monks of the Blank God in an isolated monastery. Then there is Valyn, who is training with the Kettral, an elite military force made up of the best of the best.

Both suffer a bit from some of the fantasy school tropes. Valyn especially has his small group of friends and his rival with his group of cronies. However this being a military training facility, things are a lot more serious than bullying in the hallways.

We also get a few chapters with their sister, Adare, who has remained with their father in the capital. These are short, but politically charged. I hope we see a more prominent role from her in the books that follow.  This highlights the main flaw of this book. Like many fantasy books, the women are mostly relegated to secondary characters. They suffer a bit from stereotypes, but I think he does have some strong female characters that just don’t receive as much focus as I’d like. In general, the secondary characters are all pretty interesting and have enough depth so as not to be interchangeable.

Each brother’s story starts off in very different places but eventually converge with one another at the end. Things really pick up when they do. Strange things are happening around both brothers and they appear to be linked to a conspiracy to kill the emperor and his family. This makes for a lot of politics and conspiracy theories.

One of biggest concerns when reading books in a series is how the author chooses to end it. You need to strike a good balance between leaving the reader wanting more and wrapping up the main conflicts of the book. I think Mr. Staveley does a great job here and I’m looking forward to jumping right into book 2 when it comes out.

I’ve listened to a few books read by Simon Vance now, and I always enjoy his narration. Not only is his normal reading voice clear and easy to understand, but he does a variety of voices and accents. His reading definitely added a little extra something to the book. As a first time author, Mr. Staveley lucked out to get such a quality reader. I plan to continue this series in audio as a result.

Review by Rob Zak.

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