In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, 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, 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.
©2014 Brian Stavely (P)2013 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
I like the Emperor's Blades, but, given the many new epic fantasy series of the past few years, this isn't at the top of the list. It is clearly in the grimdark (Ambercrombie, not Rothfuss) camp - horrible events, moral ambiguity, lots of death and fighting. While not bad, it doesn't seem to add much interesting to the genre, and has some questionable choices.
Some of the questionable choices are worldbuilding. While there are lots of nice touches (sky ninjas on giant birds!) a lot of the rest falls somewhere between cliche and nonsensical. On the cliche side, this book mostly consists of the training of two different heirs to the throne. One is being trained in a monastery with (surprise!) taciturn, koan-spouting monks and has to find the meaning of their zen-like lessons. The other is being given hardcore military training with (surprise!) taciturn, tough-as-nails officers and has to overcome bullies and physical challenges. On the nonsensical side, apparently neither of the heirs to the throne are trained in anything having to do with ruling the empire that they are inheriting. Instead, they are subject to conditions that, for no really good reason, seem designed to have a very good chance of killing them.
The other questionable choices have to do with tone. There is a third member of the royal family, a daughter. She, like many of the women in the novel, gets a lot less time on the page. And most of the women we encounter get abused, tortured, or worse. It adds to a sense of discomfort throughout the novel.
Nothing here is awful, and the reading is great, but the book seemed rather forced, with motivations seeming muddled and the world not really cohering into a whole. The action was often well-done, but I think there are better new fantasy series to read.
I wanted to like this book very badly. It has a good writing style and interesting characters. The world is interesting. But it has several flaws--not fatal flaws, but serious nonetheless.
First is the completely gratuitous use of profanity and oaths. If you have read my reviews I seldom, if ever, complain about that unless it's supposed to be a YA or children's book. But everyone in this book swears like a truck-driver. It's like they are all in middle school. Part of the problem is that the author mixes the f-word and other words we know with many made-up oaths, like Kent-kissing etc. And everyone ALWAYS say Kent-kissing (Kent being a god). ALL OF THE TIME. I listen on my phone and if I heard someone say that one more time, I was going to throw it across the room! Argh!
The next problem comes with the plot itself. It's the story of three teenage or young-adult siblings who are dealing with life after the death of their Emperor father, although the two sons don't find out until well into the book.
One (a son) has been at a monastery for 8 years and seems only to be taught the really important skills he will need as the next Emperor in the last several months of being there when it's almost too late. Why? No explanation.
The next sibling (another son) has been in elite military training for 8 years. He seems to have fairly poor skills as well. After 8 years you would think he would be fairly good at some sort of military skill. It's not military school. This training is supposed to be like Navy Seal training. Other members are excellent at things like archery. Not him.
Hey, Emperor Dad: I don't think these 8-year plans are working!
That brings us to the third sibling (a girl). She has been with her father all of this time. She has learned the ins and outs of life in court. She knows all of the important players in the government. She makes some mistakes but it seems like she might make a good queen. But girls can't be queen. Only males can be Emperor. She was my favorite sibling even though she takes up maybe 5% of the book. Too bad. I hope that she is more featured in the sequels.
At various times I wanted to give this book 3 stars and maybe even 4 stars. But then I think of other books I have read this year and this book just does not compare with Robert V. S. Redick's or Daniel Abraham's stories. Or Shawn Speakman's debut novel. Never mind 5-star writers like Robin Hobb or Michael J. Sullivan. I gave them 4/5 stars so I couldn't bring myself to give this book more than 2.5.
The reader is very good, especially when reading the evil characters (for whatever reason). He helped make the book better.
But will I read the sequel? Um...um...um. I don't know! Possibly. I do like the characters and the world is interesting. But I'm not sure it will be worth my time and money.
Dr. Synthian of Gelderland
This world has a very impressive military system. A great set of forces at play. But the author commits 4 crimes against the reader that need to be called out.1) "SURPRISE! THERE'S NO ENDING IN THIS BOOK! READ THE NEXT ONE TO FIND OUT HOW THIS STORY ENDS! JUST KIDDING! READ THE ONE AFTER THAT!" These are not books. They are chapters. That is to say, they END by way of the author simply halting his writing, without the resolution of a story, let alone the primary story, and in fact, fail utterly to resolve any arc at all. - This should obviously come with a warning label since the three books combine to tell a single story. Not a single story with 3 major advents in between... just a single story. Period. - The three novels before you, are not a trilogy. They are a single book. Know this. 2) The plot is moved forward through characters being suddenly and inexplicably unintelligent and inarticulate and essentially, volunteering for victim duty. - This happens regularly and without justification. "I insist on going with you into danger, where I will get in the way because I will then be able to watch the fight as a spectator. Yet 10 pages later I will in fact present the exact opposite argument regarding the same exact fight in the same location citing zero circumstantial change because I clearly just needed a reason to be in this building."3) Repeatedly reviewing one's own circumstances aloud with a tone of wonder and awe... is lazy and ineffectual. This is the dark side of the Show-Not-Tell relationship between characters and the audience. If you SHOW the audience an awe-inspiring thing, they will feel awe. Telling the audience to feel awe by reviewing how shockingly implausible the character's survival is or how far they've come since they left Default-Village-Land 5 times is like having the author tell you he thinks you can't remember the last 3 hours to your face. I find self-review for the purpose of INFORMING the audience that they have experienced drama and not to forget it... to be repulsive.4) Repetition. - The sort of repetition that happens when an author only has one tool at his disposal. In this case it's the phrase: "If he was frightened by the giant warrior before him... he didn't show it." "If she was bothered by the weapons being brandished around her... she didn't show it." "If he was frightened by this ___ he didn't show it." Seriously. I'm guessing 30 or 40 times? ... If she was bla bla bla... LET ME GUESS! She didn't show it!?
I would have taken the time necessary to make the primary female character morally consistent.
The reader was flawless.
Sci-Fi & Fantasy Reader
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It was fast paced and exciting. The characters could be a bit thick at times and some of the decisions made little sense, but I liked the world a lot and the characters well enough. Simon Vance, the narrator, is one of the great ones--his voice is perfect for fantasy novels.
The concept of the book is not bad (if you don't mind superimposing a modern worldview/culture on a pre industrial fictional civilization). Staveley starts and ends the story well, but the middle is kind o a mess with a disproportionate amount of time devoted to draconian military training rather than moving the plot forward. If he cut about 50,000 words it would be right on the money.
While not fully YA, it is heading in that direction. It is an action romp that tries to break free of the tried and true fantasy story-line, but doesn't really succeed.
If you are looking for great fiction, look on. If you are looking for escapist fantasy fiction, you've found one.
Likes to listen while doing chores; likes to write reviews while he should be doing chores.
This novel starts a little slow and pretty conventional, but heats up quickly. It wasn't long before I was listening to it every free moment I had.
The early plot involves two royal brothers, each sent away as youths for training, one to a monastery and the other to Air Assault Ninja School. That in itself seems like a pretty derivative beginning, but the brothers are quickly dunked in intrigue when their father dies. The action, plotting and mystery remain pretty thick for the rest of the story. The main characters are put into many different challenging and life-threatening situations which move the story along. Also, since you keep switching back from one brother to the other at suspenseful points in the narrative, it is really difficult to find a good place to put the book down.
Staveley does an excellent job of keeping you on your toes. You are never allowed to get comfortable in your expectations. There are twists in this book, but the artful part of the twists are that some of them aren't twists at all.
The supporting characters are very well described. But for a few character traits, the main characters are written a little bit blank. Vance does an excellent job bringing them all to life. He is so good I will make special point of seeking out his narrations in the future.
I would recommend this book to any fantasy fan. The foibles of being conventional disappear quickly and are easy to forgive when you realize your being drawn into an exciting fantasy mystery.
I'd rather listen to a good fantasy over again than waste time with bad fantasy.
The book is fine but like most ratings on audible is definitely overrated. Book feels disjoint and through most of the book I did not care about any of the characters.
A friend steered me to this novel, knowing that I rarely read fantasy (The Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings is about it). I was skeptical about it, but gave it a shot. The plot follows the two son's of the emperor who have been sent away from home, one to train as a monk and one as a soldier. The rebellion against the emperor touches both. From the start, I was in awe of the great writing. Descriptive scenes that might be boring in other books were impressive and entertaining here. The similes and metaphors made me smile throughout the story and helped make this fantasy world come alive. I have listened to the first three books in the Game of Thrones series, and I liked The Emperor's Blades even more. Why? Better writing, tighter plot, and more action. I liked the mystery element to this novel, too. It is equal to Game of Thrones in imagination. Staveley's characters are not as memorable as the best in The Games of Thrones, but that is the only area he fell short. That said, by the end of The Emperor's Blades, a number of characters had begun to come alive to me. I liked that there was just a touch of magic in this, making success rely mostly on human ingenuity. I finished this novel about three hours ago, and still feel a part of me remains in that fantasy world. My biggest disappointment is that I have to wait until the sequel is published!
If you are angrily waiting the next Game of Thrones book, than The Emperor's Blades is your book. The story is often stronger and more relatable that George R. R. Martin's stuff. Plus Simon Vance's narration is fantastic as always.
"An enjoyable setting of scene"
Really enjoyed the story and performance. Characters well crafted and story is promising. Easy listen with good narration. I'm excited to see what else is in store.
Only criticism is maybe that there was a whole lot of scene setting and not a great deal happened, having said that I was gripped by the story and like the direction it takes. There is some conclusion which makes the end satisfying but leaves enough doors open to make me want to read more.
A really good start in my opinion.
Bring on the providence of fire!
"Three different blades, one great story"
Definitely. The Emperor has three children, each of whom live distant from each other, in three distinct areas. The lore and background for each area is very interesting, and you discover more as the story progresses.
There is plenty of battling, laughter, treachery and twists, all of which kept me listening. Really, you never know what is going to happen next, so its hard to put those earphones down.
None spring to mind.
The battle with the Skullsworn.
Kadens thought as he trained as a monk moved me to laughter several times. Simon Vance does a good job with some deadpan narrations which me laugh.
A particular death was sad as well, but I don't wish to give away any spoilers.
Just finished book 1, buying book 2 right now. You can't give a much better recommendation than that!
I bought this book mainly because of the narrator. Who was, as expected, excellent. However the story was brilliant. The characters are really well written and brought to life. Can't praise this book enough.
"Aggressively mediocre, but then so is my life."
Though generic, Stavely's plotting and world-building are solid, but the novel is plagued by dull stock characters, anachronistic prose, and an unwillingness to commit to either Abercrombian grimdarkness or sanitized Hunger Games-style YA, instead trying and failing to strike a balance between the two. On top of that, much of the dialogue is so cringe-worthy that not even the delightful Simon Vance can salvage it, though you couldn't say he doesn't try.
However if you're really craving something in which people hit each other with swords and an ancient evil may or may not awaken, this is a passable way to kill a bunch of hours, and the sequel, "The Providence of Fire," is a vast improvement, rewarding you for sticking with the series.
"Just not that good."
I found this book a real up hill struggle, I tried to enjoy it but i just couldn't, the pacing felt wrong and it's as though the author wanted you to be completely aware that this is only the first book in the series. At times the story started to get interesting as if it was building to something but for it to go nowhere. i was beginning to feel like i was Kaden getting punished in the Monastery.
Princess Adare by along way. Unfortunately she only gets a few chapters throughout the entire book but they added an intrigue and twist which makes you want to keep reading.
I didn't enjoy his performance. The book was tiresome enough without needing flat toned samey characterizations. It made the characters hard to differentiate from at times.
I personally didn't appreciate this book and i enjoy a lot of fantasy novels.I really don't mind the tried and tested story line of a murdered Emperor with his defencless young child or children in this case growing into heros/anti-heroes before taking on the bad guys for justice/revenge, but to start with the characters weren't that memorable and for all the talk about how good the world building is most of the book its spent in a desolate mountain and a small island with nothing of note that stands out. Hardly Steven Erikson, G.R.R Martin or Joe Abercrombie standard. Another point is the torturous pacing. Yes i know it's the first book but there are plenty of trilogies that have fantastic openers that keep you gripped .As an example look no further than 'The Blade itself' ''The Name of the wind' and 'Tower Lord' to name but a few.I could go on but if you've found this useful and have the same taste as i do you've probably made up your mind by now.
"An epic tale worth every minute..."
The story follows three children of an Emperor, all in their own settings being prepared to enter into the Empire's service. The oldest son lives in a monastery, preparing to be the new Emperor and learn secrets believed to be long forgotten. The younger son trains as an elite soldier and commander while the daughter works as a minister in the government. When the Emperor is killed and they are being persecuted by people wanting the dead too, they have to unravel the plot using their special abilities, independent of each other.
The author has a good way of describing things, without tearing them to part with words. The plot is excellent and thrilling, not too fast paced but it gives an urge to want to know more! Really entertaining and yet no great wars or misery like most epic fantasy tales.
A well written, well thought through and well narrated romp. Avoids cliches and keeps you guessing...most of the time. Well worth it. I'm on to number two!
"An excellent first book in a fantasy series"
Original plot, with excellent narration. A gripping story that leaves you keen to crack on with the next book in the series. Highly recommended to fans of epic fantasy with a more mature twist such as books by Joe Abercrombie
"Fun and entertaining"
Interesting story and set up. The three heroes all with different yet complimentary skills works well. The storyline ends well with enough unanswered questions to make me go and get the next book!
"A bit slow to get into but well worth the wait"
Really enjoyed this book, found it a bit slow to start with, but following the three family members and there wildly different roles within the story kept the book interesting, unlike some books iv listened to the junctions between the three main characters was well timed and the narrator did a very good job of the voice acting. I enjoyed the different twists and turns the story took, and a few even caught me out which is always a bonus. really looking forward to the next instalment!
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