Fantasy fans take note: The Emperor's Blades should be number one on your to-read list for 2014. I've been waiting to find my next great fantasy love,...moreFantasy fans take note: The Emperor's Blades should be number one on your to-read list for 2014. I've been waiting to find my next great fantasy love, and this is most definitely it. I'm so excited for the rest of this series!
If I had to describe it in terms of other series in the genre, I'd call The Emperor's Blades a cross between A Song of Ice and Fire and Tamora Pierce's The Lioness Quartet (and to a lesser extent Protector of the Small) with a healthy dash of Harry Potter thrown in for good measure.
Much like Game of Thrones and The Lioness Quartet, the book is set in an ancient, vaguely medieval kingdom with a long and storied history. There's courtly intrigue, possibly extinct or apocryphal race/races that existed before men, some mysterious ancient gods, and magic that no one really understands. (In Emperor's Blades, those who wield magic are not only feared, they are actively persecuted.) There's a bit of an Iron Throne knock off (the Unhewn Throne), and a fair amount of political maneuvering that's been hinted at in book one, and is sure to be more fully explored in the sequels.
The book is told from the point of view of the three teenage children of the emperor, whose assassination sets the plot in motion. The siblings have been separated for the past eight years, and are scattered across the vast empire. Valyn is preparing to join the Kettral, an elite army unit who fly across the empire on giant birds (it's cooler than it sounds). His brother Kaden, the heir to the throne, is training at an isolated mountain monastery, though no one will tell him how the monks' austere lifestyle is meant to prepare him to one day sit in his father's throne. (It's a doozy of a reveal, and one of Staveley's most original and unexpected ideas--the Kaden plot is what really makes this book sing, IMHO.) Their sister Adare has remained at home in the capital, learning the ins and outs of governance directly from her father. Upon his untimely death, she is named minister of finance in his will, but there was more that he had to teach her. (!!!)
There are only a few Adare chapters, which works well because her plot is a bit Kings Landing-ish. The brothers' sections also include some common tropes, but they are well executed. Valyn assembles a somewhat rag-tag band of Kettral that, despite initially being a total disaster, show signs of becoming a crack team by the novel's end. Both brothers have tough but well-meaning mentors. Kaden is basically getting brutal Occulmancy lessons for half the novel, and much like Harry, he isn't informed of their true importance for quite awhile.
Valyn's scenes are the most Harry Potter-like in general (although the whole training-to-become-a-warrior-of-the-realm thing is very Lioness Quartet). He's essentially taking classes, during which he and his best friend are often pitted against a Draco Malfoy-esque enemy with a Crabbe-and-Goyle crony (though that relationship is somewhat subverted in the end). He also has one instructor who appears to resent his princely-status to a Snape-like degree. Valyn and his buddies spend much of their free time trying to solve mysteries of an increasingly-apparent sinister nature without the help of adults. They also basically take their OWLs/NEWTs to become full-fledged members of the Kettral in what will make a great montage scene when this inevitably becomes a movie.
The parallels to existing fantasy works are there, but the world that Staveley has created still feels fresh and original. For a first time author, he's done a remarkable job of introducing a wide cast of characters and a detailed mythos without relying on dragging exposition or red shirt placeholders. The plot here moves fast, and you won't want to put the book down. Basically, it's a total page-turner.
The characters are also remarkably well-written. All three of the main characters are quite down to earth and easy to relate to considering they are the children of an emperor. Adare is a bit more haughty than the brothers, since she hasn't been yelled at by demanding instructors on a daily basis for eight years, but even she is pretty chill. The secondary characters each have fairly distinct personalities, and for those who are less fleshed out, you still get the sense that the author has bigger plans for them.
By the novel's end there have been a couple of major revelations (new! enemies!), and all three of the main characters have been severely tested. For better or for worse, Adare, Kaden and Valyn each undergo significant character development, and are not the same people we met at the beginning of the novel. All in all, the conclusion does tie up the plot of book one in a satisfying manner, but still does a great job at setting up a sequel (which, let's face it, is a prerequisite of the genre these days, right?).
In conclusion, everyone is going to be reading this, or I will eat my hat. I haven't been this excited by a new series without reading advanced praise for it since I pulled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone off the bottom shelf at a Scholastic book fair in 1998. This is 100% the real deal. Must. Read. Well done Staveley. (less)
not terrible, but definitely failed to capitalize on the promise of the first book... so so. I guess the weird sci-fi/fantasy elements kind of took ov...morenot terrible, but definitely failed to capitalize on the promise of the first book... so so. I guess the weird sci-fi/fantasy elements kind of took over from the characters, who didn't really get much resolution(less)