I’ve wanted to pick this book up ever since I first saw the cover-art. I don’t know why, but I tend to like cover arts that fall into the ‘hooded man’I’ve wanted to pick this book up ever since I first saw the cover-art. I don’t know why, but I tend to like cover arts that fall into the ‘hooded man’ category. The Painted (Warded in the USA) Man by Peter V. Brett, The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller, Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky and Assassin’s Creed 2 are examples of that, and it seems, for however long we’re around, there’ll always be at least one hooded man cover on a novel in the bookshop, or on your bookshelf. Did I mention, there’s another thing that everything in the category has in common – they’re all really enjoyable, and fun to read/play. So, would this be the case with The Emperor’s Knife?
I’m pleased to say that yes, yes it was. The Emperor’s Knife, despite its flaws, I found to be a really enthralling read, and I can safely say that I will be eagerly looking forward to Book Two of the trilogy.
There. I’ve said it. But, in order to make this a ‘proper’ review, I have to write more than just that. So, you’re probably wondering what the heck The Emperor’s Knife is about. Well, let me tell you. Or rather, let Goodreads tell you, because I’m lazy:
There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike, marking each victim with a fragment of a greater pattern. Anyone showing the marks is put to death. That is Emperor Beyon’s law . . .
But now the pattern is reaching closer to the palace than ever before. In a hidden room, a forgotten prince has grown from child to man, and as the empire sickens, Sarmin, the emperor’s only surviving brother, is remembered. He awaits the bride his mother has chosen: a chieftain’s daughter from the northern plains.
Mesema travels from her homeland, an offering for the empire’s favour. She is a Windreader, used to riding free across the grasslands, not posing and primping in rare silks. She finds the Imperial Court’s protocols stifling, but she doesn’t take long to realise the politicking and intrigues are not a game, but deadly earnest.
Eyul is burdened both by years and by the horrors he has carried out in service to the throne. At his emperor’s command he bears the emperor’s Knife to the desert in search of a cure for the pattern-markings.
As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence and rebellion, the enemy moves toward victory. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who once saw a path through a pattern, among the waving grasses.
Certainly ambitious for an author’s first novel, huh? I’d like to say that I was slightly cautious about reading The Emperor’s Knife before I actually did read it, but alas, that was not the case, I dived into the book with little more than the blurb to see my way through. And, after the first few pages, I wasn’t confused. I wasn’t wondering who these characters were and I wasn’t wondering what the hell was going on. Neither does Williams overload you with info-dumping, the bane of many fantasy authors.
The characters are certainly well developed, and intriguing enough to keep you reading along with the captivating plot, that although is unoriginal when you look at previous fantasy novels, is certainly enjoyable, and combined with a well-designed world that has obviously had a lot of thought put into it.
Unfortunately, not every novel is perfect, and you will often find the pacing a bit uneven, with parts (especially towards the end), where you are turning the pages desperately to find out what happens next, and other times where you aren’t turning the pages as fast as you should be, which is a letdown, but one that I’m not too fussed about.
The novel itself draws upon several Middle Eastern influences, which is something that I’ve not encountered in fantasy before, so Williams gets +1 on the originality front (if there are more fantasy novels that draw from Middle Eastern influences that I haven’t read yet, drop me a line – I’d love to read them). You can tell that the world has been carefully constructed with a lot of research put into it, especially when you look at the magic system.
If there’s something else that let the novel down, again a minor issue, is that the ‘big reveal’ wasn’t as good as it could have been, and people who’ve read this novel will probably share my thoughts on this thing. Also, there’s romance, lots and lots of romance in this novel, although don’t let that put you off from reading The Emperor’s Knife. Romance or not, you won’t want to be missing this. It contains several elements of a dark fantasy novel, yet at the same time it still feels like you’re reading an epic fantasy, a novel that could be fit into the same sort of genre as George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
I’d also like to point out that although The Emperor’s Knife is technically part of a trilogy, aside from a few parts where Williams sets the scene for the rest of the novel, it could effectively be read as a standalone. However, my advice is, don’t read it as a standalone and buy the next book as soon as it comes out! For one, I can’t wait to read it, and if Williams sorts out the pacing in the next novel, it will be truly superb. I strongly recommend this novel to any fans of fantasy that are looking to try something new.
More Tower and Knife: The Emperor’s Knife, Knifesworn (Coming Soon)
I’ve been anticipating this début ever since I saw the awesome cover art on Orbit’s website sometime last year. However, if I’m being honest, I nearly didn’t pick up Seven Princes, after reading several negative reviews about it. But, in the end, the cover-art and the blurb won out, so I decided to give John R. Fultz a try, eager to see what a new author would bring to the epic fantasy. After all, novels such as the Riyria Revelations series by Michael J. Sullivan, The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, and Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan have both proved that Epic Fantasy has still got some fight left in it, so I was wondering what new things would await me in Seven Princes.
And as it turned out, not much. Sure, there’s a variety of species that I’ve not seen much about explored in this novel, with everything from Giants to Sea-Serpents, but there’s nothing new to bring to epic fantasy, nothing that we haven’t seen before. As it turns out, Seven Princes shared several more things in common with my favourite Western movie, The Magnificent Seven, and perhaps, although I’ve not seen it, the sci-fi movie Battle Beyond the Stars as well. How does that work then? Well, let me show you:
In front of the disbelieving eyes of Prince D’zan, an ancient necromancer appears and slaughters his father and his court, driving the Prince from his kingdom with one goal in his mind, the desire to reclaim his throne. That’s very similar to The Magnificent Seven, except if you replace D’zan with farmers, and kingdom with village, and soon – I was beginning to wonder if I would stick with the novel at all. However, I was glad that I did, because what a novel Seven Princes turned out to be, and although it’s part of the Books of the Shaper series, Fultz could have probably taken out quite a few elements of this book and left the novel as a standalone.
Fultz here has created a novel with a fantastic prose that is well-written, and although the characters didn’t make you feel sorry for their plights, and although you didn’t really favour one more than the other, they were well created despite this flaw, as the author helps us see the world through their eyes, and through their means, even if they do seem somewhat simple.
Another thing that seemed to bug me about Seven Princes, although oddly not that much, was the fact that it’s pretty predictable. You know what’s going to happen at the end, and you know which side’s going to come out on top. However, the same can be said of the (mostly) fantastic, multi-author Horus Heresy series published by Black Library – those that are familiar with the worlds that it’s set in will know what happens, and it will be predictable all the way through, but that doesn’t stop readers enjoying the novel, and that is the what I found to be the case here, with Seven Princes. Predictable, but enjoyable.
The novel contained some epic battle scenes within its pages, ignoring the fact that they might have been a tad bit predictable – and I think there are some epic set-pieces that kept me reading, and got me really into the novel as a whole.
I mentioned earlier about the fact that the novel is predictable, but it’s not that predictable, if you get what I mean, for Fultz isn’t afraid to raze cities, knock off major characters, and destroy mighty vessels in order to do his best to keep the reader reading, and that is one of the things that I liked about this novel.
The pacing of Seven Princes is pretty uneven, and there are some parts where the action speeds through at a remarkable pace, whilst in others you will find yourself struggling to push through without skipping to the next scene, which I admit – is one of the disadvantages of reading a 500+ page novel, especially one by a début author – and one that’s epic fantasy.
However, all that said, I still think that this book kept me entertained enough to pick up the sequel upon its release. I’m going to say that you should give it a try, but don’t go in with high expectations.
“Wow. The Heroes is unputdownable, action-packed and very enjoyable. Joe Abercrombie’s novel is probably the best Fantasy Book of 2011, in the year th“Wow. The Heroes is unputdownable, action-packed and very enjoyable. Joe Abercrombie’s novel is probably the best Fantasy Book of 2011, in the year that gave us A Dance with Dragons, Prince of Thorns and more.” ~The Founding Fields
Alright, I know that I’m about a year late to the party, but I figured I’d get around to reading this before I delved into Red Country, Abercrombie’s 2012 novel. I’m also going to start this review by saying that I haven’t read all of Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy, only the first novel - The Blade Itself - which is is something that I need to remedy and I think one of my reading targets for 2013 will be to catch up on what I’ve missed.
But in the meantime though, The Heroes was absolutely superb, and if I manage to read Red Country before the end of 2012, then there is certainly a possibility that it may even outclass Mark Lawrence’s brilliant King of Thorns, especially if The Heroes is anything to go by. It was that good – and this is only my second Abercrombie novel.
"They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbor, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.
For glory, for victory, for staying alive."
Abercrombie’s 2011 novel hits all the marks for me. The pacing is fast, the novel is action-packed, and this is firmly gritty fantasy, sharing more similarities to George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire than JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It’s a standalone epic that doesn’t have to be read after the First Law Trilogy, which was why I picked it it up after the initial series. The novel manages to bring something exciting, enjoyable and entertaining to fantasy and keep you hooked right the way through.
I read Theft of Swords, the first Riyria Revelations novel quite some time ago, and now that I have finally devoured both Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm, I can tell you that I really enjoyed the time that I spent reading Rise of Empire. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I enjoyed this Omnibus as much as the first collection.
The creation of the Nyphron Empire has brought the battle to Melengar, and in order to save her kingdom, Princess Arista defies the orders of her brother, enlisting protagonists Royce and Hadrian to conduct a dangerous mission behind the lines of the enemy, and it is not long before Royce realises that the wizard Esrahaddon may be using the thieves in his own fight for power. In order to find the truth behind Esrahaddon’s games, Royce must unravel the secret that is Hadrian’s past, and what he finds there will lead both thieves on a journey to the ends of the world.
Now, where do I start with this review? I’m going to have to say that both novels are consistent in not only pace, but also in execution. This isn’t a series that will have a good book and then a bad book, as by now you can be assured that Michael J. Sullivan will have delivered quality after quality.
Characters have also changed a lot since the end of Theft of Swords, and one of the most obvious examples of these changes is in Thrace, who first appeared in Avempartha. Now renamed Modina, she is the empress who is, as one would expect – a puppet, dancing on the strings of those who wish to control the Empire. However, there’s just one problem that they need to overcome. Modina is in shock, locked in a dungeon and seemingly unable to speak, and the duty of making her talk seems to fall to an intriguing character named Amilia, who fast becomes secretary to the Empress.
The thing that’s still there, throughout both novels, is the banter between Royce and Hadrian, and the ‘real-ness’ of their friendship. Sullivan has written both characters fantastically well, and made them some of the most likeable additions to the long cast of fantasy heroes. And if you’re wondering if it’s all about the main cast, then no – it’s not, the secondary characters are flushed out, and minor characters are developed as well as the big stars.
The novel is extremely easy to read, and quite quick to get through as well, despite its length. Sullivan also seizes the chance to prove that this isn’t a series that you can skip a couple of books and still have a rough idea what is going on, and he makes both Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm unmissable entries to the series, and both enjoyable to read in their own right.
However, if there’s one issue that I had with Rise of Empire and that is that there are a few plot holes in this novel, such as how quickly Arista’s magic grew in strength, and I feel that if the author didn’t have the need to get characters to where they were in the story, this could have been quickly overcome. On the other hand, it didn’t detract much of the enjoyment from the story, and one small flaw will not prevent me from picking up the third and final Omnibus in the Riyria Revelations series, entitled Heir of Novron.
What bugged me in Theft of Swords is that there were a bit too many deus ex machina moments for my liking. However, Michael J. Sullivan has quickly overcome these flaws, which is good to see – and there are no moments like that in this novel.
There are also several fantastic, memorable set-pieces throughout the Omnibus that I really enjoyed reading, and they look as though the author enjoyed writing them as well, and they only add to the well-written action scenes that filter throughout the novel.
If I had to say which novel that I thought was the best out of the two, I’d go with Nyphron Rising. As much as I enjoyed The Emerald Storm, I didn’t quite feel that it matched up with its predecessor. However, that’s not to say it was a bad book, oh no – both were excellent additions to the fantasy genre, at least in my opinion, and this series is well worth the read when you have the time.