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One soldier will bear the hopes of an empire

The Kettral were the glory and despair of the Annurian Empire – elite soldiers who rode war hawks into battle. Now the Kettral’s numbers have dwindled and the great empire is dying. Its grip is further weakened by the failure of the kenta gates, which granted instantaneous access to its vast lands.

To restore the Kettral, one of its soldiers is given a mission. Gwenna Sharpe must voyage beyond the edge of the known world, to the mythical nesting grounds of the giant war hawks. The journey will take her through a land that warps and poisons all living things. Yet if she succeeds, she could return a champion, rebuild the Kettral to their former numbers – and help save the empire. The gates are also essential to the empire’s survival, and a monk turned con-artist may hold the key to unlocking them.

What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever – if they survive. For deep within the southern reaches of the land, a malevolent force is stirring . . .

The Empire's Ruin is the first book in the epic Ashes of the Unhewn Throne trilogy by Brian Staveley.

752 pages, Hardcover

First published July 6, 2021

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About the author

Brian Staveley

24 books3,978 followers
I live on a long dirt road in rural Vermont where I divide my time between mountain biking with my son, trying to play piano music that is far too difficult for me, running trails, doing laundry, splitting wood, thinking I really ought to wash the kitchen floor and then not, cursing at the pie crust for sticking to the surface, drinking beers with friends out by the firepit, and sometimes trying to write books.

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Profile Image for Petrik.
675 reviews42.9k followers
January 30, 2022
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ARC provided by the publishers—Tor Books & Tor UK—in exchange for an honest review.

The Empire’s Ruin is a scintillating explosive epic fantasy with multiple legendary scenes that rivaled The Way of Kings.

It’s been four years since Staveley’s previous book—the spin-off prequel to the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy—Skullsworn was published. The Empire’s Ruin marked Staveley’s return to the Annurian Empire and beyond. Yes, this is a continuation of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series by Brian Staveley. I’ve read all of Staveley’s books; I’m a fan of the main trilogy, but I became a HUGE fan of his books because of Skullsworn. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and Staveley exceeded my expectations as high as a soaring kettral. Before I get down to what made The Empire’s Ruin so amazing, I will first answer the question: can this be read without reading the previous books? It depends on each reader, but I personally say no; you will be missing out on so much important context, nuance, and character development even if the main story itself is technically a new storyline. To give a few popular examples, are you okay with reading Iron Gold by Pierce Brown without reading the first trilogy? Are you okay with reading The Tawny Man trilogy by Robin Hobb without reading The Farseer trilogy first? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you can start reading from here without reading the previous books. I honestly can’t and won’t do it; as a reader, I need to read everything in publication/series order. This is not just for completion’s sake, but also to make sure I get every meat of the story and character’s journey. I will elaborate more on this below.

“There were times to lie low, to watch and wait, to play the long game. And then there were times when you needed to light the world on fire and watch it explode.”

The Empire’s Ruin is the first book in the Ashes of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. More than five years have passed since the end of The Last Mortal Bond, and the Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The number of kettral—giant war hawks—that the Kettral has in their arsenal has dwindled, and the kenta gates that allow instant travel across the vast empire can no longer be used. In order to save the empire, Gwenna Sharpe received a mission from the emperor to take a journey beyond the Annurian Empire—to Menkiddoc, a dangerous land that warps and poisons all living things—to find the possible nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Then there’s also Ruc’s survival story in Dombang, and in the meantime, Akiil—a monk turned con artist—may hold the secret to using the kenta gates. If you crave a new epic fantasy tome with a darker tone, this should be right up your alley. Clocking in at more than 300,000 words and almost 800 pages long, The Empire’s Ruin is a character-driven epic fantasy that magnificently displayed the themes of life, death, faith, leadership, loyalty, and overcoming failures. The three main POV characters have storylines that were mostly separate from each other, but I found all of them to be almost equally captivating; they can’t be equal due to Gwenna’s storyline being too top-notch.

“Gwenna Sharpe was hardly the most skilled among the Kettral. Her own wing included stronger fighters, more proficient archers, superior tacticians. What set Sharpe apart, what made her the Wing’s true commander, was her unconquerable heart.”

Gwenna Sharpe, oh Gwenna Sharpe. I honestly thought Staveley wouldn’t be able to craft a character that outshined Pyrre Lakatur, and I was proven wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been a fan of Gwenna from the first trilogy, and I’m sure that sentiment has been echoed by a lot of readers as well. However, Staveley’s achievement in building Gwenna’s character through the brutal voyage in The Empire’s Ruin should earn him an award or two. It was so good. It was insanely good. Gwenna’s grand character arc was redolent of reading Kaladin’s story in The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson; this is not acclaims I give lightly. In fact, the words “The Way of Kings” were mentioned in this book; whether that’s intentional or not, I think it was so apt.

“A path unfolded slowly. If you followed a path too far in the wrong direction all you had to do was turn around, start walking back the other way. What had happened to her felt more like a breakage. The right force had been applied at the right time in the right way, and something inside her had snapped, something that could not be put back.”

Gwenna’s role and appearances in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne were not infinitesimal in impact; she was practically one of the main characters, and she indeed became one in The Last Mortal Bond. That’s why I say it’s a necessity to read the first trilogy to fully appreciate the immense character’s development and growth that shaped Gwenna in this novel. She’s badass, foul-mouthed, unconquerable, and utterly inspiring. The Empire’s Ruin is not for the faint of heart; Gwenna encountered torment—both physically and mentally—numerous times. But I’m enthusiastic about reading broken characters that try their best to survive, rise from their failures, and fight no matter what. I have a soft spot for characters who have lost all hope but find something to fight for, usually sparked by unforeseen circumstances or relationships. And Gwenna’s relationship with the ragtag band of semi-strangers—Kiel, Rat, Cho Lu, Pattick, Bhuma Dhar—she met was a bright highlight of the book for me. After reading The Empire’s Ruin, I will say this: Gwenna has seriously become one of my favorite characters of all time, and she’s Staveley’s most well-crafted character.

“You are the unfolding, Gwenna. You are the change. You are whatever it is that, in the face of misery and bliss and bafflement, keeps going.”

As I‘ve mentioned, Gwenna’s story was just too spectacular, and from my perspective, she’s THE main character of this novel, but this doesn’t mean that the other character’s storylines were boring. The second main character is Ruc Lakatur Lan Lac; he’s a brand new character, but if you’ve read Skullsworn, you’ll know who he is. Ruc’s POV was quite likely the only one that you can read without reading the previous books first, but you would still benefit from reading Skullsworn because Ruc’s entire storyline takes place in Dombang—the setting of Skullsworn. Dombang is a terrifying place, and Staveley utilized Ruc’s POV chapters to show the decimation and conflicts that can be brought by faith. I loved reading the characterizations of Ruc and his development with Bien; their romance and survival stories always felt engaging to me.

‘“Every people has a story of their golden age. How it was different. Better. More noble. It’s funny how those golden ages are always in the past, always eclipsed by some more recent catastrophe. You think Dombang was better two hundred years ago, but go back two hundred years, and I promise you, the people then were just like us. They were angry, confused, afraid. And they thought that they’d already missed it, some golden age that took place two hundred years before them, or five hundred, or a thousand…” He turned from the stars to look at Ruc. “Instead of worshipping the past, I’d like to work on the present.”
“By murdering people.”
“Some people need murdering.”’

Akiil, on the other hand, didn’t have many appearances compared to Gwenna and Ruc. Akiil was Kaden’s friend and a side character in The Emperor’s Blades; similar to Gwenna’s POV chapters, reading the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne first will enhance Akiil’s POV. The reason behind this is that his story is intertwined heavily with one of the main characters from the first trilogy, and the Shin Monk, kenta gates, the concept of vaniate, and Csestriim are crucial elements of Staveley’s world-building. I wish there were more of Akiil’s chapters, and fortunately, judging from the convergence that occurred at the final chapters of his plot, I think we’ll get to witness that more in the sequel.

“When had that ever not been true? She was no historian, but you didn’t need to be in order to see that the chronicle of the world was a chronicle of things going wrong, of plague and famine, slaughter, rebellion, greed and cowardice, human misery wide as the sea.”

Venturing beyond the Annurian Empire to Menkiddoc and Dombang, then learning more about the Nevariim, Csestriim, monsters, leach, kettral, and more was a terrific reading experience. I’ve always felt that Staveley’s world-building could be expanded further, and he delivered what I wanted here. The Empire’s Ruin is both epic in scope and battle sequences. Praising Staveley’s action sequences in The Empire’s Ruin can be considered a challenge on its own. Why? Well, he didn’t just create one unforgettable scene, and he also didn’t create two; he wrote at least THREE incredibly iconic scenes that are on par with The Immortal Words scenes from The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. There’s the blood-crazed and pulse-pounding aerial battle; the bloodsoaked keelhauling scene; lastly, the entire final chapter that left me literally breathless.

“Pain is a gift… It keeps the weary soldiers awake. It reminds the irresolute warrior that there is work still to finish. It whispers in the ear of all who feel it something they might otherwise forget: You are not dead.”

The culmination of emotions, stakes, unpredictability, and intensity poured into the final chapter was absolutely mind-blowing. Additionally, I want to also briefly say that Jonon lem Jonon is one of the most despicable characters; I love to hate him. Every confrontation that involved Jonon was brimming with fury, chaos, and tension. I frankly don’t think this book would’ve been this awesome without the conflicts between Gwenna and Jonon. Staveley’s characterizations and actions were deadly precise, and this book shows once more why he’s—in my opinion—one of the best fantasy writers when it comes to prose’s quality.

“You couldn’t think about it, all the world’s suffering, or it would choke you. If you stopped to ponder all that misery, you’d never start moving again.”

Ever since I finished Skullsworn a few years ago, I’ve constantly praised Staveley’s prose; philosophical, memorable, and also beautiful and destructive. Staveley’s prose is exemplary, a gift to the fantasy genre, and I’m truly grateful I get the chance to read another epic fantasy novel from him. Sometimes, I believe that the greatness of prose in a fantasy novel can be measured by how many passages we end up highlighting. Well, I’ve certainly executed that course of action here; I’ve shared some of my favorites on this review, and I’ll present you with one more:

“Life is an unwinnable fight, Gwenna Sharpe. If ends are all that matter, then we are all fools and failures.”

I love epic fantasy so much, it is my favorite genre of books, and it’s always a blessing to me to be reminded just how excellent new fantasy releases can be. The dark brilliance of The Empire’s Ruin is inestimable. The ambitious blade of imagination that Staveley manifested in this novel surpassed my expectations in every possible way. Whether it’s the heart-hammering onslaughts, the savage battle sequences, the superb character development, or the enviable prose, everything about The Empire’s Ruin is undoubtedly a precious work of art. For almost a year now, my list of all-time favorite authors hasn’t increased, and it is with temerity and happiness I can include Brian Staveley as a worthy addition to the list. There’s still a few months before The Empire’s Ruin is officially released, and if you haven’t done it, I urge you to read the four books in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne ASAP. Ashes of the Unhewn Throne is guaranteed to be a superior epic fantasy series compared to its predecessor. And I want you to experience The Empire’s Ruin—Staveley’s newest masterwork—at its height without missing any crucial development or details. Read the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, then read The Empire's Ruin. Thank me later.

Official release date: 8th July 2021 (UK) and 6th July 2021 (US)

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping) | The Broken Binding (Use my code: NOVELNOTIONS121 for discount!)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions

Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing!

My Patrons: Alfred, Alya, Annabeth, Ben, Blaise, Devin, Diana, Dylan, Edward, Ellen, Gary, Hamad, Helen, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Lufi, Melinda, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas, Sarah, Seth, Shaad, Summer, Zoe.
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
725 reviews1,202 followers
September 16, 2021
I now have a Booktube channel! Find me at: The Obsessive Bookseller

[4.5/5 stars] Ever finish an amazing series feeling like there should be more? Know the pure elation at discovering there actually will be more?! That’s how I felt when learning Staveley was continuing in the Annurian Empire.

I left the Unhewn Throne Trilogy happy that I’d read it but found myself ever so slightly dissatisfied with how a few things played out. Empire’s Ruin, continuing the same timeline albeit through different POVs, alleviated all of the uneasy feelings I’d had. I was worried about diving in without a reread, but the story stands solidly enough on its own that I only needed to remember a couple of characters (I recalled two of the three), and major climactic events. Other than that, it jumped right in to a new set of exotic adventures!

The fun world-building is the first thing I highlight when talking about Staveley’s works. His setting is a deadly jungle reminiscent of the Amazon filled with jaguars, snakes, alligators, and pretty much every other man-eating threat the author could think of. He does an amazing job at immersing you in the setting and having the environment play an active role in the story.

The Emperor’s Blade, the first book of the Unhewn Throne, still claims a spot in my very conservative list of all-time favorites. It had the perfect balance of characters, setting, and world-building, but stood out to me for its training sequences. I love when characters learn skills in books, and was wondering if I’d enjoy this continuation as much without that element. As it turns out, the author must share my appreciation for those components because he included more in Empire’s Ruin! Not quite to the same degree, but it did satisfy my craving.

Comparatively, the only thing that kept my rating from solid five star was that the story progression between the three POVs was not very well distributed, especially in the back half of the book. Granted, he focused most of his efforts on the most interesting thread, which was stellar, but did not advance the plots for the other two quickly enough for my satisfaction. I usually don’t notice pacing issues in multiple POV fantasy novels like this (other than in Feast of Crows… don’t get me started), but it struck me that several sittings later and the characters two of the plots were still sitting around arguing about the same things instead of actually doing the things. Had Gwenna’s POV been removed completely I think I would’ve been saying I liked the story but he could’ve done so much more with it. Especially the arena stuff (yes, there’s an arena… the idea was initially so compelling, but not much happened with it). I’m hoping we’ll get more in the next book so it doesn’t feel like those were just filler sections.

Recommendations: overall, Empire’s Ruin was an awesome continuation after the Unhewn Throne Trilogy, but make sure to read that one first unless you don’t care about major spoilers (I don’t know how people can be okay with spoilers, but it’s more common than I realized… freaks. ;P). This is an excellent fantasy adventure series perfect for those who like a lot of action, cool settings, and multiple POV stories.

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com

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The Waking Fire (The Draconis Memoria, #1) by Anthony Ryan The Thief's Gamble (The Tales of Einarinn #1) by Juliet E. McKenna The Lascar's Dagger (The Forsaken Lands #1) by Glenda Larke Kings of the Wyld (The Band, #1) by Nicholas Eames The Rage of Dragons (The Burning #1) by Evan Winter
Profile Image for Navessa.
Author 10 books7,522 followers
July 6, 2021

This was my most anticipated book of 2021 and somehow it still blew my expectations out of the water.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Staveley is a fantasy writer at the peak of his powers. Every time I read one of his books, I look back at all the others I’ve given five stars to lately and subtract a star from every one of them.

He sets the bar that high.

He sets the bar so high that I have no problem waiting however long it takes for him to release a new book. It’s been roughly four years since Skullsworn came out, and while I know a lot of readers complain about these gaps, I have zero angst about it in the case of Staveley. Maybe that’s because up until now, he was somehow cranking one of these behemoths out every year. Or maybe it’s because I’m an author myself. I read The Empire’s Ruin, and after I finished it, I thought, “LOL, four years? It would have taken me ten to come up with something half as good as this.”

I’m not being mean to myself here. He and I write in different genres and our styles aren’t nearly the same. Also, he’s better than me. I’m not fishing for compliments or putting myself down. He’s just plain better, and I am not only super okay with that, but thrilled by it, because it gives me something to look forward to. Also, it makes me want to improve, and I’m one of those competitive assholes who needs that in my life.

But enough about my ego. Let’s talk about this book.

"There were times to lie low, to watch and wait, to play the long game. And then there were times when you needed to light the world on fire and watch it explode."

In this world, there is an elite force of fighters who fly into battle on the wings of warhawks the size of city buses. The birds, which the soldiers are named after, are called Kettral. The Kettral troops have several memorable sayings, but one stuck in my mind while reading this: goatfuck.

Simply put, a goatfuck is what happens when all your carefully laid plans blow up in your face and the mission goes to complete shit. That is what we dive into with this book. It’s how it opens. It’s how it progresses. It’s even a great reflection of the empire the Kettral serve. Half a decade has passed since the events of the first trilogy in this series, and Annur is collapsing.

We see this collapse through three different narratives. Akiil shows us the capital of the empire and the desperation of its emperor. Ruc shows us a rebellious city one riot away from tearing itself apart. And Gwenna, oh, Gwenna. She shows us everything it is to be human.

When I first saw the cover for this and the figure with the flaming red hair on it, I knew she’d play a pivitol role. My initial review was this:

Gwenna Sharpe. She’s something of a legend in my household. I made my husband read these books, and he loves her just as much as I do, so much that he named his main character in World of Warcraft after her.

That’s true love, ya’ll.

I’ve been low-key obsessed with her since I first laid eyes on her in The Emperor’s Blades, when she was nothing but a wise-cracking, tough-as-nails demolitions troop with hidden depths. And now, well, with this installment, Staveley cemented her as my favorite female lead of all time. I don’t even… fuck, how do I talk about her? How do I explain how multifaceted she is? How strong? How vulnerable? How human?

I don’t often struggle with words, but in the case of this character, I can’t say anything, because you just need to read the damn books to understand.

Speaking of which, READ THE BOOKS. Not just the first trilogy, but also Skullsworn. It introduces you to the city that a third of this book is set in. I mean, Staveley does a great job explaining it all in a way you could grasp if you skip Skullsworn but I still recommend reading it to really get a good understanding of what you’re walking into, as well as learning the origin story of one of the key characters.

So by this part of the book review, you’re probably wondering what the hell takes place within it. I’d love to tell you. To dive into the intricacy of the plot. The thievery and skullduggery and swashbuckling hijinks of these characters. But it releases the day I’m posting this review, and, my god, the spoilers are REAL, friends. Also, it’s over 800 pages long and if I start to dig into the meat of it, this review will become the length of a thesis paper.

I’ll tease you instead.

The empire is falling apart. A stealth mission turns into a goatfuck. A thieving monk gets in way over his head. A boy raised by bloodthirsty gods finds himself fighting for his life in an arena while a city implodes around him. Creatures of myth and legend still stalk the world. And the battle for supremacy hinges on an impossible mission to plunge into a dark, diseased continent and retrieve an object that could save Annur from ruin.

I know we’re only halfway through the year, but I’m going to go ahead and call it now:

Profile Image for Lukasz.
1,310 reviews213 followers
April 14, 2021
The Empire’s Ruin opens a new chapter in the Unhewn Throne world’s history. It follows separate (but converging) plotlines for three characters, all (except one) known to Staveley’s fans. The story opens in the middle of the action and never slows down.

The world is a mess, and the Annurian empire is in shambles. Wherever you look, things are going from bad to worse. And for Gwenna, things turned disastrous. After failing both her team and her empire, she’s stripped of rank. Because of her unique skills and training, The Emperor sends her beyond the edge of the known world to find the nesting ground of the Kettral (giant war hawks). And, perhaps, to redeem herself.

Staveley’s characters are distinct, fleshed-out and memorable. Gwenna’s struggles with self-loathing and apathy felt nuanced and convincing. She’s a badass, but everyone has limits and in The Empire’s Ruin Staveley crossed them. No, not crossed. He scorched them with napalm. Gwenna’s deconstruction and the amount of pain she went through would destroy lesser characters.
The other two POV characters, Ruc Lakatur Lac Lan (a child of a killer raised by apex predators, turned the Priest of The Goddess of Love) and Akiil (a shin monk and a thief) have compelling arcs too. Ruc wants to share love but has to fight for survival in the arena (with other warriors and his violent instincts). Akiil proves that monastic discipline can serve as the perfect foundation for a life of crime.

Staveley's characters have origin stories rooted in trauma and violence, and he captures it all masterfully. He writes violence with a distressing matter-of-factness and graphic detail without luxuriating in it. No one really thrives in this brutal world, and perhaps one way to survive it requires losing sensitivity? But that's the easy path and his characters rarely take the easy way.

As the plot of The Empire’s Ruin unfolds, more and more information about the past and the Csestriim’s heritage seeps in. They have eradicated the Nevariim, but have you ever wondered at what price? The answer may lead to the undoing of the world, especially if the inconspicuous weapon falls in the wrong hands.

There is much in The Empire's Ruin that follows the conventions of the fantasy genre, but Staveley finds a way to make it feel fresh. I mean, we get fantasy BlackOps flying on giant birds (Kettral) and godlike members of ancient races fighting for power (Nevariim) or understanding (Csetriim). Thanks to his imagination, great prose, as well as twists on familiar cliches, Staveley's work stands head and shoulders above the mass of multi-volume fantasy series.

Besides providing action, drama, and perilous adventures, The Empire's Ruin explores deeper themes – love and death, humanity, and the meaning of life.

In theory, The Empire’s Ruin opens a new trilogy with new players and new stakes. In practice, readers who haven’t read The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne or Skullsworn will lose a lot of nuances and probably won’t enjoy it as much as those who already know the world and the characters. I strongly advise you to start at the beginning and enjoy the wild ride.

CONCLUSION: The first book in a series has the difficult job of being a compelling novel in its own right while preparing for what will follow. The Empire's Ruin delivers on both fronts. This ferociously gripping, blood-soaked, and character-driven epic is outstanding.

Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,608 reviews1,481 followers
July 30, 2021
This review was originally posted on Books of My Heart

Review copy was received from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Empire's Ruin is the first book in The Ashes of the Unhewn Throne series set about five years after all the events in the parent series the Chronical of the Unhewn Throne . I was on the fence about if I wanted to jump into this series. The reason, I loved the first two books of the Unhewn Throne but the third really didn't live up to my extremely high expectations. Staveley is a great writer though and I loved Gwenna from the first series so I gave it a try and I am not disappointed. This is a series you really need to have read the parent series, at least up to the third book to really get a lot of the history, especially of the Kettral.

Gwenna, was probably my favorite female character from the parent series. She is a fiery girl who likes to blow stuff up and has proved her strength in so many situations. She came to leadership through some hard battles and rolled the dice and won so many times she sometimes feels invincible and that every crazy plan is going to work, until it didn't. She made some calls and lost the last Kettral and a few of her team. Now she has to go on some crazy mission in hopes of redeeming herself and the mistakes she has made. It is a hard road out of that dark place she is in with her confidence lost. She will pick up a few new friends along the way and make plenty of enemies. Her story is action packed in a strange land with danger and monsters around every corner. My favorite new ally was Rat, a little girl in this monstrous land with a lot of fight in her.

Ruc was a priest of the goddess of love. Well at least that is the role he has played for the last fifteen years, prior to that he was raised by godlike creatures in what basically amounted to a swamp. He learned how to kill, how to hunt and how to live in the swamp until he found he was also supposed to kill the humans that came there as tribute. He is trying so hard to suppress the violence inside him which becomes neigh on impossible once his temple is burnt down and he is thrown into a gladiator style competition with his long time lover, Baen. They will have to escape if they really want to survive, but they will also need to hurry because a new God is headed to his city and that God wants all to live in chains of submission.

This story line was just as exciting as Gwenna's, probably because I always enjoy Gladiator type scenarios in stories and I really wanted to learn more about Ruc's past, living with two of The Three (the gods of the city he currently lives in). Plus this is the only story that had any hint of love/romance not that those ever seem to work out in Staveley books. Ruc and Baen do love each other but have both been keeping pretty big secrets, so I'm not sure they will survive the series, let alone come out the other side still connected by love.

The last PoV that really gets the least amount of time in this story is Akiil. He was one of the monks who grew up with Aidan from the first series and we met him briefly. He has pretty much been a grifter since the destruction of his Order of Monks. He has come to the capitol to perform the biggest grift of his life on the Emperor. There are transportation gates you can use if you know how to get to the right mindset, Akiil is going to temp the Emperor with the idea that he can train her how to use those gates. She is going to need them with the Kettral gone and her empire in trouble from multiple sides. If she is going to hold onto power, she will need something huge to help her.

This was a pretty action packed story and I really had a great time being in the world. All the PoVs were interesting but Gwenna's and Ruc's PoVs were so intense at times. I love Staveley's prose; he is so good at describing what things feel like and the flow of the story is really strong. He really is a great fantasy writer, here is hoping he doesn't break me in my journey through his new series.
As a reader I really appreciate when there are multiple narrators for different PoVs. Moira Quirk did a great job with capturing the spunk, depression and desperation in Gwenna's chapters. Her representation of Rat and all the other characters really made them come to life. Joe James0n and Oliver Cudbill also were fantastic in really bringing their PoVs to life and making the listener really feel the danger and hope the characters have. This is a series where the audio helps make the book even better. I was able to listen at my usual 1.5x speed.

Listen to a clip: HERE
Profile Image for FanFiAddict.
548 reviews136 followers
March 31, 2021
Rating: 10/10

Thanks to the publisher and author for an advance reading copy of The Empire’s Ruin (Ashes of the Unhewn Throne #1) for review consideration. This did not influence my thoughts or opinions.

The Empire’s Ruin is the epitome of high fantasy. An unrelenting, staggering piece of fiction that goes above and beyond in every single facet of the genre. Fans of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne saga will agree that this is Staveley’s best yet.

If I’m being honest, I don’t think the word “high” or “epic” fantasy does this tome justice. I’m thinking of starting a new sub-genre of fantasy called “colossal”. Staveley has certainly outdone himself with this massive first volume in a new trilogy and I am here for every single word he puts to the page.

If I’m being honest, I was sold on this book simply because of the Kettral. Freaking giant war hawks that warriors ride into battle. What’s not to love about that?

What ended up happening is that I fell head over heels for Staveley’s characters and the awe-inspiring world he has built. Every part of the puzzle is so meticulously pieced together, fleshed-out to a ‘T’, and painted with a delicate brush to ensure they all fit into the mold just so. With so many names thrown around, you’d think it’d be easy to get lost, but their uniqueness make them mainstays in your mind throughout the entirety of the read.

The story is told from three (3) POVs: Gwenna, Ruc & Akiil, all of whom fans of the original trilogy ought be familiar with. While Ruc and Akiil have very entertaining storylines, Gwenna’s stole the show from the very beginning. I found myself enjoying the the chapters where she wasn’t the main focus, but I simply craved more and more from her POV.

First off – Kettral (check).

Second – Bada$$ female protagonist (check).

Third – Enjoys blowing sh*t up (check).

Fourth – Despises authority (check).

There are more, but you get the point. She is amazing in every which way you want me to sell it and seems to be an instantaneous way to hook readers into the rest of the novel.

Staveley doesn’t waste time in beginning by bringing the reader into the fold, explaining what has happened in previous installments. I applaud him for that. He starts off assuming you know exactly what’s what and then blazes a trail with unmatched ferocity. Good news is: if you haven’t read any of the Chronicle novels, you can read Empire like it’s the first of its kind. While there are names and experiences from the previous series mentioned, it does not detract whatsoever from your intended enjoyment.

I want to say more, but alas, it will simply spoil the read for you. Just know that if you decide to take this journey, you won’t be disappointed. That is a FanFiAddict guarantee that you can take to the bank.

Also, Richard Anderson (cover artist) still continues to amaze me… like dude, settle down so my wallet can recover. Seriously. Stop being so good for like a few months so I can recover.
8 reviews3 followers
January 14, 2020
I have read the current draft of this book and can unqualifiedly say that it is impossible to put down. I think it is not only one of the best fantasy books I have read, but one of the best books I have ever read.

Brian Staveley uses the Malkeenian Empire and the distant past that still haunts the present to maximum effect. You will think about the characters and their quandaries long after you have finished the book.

I will not put in possible spoilers now, but you should put this book at the top of your lists for reading.

Profile Image for Deborah Obida.
673 reviews602 followers
May 1, 2022
“History is never over. Sometimes it sleeps for a while, that is all.”

The Empire’s Ruin is the first book in The Ashes of Unhewn Throne series and the spin-off series of Chronicles of Unhewn Throne, I dislike the way the last book in the initial series ended and I have some issues with that series though I liked it, this book fixed most of the issues. I love it when authors improve in their work.

This events in this book took place five years after the initial series, not a big time jump, from the title of the series it’s apparent that things are not going well in the empire. The comradeship, friendship and romance in this book was well executed, I was surprised to see the romance, the fight scenes are well depicted and the magic system is one of the kind, way more than the first book. The incorporation of love in this book was shocking and well portrayed.

“Love is not earned,” he quoted. “Love exists beyond all limit and precondition. It is given absolutely, or it is not love. It is given with no thought of merit or blame—”

World building and Writing
The world building and writing is awesome, I love how Brian Staveley describes his world, especially the Delta(which is like the Amazon forest with lots of deadly creatures that can kill you before you scream), there’s also Dombang, the continent of Menkidocc, these three places are all new places, then there’s Annur, the parts of Annur in this book was at a minimal. The book is written in third person multiple POV of Gwenna, Bien and Akiil. The POV switch was well done and the writing was easy to understand.

“Measure a person not by what they keep,” Stupid said from beneath the hat, “but by what they can afford to throw away.”

The characters are phenomenal and well written, I don’t have a favourite yet. Some of them are
Gwenna- Gwenna was in the original series, she is known for being brash and hot tempered but at the same time brave, caring and courageous, when things hit the fan here, she went through all the stages of grief, I’m glad she didn’t give up.

Akiil is also a character from the original series, he didn’t have a POV there. Akiil is the only one who survived the slaughter of the Shin monks. Akiil had some questionable qualities but I find I don’t mind much, given what he went through in life.

Ruc is a new character, he is a native of Dombang, he is good natured and tried so hard to be a good person but life never gives us what we want. He is a priest of Eira,( the goddess of love).

Bien is also a great character, a priestess of Eira of her life then something horrible happened that put her faith in doubt.

Some other great characters here are Talal, Rat, Cho Lin and Pattick, Adare is still here making stupid decisions as usual.

“Life is an unwinnable fight, Gwenna Sharpe. If ends are all that matter, then we are all fools and failures.”

The title of the books says it all, it’s been five years since the civil war and the empire is yet to recover, to make things worse some kingdoms under the empire like Dombang successfully emancipated from the empire, the empire still lack the kettrel birds that made them formidable. Gwenna went on a mission to get more from a distant continent.

Dombang finally got the imperial freedom they wanted but somehow things are worse now than before and something is lurking in the delta.

“A thing I have learned about both monsters and madness,” he replied, “is that they range more widely than people are willing to believe.”
Profile Image for Jayadev.
49 reviews14 followers
June 3, 2021
ARC provided by the publisher Pan Macmillan through Netgalley. This does not affect my opinions and overall rating of the book in any manner.

Minor spoilers for the previous series

The Empire's Ruin is the first book in the 'Ashes of the Unhewn Throne' which itself is the sequel series to the author's previous trilogy 'The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne'. Taking place years after the events of 'The Last Mortal Bond', Staveley brings us an Annurian empire that is stagnating, the cost of their past victories finally caught up with them. Territories they had previously held have begun breaking off and the Kettral (The imperial Assassins, also referring to the giant birds that the assassin's employ), the most deadliest weapon the in Annurian's possession are all but decimated. Empress Adare hui’Malkeenian stands atop it all watching helplessly as the slow disintegration of her Empire unfolds. She charges Gwenna Sharpe, the current leader of the Kettral with the task of travelling to the most remote and dangerous corner of the world to retrieve Kettral eggs so that the Empire may restore their Kettral population.

Gwenna Sharpe is the first of the three point of views that we follow in this book. The commander of the Kettral is stripped of her rank after botching a mission she was in charge of which resulted in the death of her comrades and permanently crippling the Kettral. Gwenna must travel to the continent of Menkiddoc, a largely unexplored land filled with dangers and a poison that twists and deforms all its inhabitants. Gwenna was a relatively minor character most of the time in the previous trilogy, it was only in the last book that she finally got the spotlight she needed. I had mixed feelings for her character initially, it's hard to relate to a character if all their personality consists of is cursing and blowing shit up once the novelty wares off. It was only after 'The Last Mortal Bond' did I finally begin enjoying her character. Depressed and broken after her failure, she is determined to complete this mission. We get to see how much of a badass she is and we hope for her success. But life is cruel and redemption is never easily earned. Gwenna's story is the struggle she has to endure between holding on to life or loosing herself to past regrets. She walks a thin line and each subsequent event pushes her to either side. The supporting characters work around this balance beautifully with some trying to push her off the edge whereas others try to pull her back. These include Kiel, the imperial historian and a reoccurring character who is not what he seems (you'll know if you've read th previous series) and Rat, an orphan girl found in Menkiddoc whom Gwenna is given responsibility over. Then there's admiral Jonon lem Jonon, who acts as a barrier to Gwenna's progress at every turn. This dynamic results in scenes of badassery and emotional gut punching moments that finally elevated my views on her character.

"To destroy is to swim with the current of reality. Once a thing is shattered— and this applies to people”— he glanced down at his withered hands—“ as well as to castle walls— once a thing is broken, the world rarely allows for it to be put back together. Not the same way, at least.”

The second POV is of Ruc, a priest of Eira (goddess of love) and a resident of Dombang, a city that has freed itself from the Annurian empire after two hundred years of occupation. Dombang follows in the bloody practices of resident divinities called 'The Three'. This includes violence, blood and human sacrifices they conduct in the name of the Three. The aftermath a certain "incident" leaves Ruc and fellow priest Bien having their whole world turned on its head. Trapped in a prison, destined for sacrifice in a city that loathes them, they must find unexpected alliances in-order to escape. Ruc's arc deals with his struggling belief. Born into a life under the gods of violence and then abandoning it for the patronage of another, Ruc struggles to hold on to his new belief in a world that constantly threatens to pull him back to his old savage self. Ruc's fellow priest and lover Bien is all that holds him back but Bien has her own demon's that she cannot bring herself to face. Together with allies which includes new and reoccurring faces, they must escape their prison as ominous threat looms in the distance.

"Half the people in this city would gut us on sight, and the other half would only hold back in order to feed us to their blood-hungry so-called gods."

The third and final POV is of Akiil, a reoccurring character with a minor role in the previous series. A friend to the late Kaden (previous heir to the empire) and a thief. Akiil's story deals mostly around the empress and his services to solve one of the Empire's growing problems. Although he doesn't have the same amount of focus as Gwenna and Ruc, it's clear that the author has set up his character in such a way that he will play a more important role in the sequel. This was the weakest story-line in my opinion simply because there wasn't enough focus on his story but I have a feeling that this was intentional.

Worldbuilding is one of Staveley's strengths, he takes us on a journey across lands unlike any that we've known in previous series. Be it Dombang the city built upon a river delta or the toxic wastes of Menkiddoc, the author has a way of keeping our attention while he also unveils the world to us. More information is shed about the elder races that present in the world. The ominous threat mentioned earlier is also brought into light as we piece together bits and pieces of information received from the three point of view's.

“People go everywhere,” Kiel countered. “It is one of the fascinating, inexplicable things about people. Bring word of an island of fire lost in a poisonous sea and someone will build a ship to sail there, just to stare into the combustion with their own eyes as they burn.”

All that said, there are issues. The pacing drops quickly after that explosive start and it takes a while for it to get back in track. Some of the secondary characters felt flat. The ending was really well done for one plot-line, rushed for another and for the third one it was just more of an abrupt stop (I didn't even know that plot-line ended until I finished the book). Personally I would have liked to space the ending of the second plot-line a little bit more (I don't have much of a solution for the third one).

This was indeed a strong start for a sequel series that didn't have the advantage of centering around the protagonists of the earlier series. Even though I had my issues with it, the things I liked way outweighed the things I didn't. This has been one of may favorite reads of 2021 and I will be waiting patiently for more.

*Stares at unread copy of Skullsworn *

"Well at least I have something to read in the meantime"
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,032 reviews2,604 followers
August 4, 2021
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2021/07/29/...

The Empire’s Ruin is epic in every sense of the word—epic in scope, epic in ambition, epic in its delivery. But if you’re familiar with Brian Staveley’s other works in The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, this should come as no surprise. It has been more than four years since his last novel, the standalone Skullsworn, but clearly he has lost nothing of his craft as he returns to the Annurian Empire with a furiously bold and inexorable new tale.

As the opening volume of a new trilogy called Ashes of the Unhewn Throne, this novel begins a new adventure in a world on the brink of ruin following the decimation of the Kettral and the fact that the kenta gates, long used by emperors to instantly travel to any point in their vast empire, are now defunct. Of course, reading the previous trilogy is highly recommended before tackling this one, but it is not completely necessary; Staveley does a bang-up job rehashing the details of past events you need to know, and newcomers will not miss a beat. A handful of years have passed since the end of The Last Moral Bond, and the story now shifts to a new group of POV characters, though longtime fans may recognize a couple names. First, we have Gwenna Sharpe, our favorite Kettral—a member of the emperor’s elite warriors, named for the giant war birds they ride into battle. Faced with their dwindling ranks, Gwenna sets out on a journey to the faraway land of Menkiddoc in search of their fabled kettral nesting grounds, tasked to bring back new eggs.

Meanwhile, in the swamp city of Dombâng, a young priest named Ruc tries hard to forget his blood-soaked past as he dedicates his new life to Eira, the goddess of love. But Dombâng is now a city freed from the yoke of the Annurian Empire, and worship of the local deities have resurfaced. Residents conduct violent practices such as human sacrifices in the name of the Three, making it a dangerous situation for Ruc who is in a constant battle to resist an overwhelming instinct threatening to pull him back into the darkness. His fellow priest, friend, sometimes lover Bien helps to keep him in the light, but she also has her own secrets. As the dangers close in, the two of them must find a way to escape. And then there is Akiil, a monk-turned-grifter who uses his past connection with the emperor’s brother to ingratiate himself into her court. As the last surviving Shin monk, he may have the information Adare needs to unlock the secrets of the kenta gates, which would the use of them again.

Of the three perspectives, there was definitely one that outshone the others. If there was a main character, it would be Gwenna, who storyline easily dominated this novel, both in breadth and interest. Of course, she had the advantage of being a standout already from the previous trilogy, but if you are meeting her for the first time, I think you’d agree too—she’s a force to be reckoned with! Of all the characters in the supporting cast of Staveley’s novels, I’m glad he brought her back to have a starring role in a new series. I think fans both new and old will find her storyline to be the most fascinating and gripping. The runner-up would probably be Ruc, whose origins in the swamps and his subsequent misadventure in the ever changing social and religious landscape of Dombâng made for compelling character development. From the brackish waters of the delta to the harrowing life-or-death struggles in the arena, there was never a shortage of grit in Ruc’s chapters.

So that leaves Akiil. To be fair, there were some inherent reasons why his chapters might have been the weakest, which had nothing to do with the writing or storytelling. For one, his character’s role in this novel was relatively minor, and his time on the page was also the shortest. While there may be more planned for him later in the series, for now it appears his storyline is in the process of being established, and so we don’t get as much activity compared to the other two POV threads. That would be one of my criticisms, and there were a few other hiccups, including pacing issues cropping up here or there as momentum ebbed and flowed with the different character perspectives. However, in some ways that is to be expected with a novel of this size, and I think epic fantasy readers will know to roll with the punches.

All in all, I enjoyed my return to the world of The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, and with this introduction to a new series, we also got to see more of the universe. For me, it was a perfect mix of the new and the old, and the addition of more exciting action and magic on top of a solid foundation. Brian Staveley has come a long way since The Emperor’s Blade, and his talent and reputation as a fantasy genre powerhouse has only grown with every novel since his debut. Reading his books is always a pleasure, and The Empire’s Ruin was definitely worth the wait.

Audiobook Comments: At more than 35 hours, this was quite a hefty listen, but this is also why I frequently prefer epic fantasy in this format, since it makes it easier to stay focused and I get through them much faster. I also enjoyed the three narrators that they tapped to read The Empire’s Ruin, especially Moira Quirk, as I’ve been a fan of hers for a while. Joe Jameson and Oliver Cudbill also delivered great performances, and together the trio did fine work with the mix of alternative POVs and side character voices. It definitely made sense to have multiple narrators, and this audiobook ended up being an immersive listen.
Profile Image for Rob Hayes.
Author 35 books1,369 followers
September 7, 2021
As a whole this books was utterly fantastic (as I expected from Brian Staveley) and such a good start of a new series that I'm chomping at the bit for book 2.

Set a decade or so after the events of Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, Empire's Ruin follows one of the best bit characters from the previous trilogy. Along with a couple of new characters.

The characterisations are fantastic, the story is compelling, the world is fascinating, and the prose is delicious. For the most part I absolutely loved the book and was finding excuses to stick my headphones in and listen to one more chapter.

I will say I found one of the Point of View characters to be such a chore though. It's not that he's not characterised well... but that I hated his character even though I'm sure I wasn't supposed to. I think he was supposed to be charming, but he came across as so obnoxious that I hated him. Luckily, he had the smallest part to play and the other two characters were brilliant. Special mention to Gwenna's part of the story for being so well crafted both in terms of external and internal journey and growth.

The narration, for the most part, was top notch. Except one of the 3 narrators... who also happened to be narrating the character I hated.

Anyways, 4 out of 5 stars and by the gods I hope the next one is coming soon.
Profile Image for Esmay Rosalyne.
800 reviews
July 8, 2021
New favourite book of the year. This was SO good!!
Also, I don't know if I want to be Gwenna, want to be friends with Gwenna or should be f*cking scared of Gwenna. Oh well, she is for sure one of my all time favourite characters and I cannot wait to see the rest of her story 😍
Profile Image for Ned Ludd.
708 reviews16 followers
July 24, 2021
Despite my issues with this piece of work, it definitely merits 5 stars. Masterful prose and violent as fuck. Good stuff!
Profile Image for Kyle Erickson.
377 reviews163 followers
March 9, 2023
Did I love it? Did I hate it? Was it meh? Who knows! I will be revealing my thoughts live with my friend Benghis Kahn, fellow previous-and-perhaps-continual Staveley hater, this week. Tune in next time on Dragon Ball Z!
Profile Image for SR.
136 reviews6 followers
May 9, 2022
HOLY FUCK THAT WAS AWESOME. Damn phenomenal. Best fantasy I’ve read this year. 10/10.

(Full disclosure: I did not know this book was a part of a spin-off series. I have not read the rest of the books but this one is awesome on its own.)
Profile Image for Srikkanth G.
189 reviews6 followers
July 16, 2021
The entire book felt like watching Mission Impossible movie without a deadline, a goal, any consequence but just action, character point of view and some plot.

Thanks to myself for spending an Audible Credit, listening for 34 hours (8 days straight listening) and writing an honest review (pun intended).

The biggest issue I have with this book is the exact opposite of why I loved the original Trilogy. The very first book of the Unhewn Throne starts with the death of an Emperor. Through Valyn we get to know that there are assassins on the prowl to kill Valyn, Kaden and even Adare. As readers, we are now glued to the book because we know that whatever is happening, there is an event waiting to happen, an impact if that event occurs and the challenges the people in the plot face.

The Empire's Ruin has none of those. Gwenna, the legendary dumb commander after sacrificing the only living Kettral Bird is now tasked to find new birds to be trained. What happens if she doesn't complete the task? Nothing. How much time does she have? As much as she wants. Her grandchildren can bring the eggs for all we know. In short, she is on a journey with no urgency.

Two priests of Ira is trying to make a living. Why? Who knows. They are in Dombang and is caught up in the aftermath of violence unleaded against the attack by the Empire on Dombang. Why should they escape? Well, they need survive. What happens if they escape? They will survive. How will this impact the story? No freaking clue. Well, it doesn't even matter what they do because they haven nothing to do with the entire plot.

Not to mention a 52min chapter on Akeel playing cards apart from other chapters dedicated to his pov. Why is that there? No idea. Why is his story there? No idea. What's his impact in the plot? No idea.

You see, the entire story doesn't make any sense because there is nothing threatening Adare, the Empire or anyone. Adare knows she is struggling to run an Empire, like all Emperors do, but how much time does she have to straight things out? Like Gwenna, her grandchild can solve her issues because there is no external threat.

Brain Steaveley could have wrote another 700 pages of book and still wouldn't have made it exciting because there is absolutely no urgency.

I'm fresh from re-listening Kings of the Wyld and that's why I'm drawing a comparison. Gabe has come to Clay to seek his help. Why? To reunite the band. Why? To save his daughter from possibly getting murdered. How long do they have? She needed saving yesterday. Now, you pay attention to the entire story because, as a reader, you know time is running out. You are now curious and excited to know how Gabe reunites the Band. How they overcome the challenges and how in hell will they reach the other side of the world to save Rose.

None of that exists in The Empire's Ruin. More than being mad at the author, I'm so mad at so called "Reviewers" who have honestly rated the book 5 stars. Have they even read the book or was it paid reviews? Now I know whom not to trust when it comes to reviews.

I had extremely high hopes because the Unhewn Throne is among my top 3 Fantasy Fiction books. The characters, the plot, the Kettral, oh my God, was amazing. I even loved Skullsworn and the character Pyrre. Not to forget the Audiobook narrated by Simon Vance. He bought all the characters live.

I do hope that the next book have something to read for.
Profile Image for  Charlie.
477 reviews218 followers
September 13, 2021
A masterful re-entry into the Annurian Empire four years in the making and worth every single moment. It feels like forever since I was able to enjoy Brian Staveley's specific brand of torture whereby, through the use of excellent story telling, he makes readers completely invest in his characters who he then proceeds to drag through all nine circles of hell. Sometimes he gives them a second go as well only he times them for fun.

In The Empire's Ruin, we find the Empire not quite in ruin. Gwenna, one of the last of the Kettrel and one of the few people Emperor Adare trusts, sends her on a mission, to restock the Annurians with the magnificent birds that give the Kettrel their name. It is a mission fraught with danger but more often than not Gwenna finds her actions the cause rather than the solution. It gets messy.

We also have Akiil, a thief and former student of the shin monks and associate of Kaden, who knows just enough about the Kenta to convince the Emperor that he can teach her to walk through one. His goal is do what thieves do and steal as much gold as he can even though he will be doing so under the guise of 'earning' it. Through his chapters we also catch up with Adare and she is having a tough time. Without the ranks of Kettrel she is has little to no communication with the world around her and she feels her empire start to slip through her fingers what he offers has a great value indeed.

Finally we have Ruc, a priest of love, though he was raised as one of the Vuo Ton, in the most dangerous and inhospitable swamp imaginable where his natural immunity to poison bestowed upon him a status he felt he did not deserve. Tired of death and killing he abandoned his people and culture and chose a different path. He could tear your heart out but he probably wont. He is our man on the ground.

The three pov's weave together a stunningly good story of struggle, self discovery, responsibility and so much more. There was so much in the original series to love and it's great fun to know that Staveley was just scratching the surface when it comes to what his world has to offer. The Empire's Ruin is an absolute treat of a book and, at 743 pages, also a beast. Don't let that bible paper fool you when you pick it up and think it's an easy 450.
Profile Image for Beth Rosser.
162 reviews9 followers
June 4, 2021
Another excellent book by Brian Staveley. I thoroughly enjoyed the first series, and I'm so glad to return to the world in this new series and revisit some familiar characters and meet some new ones. Saying that, if you haven't read the first series, you don't need to. It's been so long since I had read it that I had forgotten most of it anyway. I actually want to go back and read it all again now, but my books are packed away somewhere!

I love the characters in the book. Well, most of them. From broken Gwenna Sharpe to the indomitable Rat, the characters come alive throughout the book and you really get to know them. Some are more likable than others. Some you become more invested in than others. For example, I wasn't as keen on the story line of Akiil, but you can see why his story is important.

The plot is excellent and the pacing is very good. The book was pretty much unputdownable. I only stopped reading to sleep pretty much. My biggest regret is that I'm now going to have to wait far too long for the next one to come out!

Definitely another 5 star effort from Brian Staveley!
Profile Image for Vigasia.
408 reviews20 followers
August 25, 2021
This book is very good. Strong start for another series. I think Brian Staveley matured as a writer and little mistakes he did in his previous series, he avoided doing in the new book. Solid. I will continue with the series.
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,151 reviews1,118 followers
August 16, 2022
A few years back, I pleaded in Twitter to Brian Staveley to write more about the Kettral. I was enamored by this aerial fighting unit (to fill the hole left by Temeraire novels) and I thought the Kettral-related stories and characters were the best thing from the Chronicles of Unhewn Throne, Staveley's first series. Who does not love the military units consisting of flyers, demolition experts, snipers, and scary magicians, on top of frickin' giant birds?

Anyway, I was elated when I found out he released a new series feat. Gwenna as a POV character, one of my ult fave characters from the previous trilogy. Little did I know the Kettral action was very little in this novel due to a reason which was quickly told in the first chapter (I was so angry LOL). But anyway, the world is kinda interesting, and yay to have more Gwenna and an interesting new character, so I continued reading.

It was...interesting. The world expanded much more - there were lots of travels to and description of scary places. There were these not-so-subtle reference to Southeast Asian people (Vietnamese? Cambodian?) in portraying the Dombangan and Vuo Ton people (e.g. names, physiques) was interesting. I hope I could read some informed opinions about this.

The action was good enough, bloody is not enough to describe it. Though I am craving for far more aerial action *sniff*

I however got irked several times due to : 1) too many mentions of rape threats to the main characters - like, we got it, they're living in dangerous surrounding and people are evil but must we be reminded everytime the main leads met those certain aspiring rapists, in every chapter even until the end?; 2) there were so many inner battle, navel gazing part, even almost before a POV character was going to say/do something. A was going to reply to B but A must think about their past, do some introspection and philosophizing for one whole page before their reply. I ended up skimming a lot. and 3) last but not least, one of the POV characters was super boring and while I understand his purpose in the story it was only useful to read right near the end, so we don't really need a dozen chapters of prelude for two effective ones, because he's just not too engaging.

So, a very shaky three stars. Not two stars since the novel actually made me lose sleep for several days and no two-star novels could do that, so there's the page-turner aspect to it. The real question is whether I'd want to continue. Well, I am too deep in my love of the Kettral and several characters so maybe I will give the series one more chance.
Profile Image for Flying Monkey.
339 reviews76 followers
April 17, 2022
4.5 Stars!

This is one of my favorite books by Brian Staveley. Three-point-of-view characters with solid character development. There were a few slower sections of the book, but overall there is plenty of action to keep the pages turning. The ending leaves many plot arcs left unanswered, but this was an excellent first book to the Ashes of the Unhewn Throne and I will definitely read the next.
Profile Image for Marissa.
32 reviews8 followers
May 13, 2021
This review contains no spoilers.

What can I say beside just… wow? This book was incredible in more ways than I can possibly explain. It was lengthy (incredibly lengthy) but none of it felt like it was dragged out or filler information. Every single chapter pulled me in starting from the first one and kept me hooked until the very end. This book has everything you could want in a fantasy book: incredible world-building, realistic and deadly main characters, diversity representation, and a storyline that will pull you right in.

The book follows three different storylines focused on the characters Gwenna, Ruc, and Akiil. Each has their own strengths, but in my opinion I couldn’t find a single weakness.

Gwenna is a Kettral, an extremely deadly warrior and commander, who in the very first chapter sees her world go to hell. She’s everything you could want in a female lead: powerful, deadly, rebellious, ruthless. The story really takes you on the journey to her both knowing and believing those traits. She isn’t just those things, however, the base of everything is that she’s realistic. She might be set in a fantasy world, with fantasy beasts, and skills beyond those of a normal human but she’s authentic and you really emphasize with her throughout the book.

Ruc is a former Vuo Ton (people of the delta) transformed into a priest that follows the goddess of love. Along with Bien, his kind-of girlfriend and priestess herself, they struggle through the world fighting both inner battles with their religion and outward ones. As much as I loved the other two main characters, I think Ruc tops them all for me. His character really made me love this book as more of his background got unraveled and I was desperately reading until my eyes hurt to know more.

Akiil’s storyline was the shortest, but that’s not to say it was short. He’s a thief turned monk who’s just trying to survive in this world. I loved the way his character was written, and the ending really solidified it for me. Brian Staveley did an amazing job at showing how complex of a character Akiil really is along the way.

The main characters were all amazing, but I do want to add in two side characters that stood out to me: Kiel and Rat. I won’t go into detail about who they are to avoid spoilers, but I can tell you that it is rare for me to really bond with any side characters and these two managed to do it.

The diversity in this book was refreshing to read. Everyone in the book, with the exception of the Annurians, are described as different people of color. I loved the way Gwenna was written as a strong female lead while still showing that sexism was apparent toward her. It didn’t feel forced or overused; it felt natural. The point was clear: even thought she was a deadly warrior, men still believed they could best her (they could not). I appreciated little things such as the Emperor was titled just that – Emperor and not Empress despite the fact that she was a woman.

There are several quotes I highlighted throughout this read, but to avoid spoilers I’ll only share one.

Jonon shook his head. “There are no rules.” Which made it, Gwenna reflected briefly, a lot like fucking life.

The world-building in this book was incredible! I truly mean incredible. The terrain was described perfectly without it being too lengthy, the cities I can map out clearly in my head, and each scene was described in just the perfect amount of detail. For a fantasy book that created it’s own world and races, the descriptions hit the perfect balance between forming a perfect picture and not dragging on. I wish I could say more, but the best advice I can give to you is just read it!

I will say this is not a book to read if you are in a reading slump. It is extremely long and just the sheer length of it made me waver in the beginning. I am extremely glad I put aside those reservations, but if you’re looking for a short and easy read this isn’t it for you. This book contains complex and sometimes dark themes but it’s well worth a read.

TW: explicit violence, gore, racism, discrimination, mentions of rape, references to sex, suicidal thoughts

I want to thank Brian Staveley, the publisher, and Netgalley for this ARC and express that all opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Ben Kahn.
175 reviews52 followers
April 2, 2023
This was my 4th main Unhewn Throne novel (I'm trying to forget Skullsworn exists) and the 4th one that got my mediocre 3-star rating. Like with the first trilogy books, I was (slightly) engaged the whole time but never too invested in what was happening. There was not enough here to really hold my interest on the plot or worldbuilding or action fronts, and Staveley's character work was just barely good enough for me to make this a worthwhile read. But seriously, don't come to Staveley hoping for sprawling epic fantasy worldbuilding a la Brandon Sanderson, intriguing politics a la George R.R. Martin, or tense battle scenes a la John Gwynne. I'm not sure what you'd actually come to Staveley for.

I usually don't pay too much attention to prose, but Staveley never thought of a metaphor he didn't want to include on the page. How many times do we have to read that a stone clenched in someone's stomach? (Apparently many, many times.) And must he use the word "blaze" for everything related to fires, royal eyes, and pain? (Apparently yes.) From a podcast I learned that this book underwent a massive rewrite, requiring a new first chapter as the inciting incident for one of the main characters. This helped me figure out why I absolutely detested every single contrived and illogical plot point involved with this opening chapter, which really started the whole thing off on the wrong foot. I ended up liking many of the later scenes, but the voyage plot felt overly long and repetitive, and the city POV character had too few chapters compared to the other 2 POVs, so the book felt unbalanced. Also did we really need a repeat of the idiotic training scene from his first book where a sadistic bully tries to rape someone in a public place under guard where it wouldn't make any sense for it to be allowed to happen?

Certain aspects of Staveley's writing I fear will just never gel with me...how did I ever get 5 books in with this guy?
1 review4 followers
February 1, 2020
Maybe my favorite book so far, although Skullsworn is hard to displace. There are three compelling story lines which unfold in entirely different and unexpected ways, but each one is a page-turner. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Lila.
843 reviews9 followers
June 17, 2021

The return to the world of Unhewn Throne is with higher stakes than ever.

As someone who absolutely loved the first book in original trilogy, I always had a feeling that by the end even author was bored and dismayed by Malkeenian siblings and the fact he had to tell their stories when other characters and other parts of this world sounded so much more interesting to explore. So many great concepts and ideas that were barely touched upon and potential untapped. That is why, in my honest opinion, Skullsworn focused on amazing Pyrre Lakatur was Staveley's best work up to now. That's why I loved Akiil's voice in The Last Abbot of Ashk'lan, the short story Staveley wrote for Tor. He sounded excited about these, tangential characters to his main series and in turn, I was excited as well. So, imagine my delight when beside Gwenna and Kettral I discovered that The Empire's Ruin is, in a way, tied to both of his other works as well. So, if you're new to Staveley and want to start with this book, I'd encourage you to read his previous books because for me it definitely enhanced the experience knowing the background.

As the first book of new trilogy, The Empire's Ruin doesn't dwell too much on the past events because there is simply no time with everything that's happening: The Annurian empire maintained their rule largely by using two military assets that were remnants of once ruling immortal race called Csestriim: Kettral- huge warrior birds formidable in battles and capable for covering very long distances and kenta- teleporting gates that allowed Annurian emperors to go instantly wherever they wished. Now, Emperor Adare tries to hold on to power and deal with the loss of both. She sends a disgraced commander, Gwenna Sharpe, on a journey to retrieve Kettral eggs in an unexplored, hostile part of the world. That being a very long shot, Adare is desperate enough to try and learn secrets of using kenta gates from Akiil, the only surviving Shin monk. In Dombâng, Annurian rule is overthrown, along with their gods. With the unpopularity of their Goddess, the only thing pair of priests, Ruc and Bien, have is arena and fighting for the dubious honour of being sacrificed to old deities living in the surrounding delta known by the name of Three. But something far more dangerous is waking up and ignoring the messengers who announce his inevitable coming may be the doom of them all.
Everybody has a favourite recurring plot, a theme they are drawn to in fantasy novels, and this book actually has two of mine.
First is a "Dangerous Voyage" that covers most of Gwenna's arc. So here is another confession: In my head I always imagined Gwenna to be exactly like Dizzy Flores from cracktastic '90s scifi romp Starhip Troopers. I mean, the wild red hair is obvious, but the comparison was more due to the fact that both of them were there to be a part of hero's arc, but ended up infinitely more interesting and better characters than Johnny or Valyn. And seriously, who can argue with that? Gwenna out-shined everyone from the original cast of characters and putting her right at the helm of new series was a smart move. So, Gwenna was a favourite because Gwenna. keeps.saving. the. day. It's the theme with this novel as well: you will see her being an absolute beast; a crazy but effective one-woman solution for everything, but that's not what makes her so compelling. We open up a book with her completely fucking up and by the end of her mission you will see her at her lowest point. And while her heroic, unbelievable feats makes you pump your fist in the air, it's these moments that makes her a great character. And her arc is almost a book in itself with breathless ship battles, monsters and a jungle that has this horror vibe that just worked for me. Honestly, the way Staveley built all of this around Kettral and where they come from is stunning.

The other plot I absolutely love to read is "Gladiator fights". Give me a tournament in a fantasy setting, an arena with excessive training scenes and an enemy to hate, so we can have hero fighting them as a culmination and I'm happy. And that's basically what Ruc's arc is about. But that's just one part of what makes it absolutely riveting. This part of the story is happening in Dombâng, the city in the the middle of Shrivian delta, that gained the independence from Annur. Delta, full of jaguars, snakes, crocodiles and other far more terrible things is city's best defence. The whole vibe of swamp and dump, civil unrest, different cultures that reside in here and a religious cult that "follows the old ways" makes for absolute bonkers setting to put your character fighting for life in an arena. I can't decide if I loved this arc or Gwenna's more.
Akiil's part of the novel makes for the smallest part of the story and not as interesting to read simply because the stakes were not as high nor was the danger so palpable as the other two protagonist faced, but he has his own adventure. I love his voice, but the whole process of unlocking the secrets of kenta didn't jive that well with what I remembered from Kaden's chapters and was written like something Clive Barker would approve.
I really like his books, but I know Staveley is a divisive author among fantasy readers and some of the criticism I totally understand and cosign . There are still things I think he can do better, but the things I liked about his previous book were only improved on and elevated. He remains true to his style and the excellent world building. Fantasy religion concepts are so well built into this world, but that's a given considering his background. So, in one sentence, if you liked his previous books, pick up The Empire's Ruin. I lean toward darker fantasy, with high level of suspense and with characters actually in risk and he delivered that in spades, I can't wait for the sequel.

Thank you to NetGalley, Tor Books and Brian Staveley for giving me an opportunity to read an advanced copy of this book!


Finally, some info on this!
Also, Staveley confirmed it's Gwenna on the cover. :)

In one of the earlier AMAs on r/fantasy, Staveley wrote:

"... the birds are indigenous to a part of the world that is very, very hard to reach. The Annurians managed to get their hands on some eggs hundreds of years back (thanks to il Tornja), and the rookery on the Islands is the only one in this part of the world. As far as the Annurians using them for more than war--no emperors have wanted to risk the birds falling into hostile hands. As long as they remain on the islands, no one else can get at them. There's also a problem with the birds crossing the equator--they can't fly above a certain temperature..."

He made a point of how difficult it is to procure Kettral eggs, which puts more gravitas on this "dangerous voyage". Nothing Gwenna can't handle, right?

Yesss, Kettral!

"...must embark on a dangerous voyage to the distant island their war-hawks come from, in order to replenish their decimated ranks."

They are going to war-hawk land to get more war-hawks? Waaant.
Profile Image for Sud666.
1,944 reviews158 followers
March 11, 2023
"The Empire's Ruin" was a fun read. Set in the Annurian Empire, there are a lot of side plots. The overall gist is that the city of Dombang has thrown off the Annurian Empire. They worship gods who take pleasure in gladiatorial games. Into this mess are thrown two priests who worship a goddess of love.
Along with this is the tale of Gwenna Sharpe, the last Kettral Commander. Her journey to distant lands to retrieve Kettral (giant hawks that they ride) eggs is the other main story. Along with this is interwoven the tale of the Annurian Emperor who is trying to figure out ancient technology that will allow the Empire to retake its lost territories.

It is an action packed adventure and the characters are well developed. The worldbuilding is interesting and Staveley's world seems to have many layers. I've read "The Emperor's Blades", apparently the second book, out of order but it didn't inhibit my enjoyment.

Good story and seems like a good series.
Profile Image for Mackenzie Schley.
91 reviews5 followers
April 18, 2021
Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I was so excited to get back into a world with Kettral. I mean, giant man-killing birds trained to work with the deadliest warriors, does it get much cooler than that? I loved the first trilogy, and The Empire’s Ruin picks up the story with some familiar characters who get to stand in the spotlight this time. A favorite from the first trilogy, Gwenna, comes back front and center and her story arc is both complex and deep already in just one book. The common threads tie the stories together bringing in elements that made the first trilogy so great while still weaving together an entirely new story full of adventure, danger, and the struggle of finding out who one really is. I was drawn in and became quickly invested in the story, devouring chapter after chapter. It was a book I didn’t want to end and eagerly await the next one!
Profile Image for Fares.
246 reviews315 followers
September 6, 2021
DNFed @ 24%

I keep finding that Staveley's books have good plots but the characters are so... Normal? I can't think of another word.
Either that or the books are too big for such characters to carry, they can't carry a 700 page book imo.
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