Justine's Reviews > The Court of Broken Knives

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
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it was amazing
bookshelves: ladies-of-grimdark
Read 2 times. Last read December 6, 2019 to December 19, 2019.

Nothing is pointless, as long as one is alive. One moment of beauty. One moment of happiness. One moment of pain.

Lives for living. Nothing less and nothing more.


The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark is an unyielding and opulent tale of the balance of extremes: living and dying, darkness and light, truth and lies – all of life is a balancing act, and this book showcases the everlasting struggle of keeping the scales leveled. With strong focus on the brutalities of self-loathing and self-doubt as one falls into the boundless abyss of despair, it celebrates overcoming these curses to become the powerful person hiding beneath the surface. Emotionally taxing, it focuses on the horrid effects of distrust and treachery, and takes us on an adventure whose paths are paved with blood and grime. This book…this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and one I’ll presumably never see the likes of again. To sum it up: it’s magnificent.

Smith Spark’s writing is absolutely superb. Poetic, raw, and emotional, the prose is immaculate and beautifully lyrical, deliberately and seamlessly shifting to jarring and choppy fragments in order to deliver readers directly into the shattered minds of her characters. I will admit, I originally read The Court of Broken Knives in 2017, but I was severely unprepared for this ambitious pilgrimage – this isn’t just a book to be read, it’s a masterpiece that needs to be carefully savored. Eloquently pictorial, the visuals conveyed through words throughout are just so completely tangible, making this an impressively immersive narrative – the relentless cold seeping into bones, the shocking fear and disgust of cruel butchery, the appalling stink of putrid wounds and viscera – we experience it all alongside those of which the story is being told.

He turned his face to it, tears running down his face, because it was beautiful and alive.

The cast that populates these pages are some of the most wonderfully complex, largely conflicted, and gloriously wretched characters I’ve ever become acquainted with. Each is troubled and weighed down by the heavy responsibilities and expectations resting on their shoulders. Adhering to these expectations forces them to evolve into someone or something they’re not, and Smith Spark doesn’t explicitly define anything for you. The joy is in the journey of discovering everyone’s secrets and tragic flaws for yourself along the way. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re not meant to like these characters – they’re all contemptible, murderous, debased – but it grows increasingly difficult to ignore the empathy crawling and clawing in the back of your mind. Oh, Marith, you broken and beautiful monster, Prince of Ruin.

There is an underlying romantic element weaved throughout – a forbidden affair between two powerful and harrowing individuals that lie at opposite ends of the defined societal spectrum. Again bringing into account the battle between the cold dark and the warm light, you’d expect their relationship to be one of turmoil, and you’d be right. However, theirs is one defined by a deep passion and solidarity. Each the mortar to fill the other’s fractured soul. Each bringing an unexpected peace the other never knew to be attainable. It’s beautiful. It’s awful. It’s erotic. It’s tragic.

Night comes. We survive.

This book is just the beginning of a grand journey, and much of it is filled with roaring, whispered promises of what’s to come. I’m really hesitant to delve into the plot, because this is one you need to explore on your own as the story unfurls. Anything I tell you won’t even begin to capture the essence of the venerable menace that awaits you. I will, however, tell you the world we’re transported to is a living, breathing behemoth defined by invisible boundaries and extremes. The golden and crumbling city of Sorlost, the dense forests of Immish, the storm-wracked waters of the Bitter Sea, and the frosted, cold, and harsh roads of The White Isles. Descriptions are bold paint strokes across the pages, bringing an almost absurd level of reality. It’s gorgeous and terrifying in equal measure.

I can continue to gush, but nothing I say will give this book its due. Anna Smith Spark has well earned her illustrious title of the Queen of Grimdark by delivering us into this ghastly and melancholic world where the land is drenched in blood, and the air is choked with dust and ash. The Court of Broken Knives is the most stunning and devastating debut novel I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the Empires of Dust series has to offer. If you haven’t yet gotten around to this book, just go and read it.
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Reading Progress

March 8, 2017 – Shelved
August 11, 2017 – Started Reading
August 23, 2017 – Finished Reading
December 6, 2019 – Started Reading
December 19, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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Michael Great review, Justine! Anna has a 'special talent'.


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