Brian Staveley – another wonderful debut from what feels like could be a major new force in epic fantasy fiction. The Emperor’s Blades – another strong first book in what appears to be a gripping trilogy: “Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne”. (Book 2 of the trilogy, The Providence of Fire, just came out about a month ago; it’s in my queue from the library.)
The story: Sanlitun, of the noble Malkeenian line, the emperor of Annurian Empire, is dead. Although his bloodline is marked by their flaming golden eyes as heirs of the goddess Intarra, and although he was considered by many to be a competent, compassionate, fair emperor, it appears that Sanlitun has been struck down by political assassination.
A regency government has been put in place while the sons of the emperor are summoned home from their far-flung trainings: Kaden, the eldest and therefore the heir to the throne, has for the last eight years been apprenticed to the Shin monks at the remote monastery in Ashk’lan, learning the ancient secrets of the Blank God, as his father had before him. Valyn, Kaden’s younger brother, has endured years of brutal training in an attempt to become a Kettral – elite warriors who sweeps into battle from the talons of huge, black warhawks. Only one final trial stands in Valyn’s way of attaining the dream he has had since childhood.
Their sister, Adare, the shrewdest of them all, cannot inherit the throne (something she accepts, yet still chafes at) but had been appointed Minister of Finance by her father shortly before his death, and now fares the political waters of the capital city of Annur. As she awaits her brothers’ return, it is she who works to ferret out the identity of those who murdered her father and bring them to justice.
These are the emperor’s blades: his children, unknowingly yet masterfully sharpened and tempered to withstand adversity. A mystic, a warrior, a strategist. And already, all three have become targets.
The Emperor’s Blades follows Kaden and Valyn’s trainings, and Adare’s maneuverings; the bulk of the book allows us to get to know the siblings and learn not only their temperaments but also their struggles to attain what has been demanded of them, either by their position or their own desires. Indeed, though a good part of the book, Kaden, being sequestered in such a remote location, does not even realize his father is dead: the delegation to retrieve the newly elevated emperor takes months merely to reach him. Valyn learns quickly about Sanlitun’s demise, but although the Kettral serve the Empire, they do not serve the emperor himself, and nothing will force the fiercely independent warrior sect to deviate from the training of their apprentices, not even if one of those apprentices is himself of royal blood. Yet Valyn learns clandestinely that the entire Malkeenian line is under threat, and not only has to endure the final, merciless trial of the Kettral, but must do so while constantly looking over his shoulder and fearing for the fate of his cloistered brother.
Adare is the one who stands in the public eye while privately grieving for the father that she dearly loved, the one person who recognized her agile mind and her worth, and who did what he could to elevate her against the strictures of a staunchly patriarchal society. She is the one who must cobble together alliances, gather information, and not give an inch in relinquishing Malkeenian power while so many different factors scrabble for position in the vacuum created by Sanlitun’s death, before his son can return to claim the throne. And then there is the matter of finding and squelching those responsible for the emperor’s death within the boundaries of the laws and justice of the land – something her father had worked his entire life to strengthen – all while working to maintain the public peace and acceptance of Malkeenian rule.
Author Staveley takes his time in building the world of the Annurian Empire, and in bringing the three main inhabitants of his tale to life. Indeed, whereas other authors may have rushed to incorporate the stories of the siblings into one unified tale, Mr. Staveley instead created three very different, very engaging tales, each of which in and of themselves could have encompassed its own book, gifting readers with three disparate characters with their own engaging yet linked backstories. Indeed, the siblings never share the same pages together in The Emperor’s Blades, save in the occasional flashback. I can only imagine that this will work well in strengthening the following two books in the trilogy, now that the three are set on the same path.
This truly is epic storytelling in the making. I urge you to join now in this gripping tale as it unfolds. On the strength of the first book, I have no doubt that the final two volumes following the travails of Kaden, Valyn and Adare will be well worth the wait to find out what comes next.