The Emperor's Blades

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1

The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again...

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

When I first read the synopsis of The Emperor's Blades I thought I was dealing with a new young adult series, but let me tell you upfront, it's far from it. The Emperor's Blades is a dark epic fantasy story with emphasis in a "coming-of-age", discovering your heritage, courtly intrigue and a lot more themes. Brian Staveley does true justice to the term Fantasy with his The Emperor's Blades and the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, this is what I seek in reading fantasy, authors that go the distance to deliver you a brilliant story. I have to say that I am very impressed with the story that Brian Staveley managed to tell in The Emperor's Blades, it feels like he has been writing for quite some time already but actually this is his debut. another wow. Yes I am going to be bold, this is the first review of 2014 but already The Emperor's Blades is a definite heavy contender for various categories of best epic fantasy and debut. 

In The Emperor's Blades you follow three different stories, those of the children of the recently murdered Emperor Sanlitun hui’Malkeenian: Valyn, Kaden and Adare. This part, following the footsteps of the three children first gave me the YA thoughts on the book. These three storylines are all completely distinct from each other and initially start to play out separate, two of them later do come together. Let me begin with the first one. Kaden; Kaden is the heir to the throne, having the same unique blazing eyes that his father had. he has been training for the last 8 years as a monk on a remote island, learning the disciplines that are required for running the empire once it's required. However Kaden himself doesn't really see how this lifestyle of the Shin monks will help him to become an emperor. The training that Kaden so far has mastered is called "the carved mind" or Saama’an, this is a focus wherein he remembers everything in utter detail and allows Kaden to later recollect everything into the finest detail by drawing it, this is just the first part, Kaden must achieve something know as the vaniate a complete emptiness of emotion. I really liked this introduction of something mystical in the start of the story and what further made the introduction solid was the freak "accident" with the goat, that was sliced up pretty badly, but now natural cause could explain what had happened. But back to Kaden now, Kaden is an interesting character and he is too a certain degree quite naive in all that he does and thinks, he hasn't gotten a lot of experience in life, only in what the monks some him during the training sessions. This allowed for some interesting scenes all throughout the book. After the discovery that Kaden makes, his storyline is thrown in quite a rapid, Kaden doesn't know that his father has been murdered and actually goes about his normal training however there is an unknown enemy roaming free killing of goats and other monks on the island which is the major problem Kaden is facing. Kaden is on one part intrigued by this new enemy but also fears it deeply, this curiosity of Kaden helped to add a nice pacing to his part of the story and later when merchants and a delegation of the Annurian Empire comes to pick up Kaden, his part is thrown in a mad rapid, because now it comes to show who the unknown enemy is and that some people who Kaden had thought could be trusted seem to have another side to them...  All along Kaden's storyline he continues to develop and learn more, I liked that Brian Staveley used Kaden's training to give the readers a complete lowdown of the history of the world with ancient races such as the Csestriim and how several things have come to pass. Introducing the reader to the world in this way didn't make it feel like an information dump at all, more a natural introduction into the more than rich history.

Valyn, the second storyline that you get read, is the older brother to Kaden. Valyn is training to become a Kettral, the elite fighting force of the Annurian Empire. This training camp is also located in a remote part of the world, however, Valyn early on learns that his father has been murdered when one of the most famous Kettral, Flea, comes to bring the news. The coolest thing about the Kettral is is that they fly on kettral; huge birds that they use to sweep into the place of battle. I really liked this idea, it showed something different from the standard gryphons and hippogryphs, though they didn't feature that heavily just the idea of a team "riding" these magnificent birds really spoke to me. The teams are called a "Wing" and each Wing is represented by a team of specialists, snipers (with ranged weapons), a demolition specialist, one that excels in swords fights, the flyer itself and a leach (the sorcerers in The Emperor's Blades). If you had thought that you would only learn about the world in Kaden storyline you are far from right, the same accounts for Valyn's part. You get to learn the complete or almost complete history of the Kettral and how they act and train, and it's all pretty awesome. Valyn makes up for an interesting protagonist, you can see that he shares a lot characteristics with his brother Kaden, but has some other personalities going on as well. Valyn is of the age that he is getting more into girls, but the Kettral don't allow to have something happen between members, but you see Valyn drawn to one of the female recruits and produces some awkward and difficult moments for both Valyn and Ha Lin. The life of the Kettral is far from a vacation, the constant training is rough on each member, added to this is tough life that Valyn is going through, constantly being harassed by several other recruits of the Kettral, that even go as far as to kill Valyn during training exercises. It seems that not only the heir has to fear for his life... Valyn only has to train a few more weeks to become a Kettral as he only has to make it through the deadly trial known as Hull's Trial. This part of the story is a real eye-openeing for Valyn as he comes to understand who his enemies are when he looses someone dear to him. he was determined before but what happened down in those caves really set Valyn character to fire. He will no longer be messed with. You no longer want to have Valyn on your bad side. Similarly like Kaden, when Valyn is given the role as a Wing leader, he is now just learning how tough it is to give a lead. This for Valyn is also an important turning point, wherein he learns that not everything is easy and that it isn't only just fighting but making compromises and working as a team might be even more important to succeed, it does make it a lot easier. 

The last storyline that you follow is that of Adare, the only daughter of Sanlitun. Upon the death of Sanlitun, Adare was raised to the rank of Minister of Finance. Both Kaden's and Valyn's storyline feature outside the court, it was therefore great to see that Brian Staveley opted the playground of the court of the Annurian Empire for the story of Adare. With the death of the Emperor everything thing is far from ok. Adare knows from the beginning of the story that her father was murdered and she seeks justice. The murderer is known, and now is awaiting a trial, but with some laws that Adare hadn't thought of he manages to twist his trial into a favorable direction. This was one of the best parts of Adare's story, with this scene a lot of things of the Annurian laws are shown but also a lot of emotion behind Adare's character that fortifies her as a pretty strong and solid character. Now with the murderer walking away as a free man, Adare is more than determined to get her justice, Adare proofs that justice doesn't necessarily need to be served cold. The ending of her storyline is very cool, it leaves her story on a bit of storyline and a very very dangerous game. She unravels one important clue in the whole book, the threat of the Annurian Empire. Even though her part of the three stories had the least number of pages there were some very important plot twists and turns that take place in her part, this is courtly intrigue that you seek in epic fantasy. And just that revealing in the end! 

Ok so my apologies for already such a long review but there is just so much to tell about The Emperor's Blades, and I think you can make up that I really like this book so far. The characters are spot on and their storylines are diverse, exciting and engaging AND a lot of cool stuff happens. (this is the last thing I will be discussing) Like the monks and their special gifts, but also the appearance of the merchants and how this played into the life of Kaden, revealing that they are more than just merchants... the action they bring into the mix is cool to say the least and makes you wonder who the person was that tasked them to go to Kaden. Similarly there is some pretty cool stuff happening on Valyn's side. I was and still am impressed with the military aspect/concept that Brian Staveley introduces with the Ketteral and how well thought through it is. The birds alone are amazing to read about but the specialist team behind it all and how they are the elite of the Annurian Empire really has a high cool factor to it. Added to Valyn's part are the leaches that I already mentioned above, they are the magic users, they are too be feared and held in awe by many. They have an edge over virtually every other person, but it's not like a straighforward mage able to cast on the brink, a leach, leaches strength from a well, like a reservoir. This just cannot be any type thing, but leaches can only draw power to cast spells from one well, be it wood, fire, iron or other materials but also think in the lines of emotions... The leach aspect really added another level to the story, these leaches are shown in such a light that they come over as quite evil. It is really good to see that even with the powerful leaches in the story that there are restraints, yes they are powerful but there are also weak points that are accompanied with a leach' powers, I was pleased to see Brian Staveley directly showed these things keeping the action flowing in full colors but not letting it run rampant without restraints. 

Brian Staveley writes up a very strong opening in a new and exciting series and the fact that this is his debut makes him even more of an author to watch out for!The Emperor's Blades is an awesome book that is already a heavy contender for a best of 2014 list come this December. it has everything that you seek when you read and Epic Fantasy story, from great, relatable characters all throughout the solid storyline, interesting environments and a lot of pretty darn cool action! It has in some parts relation to young adult storyline but i think it is more suited for an older audience. I was hooked from the first page and I hope to see the release of the sequel soon, this is one of those books that leaves you needing more.


  1. Wow, that's one long book review you've written there. Always on the look out for a new slant on Epic Fantasy books and this sound like the one, thanks for the words.

  2. Thank you SummonedByBells, and yes it's definitely recommended!

  3. Was looking for a recap before diving into book 2. This was perfect. Thanks.


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