The Emperor's Knives

The Emperor's Knives by Anthony Riches, Empire #7

The seventh novel in Anthony Riches' acclaimed Empire sequence brings Marcus Aquila back to Rome, hunting the men who destroyed his family.

But the revenge he craves may cost him and those around him dearly.

The young centurion's urge to exact his own brutal justice upon the shadowy cabal of assassins who butchered his family means that he must face them on their own ground, risking his own death at their hands.

A senator, a gang boss, a praetorian officer and, deadliest of all, champion gladiator Mortiferum - the Death Bringer - lie in wait.

The knives are unsheathed, and ready for blood . . .


Roman fiction has always been a direction of fiction that I have read with a lot of pleasure. My first introduction was Nick Brown's Agent of Rome series, which is also published by Hodder and Stoughton. Anthony Riches first book in the Empire series, Wounds of Honour, was published back in 2009. Last February saw the release of the release of his seventh book in the Empire series, The Emperor's Knives. I very much wanted to read this book but was a bit dubbing whether to ask for a review copy, with already the seventh volume in this series I didn't know what to really expect so I was hoping for something of an summery of events or a paragraph of where the story stood. Luckily for me Anthony Riches build up his story with summarizing some past events that led up as to why Marcus Aquila is back in Rome. I might still miss a lot of the back story but I was able to enjoy the story of The Emperor's Knives. It also features great as an stand-alone, but in the end you will want more!

Anthony Riches introduced Marcus Aquila as his main protagonist in the first book and though my encounter with him is in his seventh book, it somehow feels that Marcus already has been through many ordeals and that they have shaped and changed him along the way. In the beginning of the book Marcus finds himself back in the City of Rome once again. He isn't their just for his own leisure, no, he is there with one goal only, taking revenge on the people that killed his father and ruined family. The people that he come to exact his revenge on are "lackey's" of the emperor better known as The Emperor's Knives, one is a senator, another an gang boss, the third a praetorian guard and last but definitely not the least is a fearsome and famous gladiator. Like I have already said this is my first encounter with Marcus and I have to say that his character was very cool to read about and feel well fleshed out. He is determined to get his revenge no matter the cost even if he has to sacrifice himself to get it. And now I can say that he has this soft side to it, since he does has a wife and all but he hasn't... This man is driven by pure blood lust, he is deadly and you better not stand in his way. This is something that frankly hit me hard, I haven't read about such a powerful character in recent roman fiction, and when Marcus starts his work it's just as his character, to the point. Though the roughness of Marcus's Anthony Riches does paint him with a certain delicateness to the side, it's not all unfound hatred. Marcus has been through a lot and is now settling the score once and for all. I was pleased with Marcus's character overall and in the end I kept saying to myself that I should have picked up these book much, much sooner. 

As for several secondary characters there were quite a few that featured from The First Tungarian cohort such as Dubnus and Scaurus and quite a few more. The same here as for Marcus counts for them as well. Having no prior information on them  it's hard to tell how they have progressed so far. But what I do can tell you is that they make up for a great addition to the life and times of Marcus in The Emperor's Knives, they brothers in all that they do and show a definite sign in tenacity to help Marcus reach his goal, even if their own lives are in the balance. I think if you and I would have lived in such a harsh times, that this is exactly the type of friendship and camaraderie you would have seen amongst soldiers. I hope I get a chance to backtrack this series since alone these character produce an excellent part of the book and series alone. 

The story of The Emperor's Knife is one of revenge with a capital R. Don't think that you will be reading a pretty straightforward story though, no, it's more on the contrary. From start to finish Anthony Riches kept on surprising me with a few minor plot twists and several big ones nearing the end. Anthony Riches builds up his in several layers first focusing on re-establishing the basis of Marcus. He is now back in Rome and gathering intelligence on the people that he wants to see dead. This takes Marcus to some shady places in the darkest reaches of Rome. After Marcus gets his intel he starts planning and finally confronting each of his enemies one at a time. I like how each of these encounters were told, it was directly in the way of crossing of a job on your to do list. These aren't just simple straightforward assassinations. Anthony Riches builds up a nice tense atmosphere during the final encounter of Marcus and his enemies or should I say victims? The first three of the emperor's knives are by are the easiest to eliminate for Marcus all the years of experience fighting for the Roman empire have helped Marcus a lot. But the last victim, the famed gladiator Mortiferum, is an unavoidable encounter that might cost Marcus his own life. This last encounter was one that brought a lot of the different elements in the story together. Of course a lot of the action took place in this last encounter but it also showed Marcus's character in his best way. On thing though... I had thought that with Marcus's last battle it would be over for him... but Anthony Riches really throws his plotline around. People haven't been who they were before and the scene with the emperor in the ending really put a smile on my face. Tying up loose ends... Brilliant. The story from start to finish was executed into the fine details. 

Above I mentioned the last scene took place against a gladiator. When I read Roman fiction I am always hoping for some mighty fine battle scenes either on large scale or one-one encounters. From the moment that Marcus starts eliminating his enemies the amount of action starts to increase, though the fights were very contained in the one-one kind of scene there were written in a very, very good way. Anthony Riches definitely knows what he is doing when he created these various scenes. It felt like I was right there standing next to Marcus when he was doing his thing. If you can have let an protagonist act in such away and write such a clear and engaging fighting scenes, it proves to me that you are a great author and know how to write with clear determination and even passion. Many of the action scenes are still brimming in the back of my mind, especially the one wherein Marcus took out the the gang boss as well as the superb fighting that took place in the gladiator ring, not only against the human enemies but also against the beasts. Capturing such a controlled chaos is hard and Anthony Riches does it again and again!

The Emperor's Knives is a book right up my alley when it comes down to Roman fiction it has a lot of themes working in it's advantage. You have the political intrigue though it takes more place in the background in the earlier pages, it more comes to show in the ending of the book and reveal by it a great plot twists. It seems that people higher up the chain of command have had plans for Marcus's all along! This taken together with some mighty fine battles scenes both taking place in the confined spaces of houses and alleys as well as the majestic Colosseum, fighting against human opponents and bestial alike and a set of characters that Anthony Riches has been shaping and developing for over six and now seven books make this one book to add to your must read list. Did I mention to forget that ANthony Riches writing is one that is just spot on? It's engaging and addictive, you won't go wrong with The Emperor's Knives!! 



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