Book reviews by Mobilism's Book Review team
Jun 1st, 2015, 5:28 pm
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TITLE: The Emperor’s Blades (#1 Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne)
AUTHOR: Brian Staveley
GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 01/14/2014
RATING: ★★★★★
PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon
MOBILISM LINK: Mobilism

Review: You guys, this one’s a keeper.

I almost never agree with the popular opinion. I’m a curmudgeonly wretch like that. With very few exceptions, I steer well clear of the bestseller lists; we don’t tend to get on. Trudi Canavan? Get it away from me. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series? Kill it with fire.

And let’s not even get started on all the terrible things I want to do to Fifty Shades of Grey.

(Oh yes, I went there).

Okay, but seriously. When I saw The Emperor’s Blades ratchet to the top of the best-of-2014 lists, I rolled my eyes and went back to my out-of-print Tanith Lee. A murdered Emperor! A sort-of-missing heir! Conspiracy! The greatest assassins in the known world! Yawn. I was bored of that story by the time I was 15, you guys. As for the giant eagles? There’s no way they were going to top Kate Elliot’s giant raptors in her Crossroads trilogy.

Well, I was right about that, at least. Elliot’s raptors are much, much cooler. Sorry Staveley.

But that was the only thing I got right. Because for once, the hype is deserved. The Emperor’s Blades is a gods-damned delight, and I am kicking myself for taking so long to read it!

I’m not going to talk about the plot. Not because I’m worried about giving away spoilers, but because this really is, on the surface, that story you’ve heard a million times by now. I don’t think even Staveley’s most adoring fans could claim otherwise. There’s not even all that much of a twist put on the familiar elements – and yet, it doesn’t feel tired. it doesn’t read quite like anything I’ve ever come across before.

And I think that’s because Staveley’s work is very self-aware.

Look, let’s face it: every story has already been told. I’ve always understood this to be an accepted fact. What makes a story brilliant is not its total originality, but the way in which the familiar is retold. And fantasy as a genre is pretty much the same handful of stories told over and over again; saving the kingdom, saving the world, saving somebody. When we think of ‘traditional’ fantasy, or ‘high fantasy’, that’s the core of the sub-genre; quests and adventures (not always the same thing), kings and queens and missing heirs, and, generally, very black-and-white morals. Think of Lord of the Rings – never much doubt about who the bad guy is, there, is there?

The story at the heart of The Emperor’s Blades has been told before, over and over again. That doesn’t matter. Because Staveley has clearly read a great deal of fantasy – and high fantasy in particular – and noticed the problems inherent in it. He’s noticed the lack of well-written women, the whitewashed casts, the simplistic moralities. He’s noticed the complete non-existence of queer people in these fantasy worlds (I can, if you like, list a number of high fantasies with queer characters, but they’re woefully few).

And all I can think is that, after noticing all this, he said something along the lines of ‘fuck that’ and wrote Blades.
“Might make whoever’s trying to kill you think twice.”

“I don’t want them to think twice,” Valyn said, rolling this eyes. “I want them to think once and, if at all possible, drunkenly.”

Here’s what makes The Emperor’s Blades so painfully awesome: it is every stock story you have ever read made real. By which I mean, made realistic. Good luck trying to decide who is wholly good and wholly evil in this one. Good luck trying to pretend women don’t exist, or are only fodder for your fantasies. Good luck picturing everyone as white and heterosexual. Blades neatly skewers most if not all of your ingrained prejudices with wonderful writing interspersed with moments of hilarity, never detracting from the heart-pounding mystery, anticipation and action but not letting you get away with anything, either.

This review has been languishing on my hard drive for months, because I’ve been trying so hard to put my feelings for this one into words, to say more and give you an essay worthy of this awesomeness. Well, I can’t. This is me giving up. Your only option is to turn around and grab a copy of this right now.

And then go read the sequel, because the final book of the trilogy is out this autumn and you'll want to be ready.
Jun 1st, 2015, 5:28 pm
Last edited by skydancer8 on Jun 1st, 2015, 8:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Jun 1st, 2015, 6:01 pm
Thank you so much for this review, Sky. I only very rarely read fantasy, and for many of the points you give early in the review. But THIS grabbed me and has me convinced to give this book of fantasy a try:

skydancer8 wrote: it is every stock story you have ever read made real. By which I mean, made realistic. Good luck trying to decide who is wholly good and wholly evil in this one. Good luck trying to pretend women don’t exist, or are only fodder for your fantasies. Good luck picturing everyone as white and heterosexual. Blades neatly skewers most if not all of your ingrained prejudices with wonderful writing interspersed with moments of hilarity…
Jun 1st, 2015, 6:01 pm
Jun 1st, 2015, 7:12 pm
I'm so glad you liked it! :D And I'm honoured you'd let me convince you to try a fantasy novel. I really hope you enjoy it!
Jun 1st, 2015, 7:12 pm
Jun 8th, 2015, 2:21 am
I second everything in this review. One of my IRL friends and I joke that this is the first time that an Emperor did NOT screw up raising his kids, and oh, is it true! Those siblings tore my heart out, torched it, and danced on its ashes. And then I read the sequel earlier this year and I just-- I think a part of my heart died. I finished it and stared at the ceiling asking the universe WHY?
Jun 8th, 2015, 2:21 am
Jun 8th, 2015, 11:40 am
IT'S ONLY A LITTLE LONGER TILL BOOK THREE. WE CAN MAKE IT!
Jun 8th, 2015, 11:40 am
Sep 5th, 2015, 1:32 am
The first four paragraphs caught me xD most likely as long as you didn't say the book/writing was horrible, I would have read it anyways. Now... onto downloading the book :P
Sep 5th, 2015, 1:32 am

Time flies, the past remains
and like the past it is,
it will bite you in the ***.


pm dead links
Jan 1st, 2016, 8:13 am
Acknowledging everything Skydancer wrote plus the quality of the writing, dear god, the writing: it's enough to make a grammar nazi get extremely hot and bothered... and then some...
Jan 1st, 2016, 8:13 am
Mar 8th, 2016, 5:11 am
Book 3 releasing next week. Hope it is as good as 1 & 2
Mar 8th, 2016, 5:11 am
Apr 4th, 2016, 7:59 pm
.....I really need to read this soon.....
Apr 4th, 2016, 7:59 pm
Apr 17th, 2016, 2:15 pm
Sounds good - I'll add to the to read list
Thanks
Apr 17th, 2016, 2:15 pm
Jul 4th, 2017, 12:17 pm
This is a great review. I'll be sure to check this book out ^^ I'ts been on my TBR list for a year at least
Jul 4th, 2017, 12:17 pm
Jul 24th, 2017, 12:27 pm
Nice review, I'm gonna add these one to my reading list, I'm collecting a list for the fantasy genre as I'm taking a break/shifting from sci-fi novels.
Jul 24th, 2017, 12:27 pm

"gyoubu masataka oniwa"
Aug 6th, 2017, 3:00 am
well described, I'm gonna read this series after i finish my current book series sci-fi 'war eternal' by M.R Forbes
Aug 6th, 2017, 3:00 am
Aug 15th, 2017, 8:56 am
Sounds interesting. I will try it after Book 5 of the Malazan. Need a break from Eriksen.
Aug 15th, 2017, 8:56 am