TITLE: The Emperor’s Blades (#1 Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne)
AUTHOR: Brian Staveley
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.
Last edited by skydancer8 on Jun 1st, 2015, 8:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.