Saturday, February 01, 2014

Review: "The Emperor's Blades" by Brian Staveley

So I finally cracked the cover on my first book that was actually published in 2014, and I made a good choice to start with Brian Staveley's "The Emperor's Blades" ($27.99, Tor).
Sanlitun, the emperor of Annur, has three children set on three very different paths.

The eldest, Kaden, is heir to the Unhewn Throne and the strange, fiery eyes that mark the line of the rulers of Annur. Kaden finds himself in a remote mountain monastery, learning cryptic lessons from the monks in residence -- lessons that he doesn't yet understand the purpose of and doesn't see how they will make him a better emperor.

Kaden's younger brother Valyn is sworn to a group of elite warriors called the Kettral. Highly and brutally trained, the Kettral attack in small groups from the wings of the huge birds from which the warriors derive their name. They are the emperor's elite strike force -- the Navy Seals of Staveley's world.

Adare, the emperor's only daughter, remains in the capital where she is well-educated and made ready to take on the role of Minister of Finance, a role that many in the male-dominated governance of Annur resent being given to a woman. Though she appears safest at home in the palace, hers might be the most tenuous position of the three.

The plans laid for the three by their father are thrown into chaos when the emperor Sanlitun is murdered in what appears to be a treacherous coup attempt. He leaves each of his children, particularly his successor Kaden, with some lessons untaught. If they are to survive and maintain the Unhewn Throne, each will have to use the skills of his or her tutelage to the fullest.

Staveley puts together an interesting debut novel with "The Emperor's Blades," weaving three archetypical fantasy tales into one book. With Kaden's storyline, you have the coming-of-age tale as he tries to discover who he is and what the strange training he's receiving means. With Valyn, we're given more of a classic action/adventure storyline with some derring-do and even a bit of mystery. With Adare, we have the Machiavellian intrigues and subtleties of court politics. Of course, it's not as simple as all that. All three storylines are interwoven and have some elements of the others, and all three could probably stand alone as novels of their own.

Though all three get their time, Valyn seems to be the central character in this first book. At least, he's the one that most captured my attention and whose story I most looked forward to returning to. Kaden, I think, will develop into possibly the most complex and interesting character in the long run. If anyone gets short shrift here, it's Adare, as she seems to get less page time than the two boys. Her story, though, might be the most critical in how the tale plays out, and revelations in this book promise that she will be a far bigger player in future volumes.

One of the most striking things to me when I finished the nearly 500 pages of "The Emperor's Blades" was that I realized Staveley only seems to have scratched the surface of a very rich world in his first volume. Though I was completely immersed in the tale, I find that I've only seen a small part of the possibilities. We know little more of Staveley's ancient, near-immortal race the Csestriim than we did at the beginning of the book, though I suspect we'll soon learn. We don't even know if their mortal enemies the Nevariim even existed or if they were fairy tales made up to give the human race hope.

"The Emperor's Blades" left me completely satisfied, but still with dozens of questions that I long to know more about. And that, of course, is the problem with reading a book so soon after it comes out. It's going to be a long wait until next January to, possibly, have some of those answers.

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