The story, like a place in the book called Hook manage to hooked (see what I did there?) me right from the first three chapters. The fact that the narrative is written in my favorite type of perspective really helps, it’s written from 3rd person limited, which means we get to see all events without making the main characters devoid of feelings. Like almost every high fantasy series, the plot started out quite simple, this time with each of the Emperor’s Blades sent away to train in different areas of the world by the Emperor himself for the future of the Annurian Empire. Of course, an unforeseen event (it’s written in the blurb if you want to know) happened and things began to get out of hand. This is where the story really began and I’ll leave the rest for you to find out but the book is an adult military high fantasy filled with philosophy, faith, politics, conspiracies, mystery and especially coming of age aspects depending on whose perspective you’re reading from and in my opinion, they’re all ‘Kent-kissing’ great to read.
While it’s true that the plot for me is intriguing, it needed to be said the pacing is really slow at times. Now, this doesn’t bother me at all since I find what the main characters experienced really captivating, especially Kaden. However, in terms of the pacing itself, the book reminded me a lot of The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. Meaning the first book is more like a buildup for the sequels even though a lot of plot introduced in it are resolves already.
The Emperor’s Blades as you probably can guess already are The Emperor’s three offspring and the three main characters of the story. Imo the world-building aspect and the characters are the most important point of this book and whether or not you’re going to enjoy it will depends on how much you love them since the plot is really character and world-driven. Throughout the whole book we’ll be following the story only from the POV of the 3 main characters, Kaden, Valyn & Adare.
Kaden,(17 years old) the youngest son and the Heir to the Unhewn Throne which were sent away to train with the Shin monks in the mountains. Frankly, this is the first time I ever read anything from a POV of a monk and I find it a refreshing experience to read. Usually, in cases like this the heir to the throne will be someone who learned or strong in politics accompanied with charismatic presence, Kaden is none of these. His POV is where most of the religious philosophical aspect of the book came to play the most. The teaching of the monks itself resembled Buddhism a lot with a few twist on their methods of training and punishments but above all they value discipline, calmness, and vaniate (think of this as a state of emptiness) the most. Some interesting character development happened to Kaden throughout his story and judging from how the plot ends in this entry, there’s a lot of potential for his development in the sequels.
“Fear is blindness, calmness is sight.”
Valyn, (18 years old) the second son which were sent away to train with the Kettral, the deadliest fighting force in the Annurian Empire and personally, my favorite POV in the book.
The front cover to the Hungarian edition of The Emperor’s Blades featuring Valyn hui’Malkeenian and a kettral at the back
Valyn’s POV is imo, the best out of the three. It’s engaging, full of mysteries, well paced and even though the plot focused mostly on his training to become a Kettral, it remains captivating. His POV is where the military fantasy aspect and a huge amount of wise philosophical quotes existed.
"Leadership isn't just about giving orders. A fool can give orders. A leader listens. He changes his mind. He acknowledges mistakes.”
Flying giant birds called kettral for war and transportation, usage of magic, realistic and unique military training, conspiracies, assassination, forming a team called Wings and accompanied with really well written side female characters, Ha Lin, Gwenna, Annick, everything in his POV just works really well for me. Plus the fact that out of the trio, Valyn have the most highlight here which makes his characters more developed compared to the others.
Finally, Adare (21 years old), the first daughter and the only one who remained in Annur to maintain the politics of the Empire. Now, this is one of the three main cons of the book where I have problems with. No, it’s not because she’s a bad character, the politics are greatly written and it’s thrilling while it’s there. However, it’s because that she has only literally 5 chapters out of 50 which bothers me, not to mention they are all really short. Even though this is still the first book and I know there will be huge parts coming for her in the sequels, it still doesn’t justify the reason she has very few parts compared to the others. This make her really undeveloped and more of a side character compared to the other female characters in Valyn’s POV, which have much more development and intrigue compared to her because of this circumstances.
Brian Staveley has done a terrific job on his writings and world-building. The writings, consisting of some heavy words remain pleasant to read, humorous (mostly crude sex jokes), and the paragraphs are well structured. The world building aspects are done with a touch of Asian culture and it’s implemented gradually together with the plot. This means there is no info dump and we learn more of the world with each chapter progression. 3 races, 16 Gods, monsters, magic, mythology and legends are all introduced carefully along with the plot, need I say more?
Now on to the other main cons of the book, other than Adare’s really short parts, the other minor problems I have with the book is in its naming and climax.
Some of the names in this book are really hard to remember and pronounce, combined with the fact there are a LOT of new names and terminology needed to be memorized, it make some parts confusing and take times to get used to. However, the worst part is the BAD naming, here’s an example of what I’m talking about, Kettral. I mentioned earlier that Valyn is training to become a Kettral, the deadliest force of the Annurian Empire and yes, Kettral is a great name and it’s easy to remember but it’s the fact that the giant bird the Kettral ride is literally called –guess what?- kettral (without the capital letter) as well that become an annoyance for me. This may be a minor peeves of mine but it gets really confusing and annoying at first. Imagine this kind of conversation (not a direct quote)
“A Kettral needs to ride a kettral to be a fully fledged Kettral. Without kettral, Kettral is nothing. His kettral is what makes him a Kettral.”
Why can’t it be named anything else other than that? Why can’t it be named Kettrul or Kettrol? This is just an example of a kind of lazy naming I’m talking about. Hopefully this won’t bother you that much.
Lastly, the last con of the book is that I find the climax a bit underwhelming. It’s not bad, I just expected more out of it. The actions in the climax is more or less the same as some of the actions happening in the book previously except that it’s longer, I find the Hull’s Trial that Valyn’s faced to be a better sequence compared to the climax of the book.
Although The Emperor’s Blades are inflicted with some minor problems, it still remains a ‘Kent-kissing’ great debut by Brian Staveley. Brian’s staveley previous major really played a huge part in delivering this quality. After finishing the book, I can’t wait to dive straight into the sequel, there are a lot of foundation laid out for The Providence of Fire and it’s safe to say, the quality of the book doesn’t disappoint the gorgeous book covers it have. I definitely recommend this for anyone who loves adult military fantasy with great world-building and coming of age theme.