The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Book Review

Brian Staveley’s debut novel The Emperor’s Blades is being promoted as 2014’s biggest debut fantasy novel. It’s a book that will stir the imaginations of all readers and make them stand up and notice this new author. These are big words to be swinging around in January, but after spending enough time with the book I’m calling it. Move over Sanderson, Rothfuss, Brett, and Weeks. We’ve got a new name in epic fantasy, and he’s leaving a big mark with The Emperor’s Blades.

The story follows three siblings that deal with the ramifications of the murder of their father, the emperor. Kaden, the heir, has been at a remote monastery in the mountains for eight years. His sister, Adare, has been promoted to Minister of Finance upon her father’s death and now must navigate the political currents of Annur if she hopes to bring justice to the man that murdered her father. And then there’s Valyn. He is a cadet of the Kettral, masterful killers who fly massive birds into battle. With news of their father’s death he has to finish his training and rush to help his brother Kaden, lest he be murdered as well.

The brothers get the most page time while Adare is sprinkled through every now and again. Ultimately, this was the best move Staveley could have made. While Adare’s storyline is important, crucial even, it lacks enough driving force to warrant any more time than she was given. (A point that is going to be remedied in the sequel according to Staveley)

The real titan of the book is Valyn. His struggles on the islands the Kettral use for a base are the most engaging and thrilling to read. Immediately, danger surrounds Valyn, both from his teammates and from a rumored plot to kill the entire royal line. The entire Kettral storyline is told with such a clear and concise eye to the hard life of a cadet that you can’t stop. It’s exciting, it’s bloody, it’s deadly, and overall Valyn is the most human – a character I can picture myself getting a drink with at the bar (my hallmark for a well-written character).

Meanwhile, Kaden is in the mountains, oblivious to the happenings of the civilized world. His new teacher prefers to put Kaden through inventive and painful exercises to hone his mind and enter into a trance-like state of no emotion “the vaniate”. The monks and Kaden give us the worldbuilding in big meaty bites. The storyline of the heir is built for those that like to read about the gods and how they’re worshipped or an ancient evil that may be resurfacing.

The magic of the world is limited. It’s regarded with not only hate but also a primal disgust that leaves those caught to be able to use magic, “leeches,” executed immediately. That is unless the Kettral recruits them. Valyn’s interactions with fellow leech cadets paints a picture for the reader on how the magic works in this world. Namely, each leech draws from a specific well – iron, solar power, emotions, water, animals, the possibilities are endless – and manipulates the world with that power, relative to how much of their well is nearby they can draw from. It’s an interesting system with, more importantly, an interesting limitation.

The writing isn’t perfect. There were a few odd word choices here and there and Adare’s storyline, while the right length for this particular instance, was a bit muddled. As if Staveley knew exactly where/what Kaden and Valyn would do and was 70% sure about Adare. It just wasn’t as immersive as the other two (which is okay considering how much page-time she ultimately received.) But I would challenge anyone to pick up the debut book of their favorite author, whoever he/she may be, and not find the same type of issues. Staveley has found something incredible with The Emperor’s Blades and when the sequel hits the shelves I have absolute faith it will be that much better. This is epic fantasy for the new age and frankly, I’m loving what I’m seeing.

The first 7 chapters are up on for FREE – or you can find a download for you ereader of choice, so I’d highly recommend checking those out. Unless of course you just want to go ahead and put your pre-order in for the January 14 release. Either way, this isn’t one you’re going to want to miss.



A Dance of Blades by David Dalglish – Book Review

A Dance of Blades by David Dalglish

Book Review

Dalglish_ADanceOfBlades_TPWhen I reviewed book one, Dance of Cloaks, I compared it to Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, which seemed to be an obvious source of inspiration for Dalglish. As Night Angel developed it shifted from a story of smaller forces to one of an epic scale.

Dance of Blades instead functions much the same as the first of the series– assassins, plotting-through-marriage, and revelations of identity, without enough to be different beside the setup for book three.

Don’t get me wrong; the story is still fun and filled with action and intrigue to keep you hooked. The relationship between reader and characters is so strong that they practically beg you to keep turning the page and say “Just one more.”

It’s been five years since Thren’s failed attack on the Trifect. Haern has fully assumed the mantle of the Watcher, a killer of thieves that prowls the streets of Veldaren signing his name in the blood of his victims. Alyssa and Zusa have continued working together, Alyssa raising her child Nathaniel and Zusa her most loyal guard. Veliana has installed a puppet leader of the Ash Guild, but she finds her control of him is slipping just as a mysterious masked man named Deathmask comes looking to join.

Perhaps the greatest addition to the cast was Ghost, a mercenary from a land away. An ebony-skinned man who paints his face white (the source of his moniker), Ghost is a complex character that serves as the avatar of the theme of identity. While he is introduced as nothing more than a skilled killer, his is the character that gets the most development and reader attachment as his motives and origins become clear. Ghost’s reasoning behind adopting a new name and hiding his true visage with paint is strong for it’s complexity and made me stop to ponder the question of identity, a theme that initially began with Aaron/Haern in book one.

The biggest detracting point lay with Alyssa Gemcroft. It’s been five years since the plotting of book one where she was engaged to a man who didn’t love her and only wanted her title. Book two, unfortunately, is much of the same, only using her son has a chess piece instead of Alyssa’s affections. With a character that has inherited such tremendous wealth and is an acting leader of one of the Trifect families, Alyssa has amazing potential to be a powerful female lead in a male-dominated society. Put her past these surface-value conflicts that has more to do with winning her hand or controlling her through her feelings as a mother and give us a character to be proud of.

Dance of Blade neither dramatically succeeds nor fails. The plot, characterization, and events of this book echo too strongly with the first book to be considered anything more than a continuation of the first book’s plot. The first two books give the impression of a larger book that was divided, something that could have worked if not for the time gap and other hallmarks that divided the two.

I’m excited to continue with this multi-book epic and see what happens next. As much as I pushed against it, the “more of the same” structure hasn’t sullied the characters or series, if taken at face value. As a standalone title Dance of Blades would work fantastically, I’m just more hesitant at how well it manages as a second book.

Book three, Dance of Mirrors, is next and I’m eager and hopeful to see where Dalglish takes us this time. With any luck there will be a new threat to challenge our hero and favored characters that takes us away from the now well-worn path.


A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish – Book Review

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

Book Review

(*Small Spoilers – Reader BEWARE*)

9780356502786More than anything else A Dance of Cloaks is novel that takes clear inspiration from authors such as Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks and crafts a story that, like The Warded Man or The Way of Shadows, focuses on deep, personal character development.

While there is an array of characters that are the focus, it’s Aaron Felhorn who stands at the center. The youngest son to the master assassin and head of the Spider Guild, Thren Felhorn, Aaron has been trained since the age of 8 to be the perfect heir. He’s been forbidden two things: love and religion. Instead he’s been taught absolute obedience to his father, including murdering his older brother in cold blood early on in the book.
The plot focuses on Thren’s plans to unify the assassin guilds through force and end a war between the guilds and the Trifect, three families of great wealth and power (the Gemcrofts, Conningtons, and Keenans).

Meanwhile, Alyssa Gemcroft, heir to the Gemcroft’s, has to outmaneuver her betrothed, who cares only for her name and wealth. Joining her are the Faceless, three women that have been punished for their sins and wield shadow magic from their god Karak in order to help absolve them and perform the commands of their priests.

Dalglish handles the themes of religion with a deft hand, using an old fallback of a “dark” god against a “light” god. Karak, the “dark” god, is more prevalent in the series, we do get a glimpse at the workings of the priests of the god Ashhur towards the end. It’s an interesting plot point that will hopefully feature more prominently in forthcoming volumes, even if it’s just to see more dark paladins doing battle – which included some of the most interesting uses of the magic system and direct fight scenes in the book.

Through Kayla, Aaron discovers infatuation and love, and through an elderly tutor, Robert Haern, he eventually finds religion. These ideologies infect Thren’s perfect heir and soon Aaron begins questioning everything his life has meant until this point. These feelings boil over after he chooses to protect a priest’s daughter and betray his father by not assassinating her.

It’s at this point that the book really shines as Aaron’s internal struggle between remaining loyal and obedient to his father and what he believes to be right and fair fight for dominance in his psyche.

Following a life-altering moment Aaron dons a mask, a move that’s used to hide his identity from other’s in the guild as well as to help him mentally differentiate between another identity. Aaron’s use of a mask and alternate identity is evocative of an almost superhero alter-ego and it’ll be curious to see how this will play out in following books as Aaron forges a place for himself rather than the one his father had planned.

Following in the steps of other authors, notably G.R.R. Martin, from whom Dalglish has said he was inspired, A Dance of Cloaks does feature a number of characters and POVs that keep you bouncing from character to character when all you want to read is more on Aaron and Thren. While this switching does need a touch more work to be as seamless and engaging as possible, Dalglish does an admirable job and the pacing remains excellent throughout.

David Dalglish is one of those few authors who chose to self-publish his novels and has since gotten a book deal due to the success of his series. The first four books in the series have already been digitally published and now Orbit will release each book in consecutive months, the sequels to A Dance of Cloakscoming in November and December. A move that’s reminiscent of another series from Orbit, Brent Weeks Night Angel Trilogy, which were released in October, November, and December of 2008.

Dalglish is well on his way to join the ranks of Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks as influential authors in a new generation of fantasy. Who knows, maybe in another few years The Shadowdance Trilogy will be the inspiration of a new author looking to breakout.