Fantasy Review: ‘The Emperor’s Blades’ by Brian Staveley

Three children are introduced, their father recently murdered Emperor of the land.  One child The Emperor's Blades(Adare, the daughter) is given a few token chapters but is largely forgotten; the story focuses instead on two boys going through their own separate hellish trainings.  Kaden is the heir to the throne, currently living with a group of monks whose tortures will end up teaching him what he needs to survive (child abuse for success). Brother Valyn is in training to join an elite flying regiment of elite soldiers.  Training consists of live exercises full of danger, a Starship Troopers bootcamp in fantasy land.

Perfectly pedestrian epic fantasy.  Oh it does a few things different, employing a fairly diverse cast and a setting not based around a faux medieval Europe.  I enjoyed this book for the most part, especially once the story finally got going.  Unfortunately I am not sure anything important happens until about the sixty percent mark of the book.  Before that it is more concerned with taking the idea of lessons hidden in chores to extreme levels. 

Remember the old man from The Karate Kid?  You know; “Wax on, wax off?”  Did you ever think the training would have been more effective had he beat the living daylights out of the kid, maybe bury him up to his neck in sand for a week as part of his lessons?  Rampuri Tan, Kaden’s teacher, knew this was the way to go.  As a plot device it is ok; I guess.  Not new or novel and doesn’t excite me, but I can see it working.  As a plot device for a hundred pages it is repetitive and becomes laughable easy to spot.  I found myself correctly guessing what new hell Kaden was about to be put through each time.  And if I can guess the new brutality so easily after a hundred pages, why can’t Kaden figure it out after eight years?  But aw shucks, look at that, Master Tan is just doing what’s best, and all of his training will prove useful at just the right time.

Valyn’s training was just as brutal but a bit more understandable being that he was training to be the elite of the elite in soldiering.  His storyline was a lot more interesting as well, with a diverse cast of characters surrounding him and a few mysteries to deal with.  He is tipped off about a plot against his family, one of the first on the scene of a murder connected to his regiment, and generally just more active in the story.  But his plotlines are plagued with little annoyances as well.  The author is prone to repeating introductions to ideas or characters that have perfectly acceptable contextual clues later in the story.  For instance we were twice told in very introductory fashion about how nasty fellow trainee Yurl is; something I could have picked up just fine by his behavior.  It was a jarring bit of writing that showed up more than once.

Get past this long introduction based around training (or maybe enjoy it more than I do) and the story gets quite a bit better.  A decent amount of background info is introduced (in a much more natural way than some of the early characters introductions). Very little of the world’s background is actually relevant to the story itself, but a few tidbits picked up become important later on.  Adare’s political fight back at the capital was interesting; appointed as a minister and working with the reagent she works against the suspected killer of her father.  There just wasn’t enough of it, this very much being her brothers’ story.

Eventually the brothers are reunited to face the danger of a conspiracy against their whole family.  Some pretty exciting action scenes follow.  For whatever issues I had there was nothing wrong with the way the author writes action, quick paced and exciting.  Some of his secondary ideas (such as power leeches and the different religious sects of the land) got their chance to shine as well, keeping things a bit more unexpected while the action flows.

Perhaps another book I let myself get a little too excited about before reading.  Early reviews seemed positive and how could I not love that cover?  But the overly long training really pushed me away some; made even worse because I was effectively reading about it twice with the two brothers.  There was an illusion of depth in the world building (enough that an appendix was added to explain cultures and old gods), but none of it really mattered as the story itself was very straight forward.  Again, this wasn’t a bad book, and the action itself was very good.  But I will be quite a bit surprised if this becomes the next big series everyone talks about.  For me it was just thoroughly OK.

3 Stars

Copy for review received through NetGalley.

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