*Edit: I did a re-read of The Emperor’s Blades, and damn, it’s good. Staveley knows his stuff. It may have taken going through a bajillion edits on my own book to realize how truly well-written this book is. Upping the rating to full 5 stars.
True Rating: 4.5+ – Brian, if you read this (and you won’t, because what kind of lunatic reads all of his reviews on the interwebs?), you’ve joined rare company. I try to reserve a 5 rating for those books that really blow me away. Not many come to mind, but Rothfuss’s books and a few of the Wheel of Time books are there. And probably some of the Dresden Files books.
One can learn a great deal by looking at a person’s goodreads book collection. What people could/would/should learn from skimming through mine is that I’m a huge Fantasy nerd. It’s almost sad how many Fantasy books I have read compared to any other genre or category. What’s even sadder is that when you’ve read that many great Fantasy books, it becomes difficult to find the next book that really enthralls you. Most recommendations floating around the world of geekdom either aren’t up to par, already live on the “read” list”, or just aren’t my cup of tea.
Enter, “The Emperor’s Blades”. I received a copy of this book at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, England 2013. I think it’s an ARC or an early proof copy of some kind.
The first point I’d like to make is that I think it’s AWESOME that Tor put the money and effort into printing copies to give away to fantasy fanatics at WFC.
The second is that I should have read this book much sooner. I have recently been wallowing through a few books that were mildly interesting at best, and decided to give this book a try after looking it up on goodreads and finding a large number of favorable reviews.
Okay, now to why I gave this book a “4.5+” instead of an immediate 5 (which was not an easy decision, mind you). It all boils down to the 3 character arcs. I know what you’re thinking, the first time author must have had a hard time relating and tying the 3 arcs together. Nope, not it. Staveley actually did a really good job of foreshadowing and then tying the threads together (at least 2 of them literally converged).
The problem is that I only found Valyn’s thread truly engaging. He had a goal, believable motives, a romance interest, a heckler, a shadowy enemy/threat (who ended up fairly predictably being the heckler, one of my only knocks on this character thread), and he literally kicks ass. He’s a character who speaks to me personally, so I accept that others readers may have found the other characters delightful, but I found their (Kaden and Adare) plot lines fairly boring and their character arcs very predictable and vanilla.
The book really is very good, though. Staveley is a very solid writer. I was reading an uncorrected proof, and even still there were very few grammatical errors. I only noticed the writing when I came across a phrase that I liked, which for me is a powerful testament to Staveley’s skill. And his characterization is superb. He doesn’t have many truly “deep” characters, but give the guy a break, it’s only the first book. He is, however, very good at giving characters, even secondary or tertiary characters, a distinct on-page flavor. This is particularly impressive to me because I worry about it constantly in my own writing. I know each character and their motivations, but Staveley has succeeded in making me insecure about how each of my characters presents him/herself on page.
And that’s what I really liked about this book: It not only grabbed me by the eye sockets and pulled me along for the ride, it made me want to be a better writer and showed me something I can improve.