by Brian Staveley
25 Words or Less:
An immortal warrior lays waste to his own legacy, while two distant youths studying very different paths uncover signs of coming brutality on the horizon.
Not bad. CG-painterly, with the implication that the blades of the title are these three figures rather than just some pile of swords somewhere. Nice fonts, nice all round really.
Formatting, Grammar & Spelling:
Professional, no errors noted, American English.
Mostly fine, although I’ll freely confess to skimming a bit between conversations. The downfall of Epic Fantasy tends to be a preponderance of paragraphs longer than a mighty broadsword, more weighty than a graven breastplate, forged in the fires of… hmm? Yes, so, many a page here seemed to drag on a bit more than was necessary — to me, but I suspect this is exactly what genre fans are after, a deep lake of history and backstory and endless detail of lineage and other cultural significance to sink into, never to resurface again…
Hmm? Yes, so, in between such stretches, the actual story looks pretty catchy, so let’s move on to that, shall we? Via a quick look at the overuse of vowel clusters and apostrophes in nouns, of course. This is fantasy, after all. Staveley certainly keeps his genre end up…
Characterisation & Dialogue:
First impressions are that The Emperor’s Blades enjoys a variety of solid lead characters. The opening, villainously unparental Tan’is (there’s one) sets the fantasy scene well as a filicidal being of both extreme old age and physical strength; next up is Kaden, a Grasshopper-like monk in training at a remote, mountainous monastery, whose masters are demanding of excellence and quick to punish with the rod and talk about things like perfecting their saama’an (ooh, double, maybe triple points for that).
The sample rounds things off introducing Ha Lin, a sea warrior cadet/attractive young woman (rather typically, and with a rather un-fantasy name I’m disappointed to note) who trains alongside probably a royal bastard called Valyn hui’Malkeenian (ahh, that’s better — and I’m going to have to add “uncapitalised prefix words” to fantasy’s novelty naming list). Hmm, except, actually, I think it’s Valyn we’re supposed to be “with” here, not his fairly generic asian hottie colleague. He gets slapped around a bit too, much like Kaden did, which makes the figures of authority feel a bit samey at this early stage. So, what’s it all about?
Was I enticed by the story so far? Moderately. The short prologue introduces Tan’is (whose name really doesn’t need that apostrophe – I keep hearing a South Park voice saying “Plane’arium”) mere moments before he slays his own adult daughter for the apparent crime of ageing at a normal human rate – he is nigh on immortal, and perceives the faint lines at the corners of her eyes to be symptoms of what he calls The Rot (and all the while, though it ISN’T the same, I was thinking about Stanis Barratheon and his greyscale afflicted daughter… but anyway).
We then jump to the mountains near a remote monastry, when young Kaden is hunting for a lost goat to avoid a beating from his tutors, only to find it brutally killed in a way most unlike any of the region’s predators. He employs a mental technique — saama’an, as mentioned — which allows him to perfectly memorise the scene and reproduce it as a painting in flawless detail. His new master thrashes him about the shoulders for a while until he provokes the realisation that something is missing from Kaden’s image: tracks. The goat was killed by something that left no trace of itself behind. Well done, Grasshopp— excuse me.
Finally, we join Valys, whose cadre of naval warriors in training are picking over the remains of a massacred crew (and who personally can’t help but find his assigned partner more than a little eye catching). When the cadets are called to order by their harsh taskmaster and ordered to assess the situation, one after another their observations are trashed — but Valys stands up for himself and sees what the others didn’t: that these were no ordinary sailors caught by surprise by pirates under cover of night, but hardened mercenaries armed with the finest steel, defeated face to face by a still greater foe…
All this is more or less fine, but there are already hints of repetition afoot. Kaden and Valys are basically doing the same thing in thematically opposite locations — mountains/oceans. monks/sea harriers (or something) — and beneath the trappings their tests and trials are all but identical: use your perceptions, be verbally and/or physically abused until you get it right. And, in Kaden’s two chapters, Staveley makes a point of reminding us that he’s been there for four years at least eight times… actually I have that the wrong way around, but while I was reading it started to feel like I hadn’t.
You might guess here that Epic Fantasy isn’t really my bag, though there was a time many moons ago I’d have felt differently. Quality contenders will of course bend my will to theirs, as The Grace of Kings proved, and while The Emperor’s Blades didn’t wow me to that extent it’s certainly not bad. So, though I personally am not about attend DraCon’15 (come on, someone must have had that idea, right?) and strangle my way through a crowd of frothing cosplayers to land myself a copy, this will surely appeal to fans of the genre.
The Emperor’s Blades is solid enough, and the sample hints at bigger things to come – but ten bucks is a bit steep, and the battle between style and content looks a bit gruelling to me.
= Technicalities =
Title: The Emperor’s Blades
Author: Brian Staveley
Price: $9.99 (September 2015)