Backlist Burndown: The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley

Backlist Burndown is a monthly meme hosted by Lisa from Tenacious Reader where you put aside at least one book from your blacklist every month to read, and then post a review of it on the last Friday of that month.

This month’s book was long over due. I got it at a signing last year, and I am hoping to go a signing with him, James L. Cambias, Elizabeth Bear, and Max Gladstone next month; so I figured now was a good time to read it.

The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: January 14, 2014

Edition: Hardcover, 480 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5


The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

I have that rule: I do not start a series unless they are already completed, or the final book’s release date has been set and it is within a year. I do this partially because I tend to forget little details and plot points if I have to wait a year for each novel (although online summaries and wikis do work quite well), but the main reason behind this rule is because if I really like the book, I’m going to want to read through the whole series straight through and not want to have to wait for the next one. Every once in a while, I will break that rule and read a book like The Emperor’s Blades – and it because of books like this that I created this rule.

The next heir to the throne is Kaden. He is up towards the far away Bone Mountains studying with monks in the city of Ashk’lan. Kaden is not studying to be a monk; he is there to learn the ways of the monks as to help him prepare to be the Emperor for when that day arrives. Monks have a lot virtues that could be valuable for a leader – patience, being clam in stressful situations, using clear and observant thinking. The important lesson that these monks have to teach Kaden is called the vaniante – the emptiness.

To best describe Kaden’s life at the monastery, think The Karate Kid. As Mr. Miagi would teach Daniel-son different moves of karate by having him do seamlessly meaningless actions (wash the car, paint the fence), the monks have their acolytes doing random, laborious activities (running long distance, hauling stones, crafting pottery) in order to help them attain the vaniante. The major difference between these two is that instead of having Mr. Miagi, Kaden has Tan. Tan does have that stoic, clam personality; precise talk, and “zen-mind” that you would think a monk to have. However, when Kaden messes up, Tan dishes out some brutal penances! All the monks do this, but Tan takes it to a new level. I’m talking multiple lashing, days of running, and even being buried up to his neck for a week!

Kaden’s younger brother is Valyn. He is off on the Qirin islands training to be a Kettral. The Kettral are this spec-ops-like team that work for the Emperor of the Annurian Empire. The training is kind of like army boot camp, but like Kaden’s monk training, this training is magnitudes more intense and brutal – death is not an uncommon occurrence. They are tied to ropes and thrown into the sea, forced to swin back and forth between island, and have daily fights in this pit for all the cheer on.

The Kettral get their name from kerrtal – a massive eagle with a 70 foot wing span that they ride. Each Kettral team is make up of a commander, flier, demolitions, sniper, and leach. The leach is the only type of magic in the book. (Although monks have the capacity for saama’anbeshra’an, and kinla’an. Those don’t require magic, but the level at which they can do those things is borderline superhuman). Leaches are able to manipulate things in the world. They gain their power from something around them known as their well. It could be earnings, the sun, the color blue – seems like anything could be possible. A leach’s well is a closely held secret, because withot it, they are — you know… powerless and venerable.

I’m not sure if this was planned or not (or if it was just me?), but Kaden and Valyn felt very similar at the beginning. I could tell them apart, but if you were to have them switch places, it might fool me for bit. This ended up being really good thing. I’m happy that I noticed and then payed attention to it throughout. The development of the brothers emphasized how what path one chooses in life, can affect who they become in the future. As each of their separate lives went on, I realized it wasn’t that they felt like the same character; they felt like brothers. By the end of the novel, they were two different men, but I could still that blood connection with them that made them feel the same to me – feel like family.

Adare is the sister of Kaden and Valyn, and the only daughter of the Emperor. She was the only member of the family who was in Annur when their father was killed. It is with her POV that lies the main complaint I have heard with the story: she is not in the novel enough! I think that is a legitimate claim – Adare had a total of 4, maybe 5 chapters? – and I would have really liked to see more of her. However, I not sure if I could justify arguing for it.

This first book is a set up – a training ground for our heroes, you could say! It is about Kaden and Valyn, finally finishing up all their years of training and putting it to the final test! To get ready to off with their newly mastered skills in their chosen paths, and to let the real adventure begin! (I don’t know about you, but I love that part of the movie where our character learns all these new skills and then finally puts it all together before he is ready to start his quest. Wasn’t Batman Begins pretty cool?) With that in mind, it wouldn’t have made sense or fit with the rest of book to explore more of the political turmoil in Annur with Adare.

Plus, this is only the first book! (Calm down people). It is a part of the story. For all we know, she could have 90% of the chapters next book, and ending up being the main hero for whole series.

There were two things that keep me hooked to this book: the multiple plot lines and Brain’s writing. Adare, Kaden, and Valyn all have their own major plot lines that support the main plot – the deal with Emperor’s assassination. Then within each of their POVs there a multiple smaller plots going on too! Adare with her suspicion of the priest and her trying to gauge the man who is to rule until Kaden arrives; Kaden with Tan, the vaniante, and the mutilated sheep; Valyn with the boat and the incident in town. Those are only a couple (there are more, but no spoilers here) that all happen within the first couple POV chapters of each characters. These side plots are not so complex that you can’t follow or get lost in the story, but there is more than enough mystery the keep your mind racing, and eyes on constant alert to not miss anything important!

I have to mention how impressed I am with Brain’s vocabulary. I don’t know how to explain it (although I’m sure Brian know a word for what I’m trying to say 😉 ), but it had major influence in my enjoyment of his writing and the story. (Major points!)

This is not to say this the novel didn’t have it faults. I loved the multiple plots, but I felt they could have been a bit more complex, and more discrete with some of mystery of them. There are plenty of twists to this story, but I was able to guess what was going to happen, and was only shocked a couple of times. And yes, I did want more Adare. Not as much Kaden or Valyn, but I think we could have added a couple more chapters in there with her. (Some people could say less of the other too, but I was never bored with one chapter of this book. I just want more!)

I’m expecting great things from the next two books of this series, and are predicting big things to come from Brian in the future of fantasy. Keep an eye out for his name.

If I was a Leach, I would want my well to be eating donuts. I love donuts. Being a Leach, the more donuts I ate, the more powerful I would become, and in turn gaining this power would make we want to seek out more of this power and cause me to eat more donuts! You may think, “Cool DJ, you get power from eating donuts, but you’re going to fat!” WRONG. I use my leach power to INCREASE my metabolism, so I can eat all the donuts I want 😀 Genius, I know.

4.5/5 Rating


Date Read: 6/6/15 - 6/12/15
Review Written: 6/13/15
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11 thoughts on “Backlist Burndown: The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley

  1. Glad you broke your own rule and made time for it now – the second book is even better, and we do have a release date for the final book, so an end is in sight!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment, Bob! Yeah, next March is the release! (I lucked out there). I’ve heard that The Providence of Fire was amazing, so the real issue now will be trying to wait to read it until we’re a little close to the final book’s release date.


  2. Oh boy you are in for a treat for Providence of Fire. While I understand the wisdom of waiting to read it until the third book is closer to release, I’m tempted to tell you to drop everything and grab it now because it is just sooooo awesome 🙂


  3. Tammy says:

    I’ve heard so many great things about this series. If I wasn’t already so behind on the other books I want to read, I’d probably add this one to the list.


    • Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise. It one of those series that you are going to want to read straight through and not have to wait for the sequels.
      The final book comes out next March (I believe). So make sure have a spot open by then!


  4. Wait until you read Providence of Fire (you definitely get more Adare chapters and her storyline is way more interesting than it was in book one)! 🙂 Glad the author signing event motivated you to read this one 🙂


  5. […] I finished The Emperor’s Blades (my review), everyone kept telling to me wait until I read Providence of Fire; that if I loved The […]


  6. […] Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley […]


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