Enter into Neth Space and you will find thoughts and reviews of books and other media that fit the general definition of speculative fiction. This includes the various genres and sub-genres of fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, high fantasy, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, new weird, magical realism, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, slipstream, horror, alternative history, SF noir, etc. Thoughts are my own, I'm certainly not a professional, just an avid reader avoiding his day job.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Review: The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
A few times
a year I notice a big push by one big traditional publisher or another about a
book that they’ve clearly identified as the next big thing. The marketing is
typically ratcheted up a notch or two – many review copies, interviews, blog
tours, free sample chapters, etc. One of these books for 2014 is The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley –
go ahead and search out the buzz, you’ll find a lot, including 7 sample chapters.
these books are often mixed in how they are received both critically and
financially, but in general it’s safe to say that they tend to have a
potentially wide-market appeal and are not overly different from other popular
books at the time. In this, The Emperor’s
Blades is no different – it’s a fairly traditional sort of epic fantasy
somewhat in a similar vein as George RR Martin and David Anthony Durham.
enjoyed the story of the book, and I have to freely admit that Staveley writes
a very good action scene and made me connect in a positive way with the
characters of the story. This makes the book very readable, hard to put down,
and flat-out entertaining. The world is neatly developed in the familiar medieval
European and surrounding environs sort of way and the magic system is subtle in
this opening book of the series with a potential to be bigger. All in all, it’s
exactly the sort of thing that fans of epic fantasy crave, making this book a
very logical choice to push as the next big thing.
had a few nagging issues that simply didn’t go away. The first, and lesser, is
with the character Adare, the daughter of the emperor, though not an heir due
to being a girl. The book’s description talks her up in a big way, though this
isn’t well realized in the book as she seems marginalized to a low page count
as she plays something of the traditional role of female victim. It was
disappointing, and consistent with the treatment of the only other female
character of note in the book. I’ve been told that the second book rectifies
many of these issues, but so far the series is not out to a good start.
bigger issue I had was with the general framework of this series. In short,
epic fantasy is often a very conservative genre at heart and this series
appears to be a poster-child example of it. Much of traditional epic fantasy
revolves around the basic tenant of maintaining the status quo – the goal is
keep or re-establish some monarchy or other style of generally oppressive
government, usually in the face of some grave, even existential, threat that
only the government can protect the people from. Only rarely is any sort of
actual human progress sought.
absolutely the case with The Emperor’s
Blades – there is a rather tyrannical empire, complete with casual slavery.
Everything in the story is about maintaining this empire at all costs, and the
always looming great evil that this government must protect its people from is
introduced. This is a story of an aristocratic elite fighting to keep power.
To me, this
sort of storytelling in epic fantasy is tired and lazy. I want something more,
something progressive, or at least not something inherently conservative (and I’m
not necessarily using these terms in a political sense). And I find it
troubling where the default for epic fantasy is basically that tyrannical
governmental structures are fine as long as they protect you from evil.
Especially as I look at around at my own and similar governments.
In spite of
my reservations, I feel that Staveley’s storytelling rose above the mediocrity
of its framework, and I agree that most fans of epic fantasy will find it
enjoyable. The book was fun to read and I imagine that I will read the second
book, The Providence of Fire, to see where
things go. Hopefully there will some big picture surprises that improve upon my