I actually stopped reading fantasy a while back, maybe a year and half ago. It could be longer. I got sick of the same old tired tropes that didn’t try anything new. Oh look. There’s a young child walking on a goat trail. Oh look. There’s a teenager tending to a flock of sheep. Hey. A wizened old mage and some dwarfs and an elf.
The Wheel of Time, Dragonlance Chronicles, and Drizzt paved a path so large that for decades just about every fantasy author followed upon the smooth path. Even Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ follows in their footsteps to a degree. It wasn’t until recently, about the last five years, that fantasy authors and editors looked at the carefully planted and manicured garden of books that had been growing for decades. They looked and saw how boring it all was.
I don’t know what author/editor combo it was, but there’s a duo out there who looked into that fantasy garden and decided to throw a barrel of dynamite into it. What was left after the smoke cleared was a rubble strewn crater-like path full of fissures, jagged rocks, and smoldering terrain that you learn how to traverse by jumping in feet first.
Which brings me to the greatness that is The Emperor’s Blades.
There’s no 800 pages of a little boy/girl who gets chosen by a wise old one. No raising the boy/girl in a lean-to in the woods that has a kitchen and a bathroom. No ridiculous apprenticeship. There are no chapters that are good for nothing but being an elaborate infodump to teach us what this new religion/government/culture is like all without furthering the story.
The Emperor’s Blades eschews those tired tropes that Jordan popularized and Martin has beaten to death. Instead, Brian Staveley deftly turns those tropes on their ears and spins a yarn as good as any I have read. The start of a tale that makes me want to run to the nearest bookstore (not library, because I need to see this on my bookshelf) and buy the next chapter in the saga.
I want to run (maybe drive really fast) to the bookstore, because–and I might be close to killing this poor horse–the Emperor’s Blades is not your run of the mill fantasy book. Let’s put it another way.
You think just because The Emperor’s Blades is the start of another fantasy epic that it places floaties on your arms, a lifesaver ring around your waist, a lifesaver around your chest, and then holds you under the armpits while you’re lowered inch by inch into the water?
Stavely throws you off a bridge into chum infested, heavy shark traffic waters, then tells you to swim to shore while regaling you of stories about shark attacks.
The Emperor’s Blades harkens back to Glen Cook’s: The Black Company. Shit hits the fan from the opening chapter and just gets thicker in the air as the story progresses. The first book ends masterfully, though not without some quirks.
The quirks in the last few chapters don’t tarnish the great story though, and most will not even notice them. I may have picked up on it simply because I am an author and have done the same thing. What I’m saying is that there are times in a story that you just have to say, “hell with the buildup,” and let the tinderbox explode. Make the transition abrupt enough, say in the middle of an action/fight sequence, and the reader will likely not even know it happened. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like the story and Staveley’s writing style. I noticed the transition and appreciate the abrupt subtlety (yes, that’s a thing) of it.
Should you go out and buy/checkout from the library The Emperor’s Blades? If I didn’t make that clear enough, I’ll spell it out: YES. This is a wonderful story, and I am so happy I threw caution to the wind and bought it on Google Play Books. Now go. Buy or checkout The Emperor’s Blades. You’ll thank me.