The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
The second audiobook I listened to and imagine my pleasant surprise when I heard Simon Vance’s voice coming out of the speakers again. When I’d bought the audiobook I’d not looked at who narrated the book, but now I can say that in terms of narrators, this audiobook has an incredible voice actor that’s easy to listen to. Only once did I find his voice jarring, when a young girl desperately asked for help, but that might be the limit for a male voice actor. Still, that was a short scene and the overall narrating is top of the line.
The book had been getting some nice reviews and buzz at the beginning of the year, so it had been on my to-read list for a while until I finally got the chance to get and listen to the audiobook. I’d not expected that much, but got absorbed in the book from the very beginning. Part of that is definitely because of the great narrator, but the book manages to get you invested very quick.
The story is about a vast empire. We start when the emperor gets murdered and the three storylines follow his children, all in very different circumstances. The heir Kaden is a monk, his brother Valyn something of a trained special-ops, their sister Adare a minister. Most of the book follows Valyn as his training comes to a close, with the dreaded Howl’s Trial coming up. He’s without a doubt the most interesting character to follow.
He discovers that his and his siblings’ lives are in danger and doesn’t know who to trust. With attempts at his life he only barely survives, he needs to find out who’s behind all of this.
That we learn early on that there’s a conspiracy against the ruling family does a lot to make the story interesting and we follow a trained specialist on the trail as Valyn does everything in his power to find the people behind the attempts. This is made sour in the end, when we find out who was behind the attacks on his life and I couldn’t help but feel disappointment as the most obvious route was taken.
While it’s great to follow Valyn on his hunt, his sister’s storyline is just not long enough even though with her in the capital and trying to bring her father’s killer to justice it would have made for one very interesting development to follow. That she’s a very intelligent young woman is another reason for why she’d be a great character to have more time as the PoV. The space needed for her to get more into the focus of the story could be taken from Kaden’s storyline. While it isn’t boring, it’s a lot of the same stuff, him learning the Vanjate, or at least trying to learn it. His PoV is slow-paced and often not that important, and I’d have traded part of his storyline for learning more about his sister.
The setting stands in the background, at least for most of the story, as it plays on a small island where Valyn learns his craft. We get a pretty good picture of the history through what Kaden learns and a good idea on what the characters will have to fight against. It’s not a simple “Dark vs Light” thing, but it does seem close. The world-building and setting isn’t bad in the least, but it lacks something that makes it unique and stands out. The highlight of the story is Valyn’s training and especially Howl’s Trial, which seems like Special Op’s training where the trainees are pushed to their limit and beyond.
Concluding: All in all, I liked it and will read the next part of the series when it comes out. But it isn’t a must-read book. It’s a book you can enjoy, especially when you don’t expect anything special from it. The story has its ups and downs with a good ending that was only marred by an oblivious protagonist who doesn’t always manage to be an intelligent person.