The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams
The story is set in an oriental setting and revolves around a disease that threatens the Cerani Empire: The Pattern. Patterns show on the skin of infected and soon after first contracting the disease they lose all sense of self and become creatures of the Pattern Master. You can picture them a bit like zombies with a hive-mind that share their experiences and abilities with each other.
Because there are rumors that the Emperor has fallen ill, a series of events is set in motion. Some people vie for the throne and others try to fight back against the Pattern Master. The world is rife with intrigues and mystery, while the whole Empire is overshadowed by the approaching doom of the Pattern.
The story is about a couple of different characters that aren’t remarkable. Most of these types of characters you’ll have seen already in other stories and so they are pretty uninteresting. The only one that can rise above is the brother of the Emperor: Sarmin. With the death of their father, all his male children except for the heir and Sarmin were killed. Sarmin’s brother became the new Emperor and Sarmin was imprisoned in a small chamber, where he has nothing for company but five books and occasional visits from his mother. The rest of the world thinks him dead. Sarmin is interesting because he combines a sharp intelligenz with a streak of insanity that comes from his confinement. His broken personality is one of the highlights of the book and the reader can understand him and his plight.
Very close to the end the reader gets glimpses of the personalities of other characters, but before that, they are mostly blank.
The story suffers under the lack of explaining. Some important things, especially the Pattern, just happen/are. I normally like mysteries and I’m glad when the story doesn’t take your hand as if you were a little child, but in this book it doesn’t work. Again I’ll mention the Pattern, because it is never explained how it works, why it works, and why important characters can go against it without any training. It feels like one of the magic-systems that just work like they need to to advance the story. Did I mention that the magic system is kinda bleak too? Well, the Pattern just happens and how it infects people or why some can resist it longer isn’t explained at all. Maybe an explanation is part of the next book(s), but that’s too late for my taste.
The plot lumbers along and is enjoyable, but won’t knock you off your feet. The ending comes abrupt and it feels rushed in its solution, which was one of the bigger problems.
This might seem overly negative, but it is not a bad book. It held my interest and was good enough to make me consider buying the next part of the series. The series is not high on my to buy-list, but I would like to know what happens to Sarmin someday.