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The Emperor's Blades: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne    by Brian Staveley order for
Emperor's Blades
by Brian Staveley
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've had Brian Staveley's The Emperor's Blades, first episode in his Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne for some time. Somehow I overlooked it. Was that ever a mistake! It's an extraordinary debut fantasy with tons of action, treachery at every turn, fascinating leads, and of course magic.

The epic opens on the treacherous murder of the emperor of Annur. His two sons have been away for years, undergoing very different (but equally gruelling) training. Golden-eyed heir Kaden has been honing his mind, acquiring the discipline of the Blank God in the remote Ashk'lan monastery in the Bone Mountains for eight years. His brother Valyn developed martial skills as a Kettral - think Special Forces on giant black hawks. Their sister Adare has been elevated to Minister of Finance in the capital, by their father's testament. All three of them face tough challenges in this first episode.

In the mountains, Kaden finds a goat savagely killed by some unknown beast. When he returns to report it, he's assigned a new umial (monk instructor), Rampuri Tan, whose tutelage is extraordinarily harsh, yet effective. On an exercise at sea, Kalyn and his fellows come upon slaughtered soldiers. Kalyn learns from a survivor that they were sent to retrieve and protect him and that someone important in the Kettral ranks is part of the plot against the throne. He continues with his training but watches for the attempts on his life that follow. Are leaches (magic users) involved? There is one in Kettral's circle of friends but can he be relied on?

In the capital, Adare works with the new regent, General Ran il Tornja, a military genius, and an attraction grows between them. Together they work to bring her father's killer to justice - but were there more plotters than the Chief Priest of Intarra and can the princess really trust il Tornja? Adare struggles with politics and her feelings. Kalyn investigates a murder and takes the horrific Trial to become a full Kettral, hoping that he will then be free to seek out and save his brother. And enemies (as well as some surprising protectors) close in on the new Emperor, Kaden.

The book opened on immortal Csestriim (who feel no emotions) disposing of their aging children. As this episode ends, one son of the Emperor sets out on a quest to learn more about the Csestriim, while the other seeks their foes in the capital. The Emperor's Blades was a stunning start and I'm very anxious to read more of this thrilling series.

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