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The Empire's Ruin: Ashes of the Unhewn Throne #1    by Brian Staveley order for
Empire's Ruin
by Brian Staveley
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In The Empire's Ruin, Brian Staveley launches a fantasy series, Ashes of the Unhewn Throne. It follows from the events of his brilliant Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne saga that started in The Emperor's Blades. The Annurian Empire is shrinking and struggling to survive as this episode opens. It depended on kettral (massive birds that kept its enemies at bay) and on kenta gates that allowed instantaneous travel. Now, only one bird remains and no-one knows how to use the gates.

We meet Gwenna Sharpe and her Kettral team as they sweep in to rebellious Dombang to extract wingmates Talal and Qora, who were on a spy mission there. Fearing they've been captured (and against orders) she takes risks in an attempt to save them - and fails on all fronts, losing most of her team and the Empire's last kettral. Emperor Adare sends Gwenna on a mission to seek kettral eggs in the perilous southern continent, along with the mysterious Kiel and under the orders of an admiral who hates her.

Next, in Dombang, we meet Ruc, a Vuo Ton, who grew up in 'the deadly reeds and shifting channels' outside the city. Now a pacifist, Ruc worships Eira, goddess of love, though he was brought up by three old gods who taught him to kill and survive, and these old instincts rise easily. After odd, collared, naked individuals start to appear in the city, announcing that their Lord will come soon to be worshipped, Ruc ends up forced to train for Dombang's Arena, along with one of Gwenna's team who survived.

Another thread follows Akiil, who was branded as a seven-year-old for theft; was a monk (until a massacre in his monastery); and grew into the ultimate con artist. Having persuaded Emperor Adare that he can teach her to access kenta gates (and failing), he discovers that he can use them himself. Each of these leads go through all sorts of trials and tribulations, advancing the plot on many fronts, and leaving the reader very curious about what's ahead.

The Empire's Ruin is an intricate story (as is typical of Staveley's work) and a totally fascinating beginning to another unusual and impressive fantasy saga.

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