Series: Tower and Knife #1
Published by Jo Fletcher on October 12th 2012
Genres: High Fantasy
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A plague is attacking the Cerani Empire: as the geometric patterns cover the skin, so the victims fall under the power of the Pattern Master.
Only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl who once saw a path through the waving grass.
Please bear with me as this is my first written book review in months. Exciting! But also a little scary. I have on the other hand continued blogging in some form or another so I hope that my writerly-side is still intact.
Right, so, The Emperor’s Knife. I’m calling it grimdark in my tags as I found it to be fairly gritty with very little in the way of comic relief. You are, of course, welcome to disagree. The Empire is quite dystopian in nature, particularly with the spread of the Pattern which can strike anybody at any time. It tattoos a person’s body and once complete either kills or enslaves their mind so once discovered, a patterned person is put to death. You’re not even safe if you’re a noble or a royal and it is definitely unclear who has the real power. So it’s not a cheerful place to live which can definitely be quite a slog to read through if you’re in the wrong frame of mind for it, but fortunately I was not at the time I read it.
There is a lack of a clear protagonist. When it began, I was sure it would be a story about a mad Prince emprisoned in a tower who tries to escape, falls in love, and brings down the Empire in the process. It is not quite that simple. We actually experience several viewpoints, which isn’t a new thing in epic fantasy by any margin, but in The Emperor’s Knife it was definitely refreshing. Especially around that midway point which I will get to in a second.
I was initially drawn to The Emperor’s Knife because of its’ Middle Eastern influence. The story is mainly set in the Empire which is very ancient Middle Eastern in nature with its’ constant danger and desert culture. I particularly loved the fact that people ride camels in this series and only very high-ranking men ride horses but even then, riding isn’t easy in the desert sands. On occasion I found the desert setting to grate on me a little. I love it, but at the same time there’s not much going on in a desert, just sand, sand, and more sand with the odd surprise thrown in for good measure. Although I did feel like the story lost some excitement about halfway through. There was a lot of desert and moving forward, but very few bumps in the road that made me sit up and take notice, just a whole lot of sand. I’m not sure if this was down to a low point in me, or the novel, so we shall leave that one on a peg for now, especially considering how it broke through that for the climax which sped off in all sorts of directions I never saw coming.
The Emperor’s Knife is a great read which I felt was masterfully written, for sure. The world feels alive and Mazarkis has perfected the ‘show don’t tell’ side of novel writing, which is a very difficult thing to master. The ending was spot on, I felt, and could have satisfactorily ended here as a standalone. However, I’m glad there will be more in the Tower and Knife series as I enjoyed reading this book immensely and look forward to seeing where the characters take things next and hope that there is less lacking at the midway point.
– A dark, winding epic fantasy with a Middle Eastern setting and solid characters.