“A fantastic and compelling fantasy world […] an excellent author […] a compelling narrative. The next entry in the series, The Providence of Fire, is due out in 2015, and I already can’t wait to see what happens.” — io9
The Emperor’s Blades is the first book in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne.
Named the Best Fantasy Debut of 2014 on Reddit Fantasy, it was also a semi-finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards, and has appeared on numerous “Best-Of” lists, including Locus Magazine’s 2014 Recommended Reading List.
Praise for The Emperor’s Blades
“In this epic fantasy debut, Staveley has created a complex and richly detailed world filled with elite soldier-assassins, mystic warrior monks, serpentine politics, and ancient secrets. Readers of Sara Douglass’s Wayfarer novels and George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series should enjoy this opener. —Library Journal, Debut of the Month, Starred Review
“[A] Quick-paced, multi-threaded fantasy […] Staveley puts his protagonists to the test and is wise enough to allow them shortcomings even as they develop extraordinary abilities.” — Publishers Weekly
“Staveley creates a world of treachery and deceit that will hold your attention to the last page. This intense novel is impossible to put down […] and Staveley’s perfectly timed ending will leave the reader begging for the next book.” — RT Book Reviews
“This book kept me on the edge of my seat. This book gave me actual adrenaline rushes. This book was unputdownable. This book blew my fucking mind. Favorite fantasy book of the year… maybe even ever.” —Litchick’s Hit List
“Familiar ingredients come to life in the hands of a promising new master chef […] With assured skill, Staveley takes this initial stage of his tale to a climax where the amount of double-dealing and quick change dazzles, even as it prompts absolute paranoia.” — Locus
“The suspense is relentless, and the moral compromises the protagonists confront, often accompanied by violence, are wrenching.” — Shelf Awareness
“Come for the intrigue, assassination, death priests, black-ops bird riders, and giant poisonous hive-lizards. Stay for Staveley’s characters, his language, and his way-cool fantasy Zen.” —Max Gladstone, author of Three Parts Dead
“Brian Staveley has gifted readers with a vivid and visceral universe, peopled with likeable but very human characters. From the heat of the sun and the sweat on the skin . . . to the tense, knife-in-the-back feeling of the complicated and fascinating intrigue, all is real, solid, and compelling.” —Christie Golden, New York Times bestselling author of Arthas: Rise of the Lich King and Fate of the Jedi: Omen
“Brian Staveley introduces himself to the field of epic fantasy as a storyteller to watch. The Emperor’s Blades is an exciting first salvo involving Machiavellian politics on multiple levels, an intriguing world of magic, and three protagonists whose personal journeys will keep the reader impatiently waiting for the next book!” —Richard A. Knaak, New York Times bestselling author of The Legend of Huma
“A vividly imagined story of conspiracy and empire.” —Col Buchanan, author of Farlandar
“A complex and fast-moving fantasy set in a world where treachery and intrigue are everywhere, accomplished through ferocious brutality, subtle intrigues, and everything in between.” —L. E. Modesitt Jr., New York Times bestselling author of The Imager Portfolio and the Recluce Saga
“Staveley brings together a richly imagined world and vibrant characters, and serves them up with monks and monsters, tension and treachery—an exhilarating adventure.” —Elspeth Cooper, author of Songs of the Earth
“Takes a story of family, loss, conspiracy and revenge and gives it new legs. It’s epic fantasy with a sharp, jagged edge to it, a modern sensibility, prose as tight as the leather wrapped about a sword’s hilt, and characters that you can relate to and give a damn about. I look forward to the next installment of Staveley’s chronicle.” —R. S. Belcher, author of The Six-Gun Tarot
!!!BEWARE THE MYRIAD SPOILERS!!!
The prologue opens on a scene of slaughter. The immortal Csestriim general Tan’is is overseeing the massacre of humans. Humans, we learn, are the children of the Csestriim, but for reasons unknown, they are born different from their parents. Unlike the Csestriim, who are immortal and emotionless, these human children have a life span of less than a hundred years, and are the playthings of their own passions. This difference leads to a great war between the two races, one that nearly ends in the complete destruction of the humans before the humans are able to turn the tide and effect their own genocide of the Csestriim.
The first chapter takes place many thousands of years after the prologue. Kaden, the youngest son of the Annurian emperor Sanlitun hui’Malkeenian and his heir, has spent most of his life in the remote monastery of Ashk’lan, studying the ancient discipline of the Shin monks. Life is largely a matter of running, working, and meditation until the day he discovers a brutally slaughtered goat deep in the mountains. As the monks try to find the creature responsible for the killing, responsibility for Kaden’s instruction is transferred to a new monk, the scarred and inscrutable Rampuri Tan. Tan goes at Kaden’s training with an unprecedented intensity, determined to teach him the ancient art of the vaniate, the empty trace toward which all the Shin aspire.
Meanwhile, on the secret military base of the Qirin Islands, Kaden’s older brother Valyn is training to become Kettral, the empire’s most elite military order. During an early training mission, however, he learns about the death of his father from a dying Aedolian guardsman on an abandoned ship. From that point forward, Valyn himself seems to be in danger, especially when a tavern in which he’s been drinking mysteriously collapses into the bay. With the help of his friend and fellow trainee, Ha Lin, Valyn tries to find the traitor responsible for the attacks on his life.
Back in Annur, the eldest Malkeenain sibling, Adare, is struggling with the aftermath of her father’s death. Elevated to a post as Minister of Finance, she is forced to face down the skepticism of her fellow ministers, to find a working relationship with the new regent, the cocky general Ran il Tornja, and, most crucially, to face down a challenge from Uinian IV, the Chief Priest of Intarra, the man she believes responsible for her father’s murder.
In his quest to ferret out the treachery on the Islands, Valyn discovers, over on the island of Hook, a mutilated corpse hung in an attic. He determines, from the degree of decomposition, that the woman was murdered the same day that the tavern collapsed around him. Before he can investigate further, Ha Lin receives a secret note from a Kettral leach (magic user) in training named Balendin. Despite her misgivings, she agrees to meet privately with Balendin. While she is doing so, Valyn is almost killed during a training exercise when his fellow cadet, the brilliant sniper Annick Fencha, fires on him with sharp arrowheads rather than the blunted training arrows. Recovering from the attack in the infirmary, Valyn is visited by Ha Lin. She was badly beaten by Balendin and another cadet, the smug and talented Sami Yurl, while Valyn was involved in the sniper exercise. Annick also visits Valyn in the infirmary, where she insists that the arrows she shot were, in fact, blunted. There’s not much time to process this information, however, because Hull’s Trial, the grueling exercise marking the transition from cadet to full Kettral, is upon Valyn and his fellows.
As Kaden struggles to master the Shin discipline—including such skills as the saama’an, the Carved Mind, beshra’an, The Thrown Mind; and kinla’an, The Flesh Mind—the killings around the monastery increase. Whatever predator haunts the mountains has moved from from goats to human prey. Then, to everyone’s surprise, a pair of merchants arrive at the monastery. Kaden is convinced, by some discrepancies in their story and behavior, that they are not what they claim, and more, that they have news of his father (of whose death, at this point in the story, Kaden is still unaware.) With the help of his friend and fellow acolyte, Akiil, Kaden uncovers a hidden cache of weapons belonging to the merchants. Before he can confront them, however, he is subdued by Rampuri Tan and brought before the abbot of the monastery, Scial Nin.
Nin explains to Kaden the reason he has been sent to Ashk’lan: the Annurian empire relies on a series of magical gates, kenta, built by the Csestriim thousands of years earlier as a way to fight against the humans. The gates allowed the Csestriim to pass from one place to another instantly. Just as crucially, they could be used only by Csestriim. This is because the kenta allow a person to pass through nothingness, and nothingness is the province of the ancient and inscrutable Blank God. The god allowed the Csestriim to pass through his domain because they carry an emptiness, a lack of what we might consider human ego, inside of them. Humans, however, are too filled with their own emotions, packed with hopes, fears, and all the rest, and so, when they try to pass the kenta, the gates obliterate them.
The Csestriim, however, made a mistake. At a certain point in the war they began to take human prisoners to try to better understand the intellectual and physical rot that afflicted their descendants. They kept these humans in a prison known at the Dead Heart, where they subjected them to all manner of horrific experimentation. As a result, some of the prisoners experienced a psychotic break, a mental schism so violent that it allowed them to set aside their own emotions, and therefore, to pass through the kenta. The prisoners overthrew their captors, and became an order of Csestriim hunters—the only humans capable of using the gates—known as the Ishien.
After humanity won the Csestriim Wars, need for the Ishien began to fade, and the order turned from violent, martial pursuits, to meditation and contemplation. Eventually there was a split between those holding to the old mission—the Ishien—and those who began to pursue emptiness for its own sake—the Shin. The Ishien, realizing they lacked the power to patrol all the gates, passed some of this responsibility to the fledgling Annurian Empire, agreeing to train each emperor to use the gates in return for a promise from those emperors that the gates would be protected and guarded against any remaining Csestriim.
It is revealed, in this scene with Scial Nin, Kaden, and Rampuri Tan, that Tan himself was a member of the Ishien before joining the Shin. More importantly, Tan believes the Csestriim have returned, in large part because a track of the creature killing the monastery’s men and goats has been found, a track made only by the long extinct ak’hanath, unnatural spider-like hunters created by the Csestriim during the human wars.
In Annur, Adare drags Uinian IV to trial, only to discover, to her horror, that he demands an ancient Annurian ritual: trial by flame. When he places his hand into a burning fire, it emerges unscathed, proving his innocence. Or so it seems. Adare consults with il Tornja, with whom she has a growing romantic connection, and concludes that Uinain is not, in fact, blessed by the goddess, but a magical leach, using his powers to feign divine blessing.
On the Islands, Valyn finally faces Hull’s Trial, a grueling week of physical exhaustion followed by a descent into the endless labyrinthine caves of Hull’s Hole. Each cadet is bitten by the monstrous slarn before entering, then must find and eat from a slarn egg, to counteract the poison of the bite. Valyn almost dies in the cave, but finds, at the last moment, the huge black egg of the slarn king—an egg no cadet has ever found before—and drinks from it. On his way back to the surface, he finds Ha Lin’s body.
After the Trial, the newly graduated cadets are formed into Wings. Valyn’s Wing seems unpromising—Gwenna Sharpe, his demolitions expert, is short-tempered and impulsive; Annick Fencha, the sniper, is utterly emotionless and, for all Valyn knows, a part of the plot against him; Talal, the leach, is competent but magically weak: Laith, the flier, is too reckless to work well with the team. They botch their early training exercises badly, but then, as they begin to work together, find some success. Even more importantly, they compare stories and come to the terrifying realization that the cadets responsible for the attacks on Valyn’s life, and for Ha Lin’s murder, are Sami Yurl and Balendin. Balendin’s well appears to be emotion—a very powerful source of power, one that explains his need to taunt and torture everyone around him. Just as Valyn and his Wing are going to confront Balendin, they discover that the leach has already left with Sami Yurl and the rest of his Wing, sent north on an undisclosed mission. This frightens Valyn: Kaden is in the north. Daveen Shaleel, a high-ranking Kettral commander, grounds Valyn’s Wing pending an investigation, but Valyn and his fellow soldiers go AWOL, stealing a bird and weapons in order to chase after Yurl and Balendin.
In Annur, Adare concocts a plan to reveal Uinian’s deceit. She goes to the Temple of Light, where Uinian regularly performs a ritual in which he stands in a beam of focused light. The miracle comes from the fact that he doesn’t burn, despite the concentrated heat, a feat that his adherents take as proof of his divine favor. At the temple, Adare has one of il Tornja’s soldiers paralyze the priest with a blow dart, then render him unconscious with another. Unconscious, Uinian is unable to use his magic, and burns alive, then is torn to pieces by his furious congregation.
Back at the monastery, an embassy arrives from the capital led by Tarik Adiv, a high-ranking Annurian minister, and Micijah Ut, the commander of the emperor’s Aedolian guard. They inform Kaden of his father’s death, hail him as the new Emperor, and present him with many gifts, including young concubine named Triste. That night, however, the treacherous soldiers spring their trap, slaughtering the monks and trying to kill Kaden as well. He is saved only by Pyrre, the “merchant” from earlier, who turns out to be a Skullsworn assassin, a priestess of the goddess of death hired to protect Kaden. Kaden, Triste, Tan, and Pyrre flee into the mountains.
Valyn’s Wing catches up with Yurl and Balendin in the mountains, but is captured by the treachery of Ut and Adiv (who are now working with Yurl and Balendin). Kaden’s group, however, sees the possibility of victory if they can reunite with Valyn, his Wing, and his bird. Rampuri Tan fights off a pack of ak’hanath, clearing a path for Kaden, who has finally managed to enter the vaniate, to return to the Annurian camp and free his brother. In that camp, Balendin makes a near-fatal miscalculation, believing he can rely on Kaden’s emotion to fuel his power, when Kaden, in the vaniate, has no emotion. Kaden shoots Balendin with a crossbow, and the leach falls into the darkness. Valyn, freed, slaughters Sami Yurl and the rest of the treacherous Wing. Without the support of the treacherous Kettral, the Aedolians are easily dispatched as well.
Flush with her triumph over her father’s murderer, Adare settles into her new life, comfortable with both her role and her relationship with il Tornja. When she finally turns her attention to her inheritance, however, a single volume of history left her by her father, she finds a note from the late emperor, a message from beyond the grave proving that Uinian was, in fact, innocent of his murder, and laying the blame at the feet of the kenarang, the regent, Adare’s new lover, Ran il Tornja.
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