One of the best fantasy books I have read since I have started blogging, The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1) by Anna Smith Spark, is a poetic account of the struggle for existence centered around a handful of people caught in politics.
No, friends, it’s not as simple as I made it sound.
The Court of Broken Knives is an example of labyrinthine plots and counterplots that might leave the unwary confused. But those who can keep their cool are going to treasure this book for the rest of their bloody lives.
Anna Smith Spark (love that name, it has a spark), who calls herself the Queen of Grimdark (and rightly so) introduces her world, theme, and characters, all together in an explosive chapter.
Knives everywhere. Coming down like rain.
Smith Spark, Anna. The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust, Book 1) (Kindle Locations 84). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
This has become one of my favorite first lines from a fantasy book. Beautiful, horrific, just like the entire journey of our never-quite-a-hero Marith.
Each character is different yet so similar in this book. All of them, irrespective of their race, color, profession (what a diverse culture!), have some darkness in them. However, some become accidental heroes, while others become pawns in the hands of unsuspected powers.
The general tone of the book can be aptly described by the little chant created by the brilliant Ms. Smith Spark.
Why we march and why we die, And what life means … it’s all a lie.
Death! Death! Death!
Smith Spark, Anna. The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust, Book 1) (Kindle Locations 114-116). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Thalia, the holiest woman in the ‘richest empire the world has seen’, Sorlost or the ‘Golden City’, has hands almost as bloody and scarred as the mercenaries she is destined to meet.
Marith is the classic anti-hero who can stir up the coldest heart with his struggle with the ill-famed Hatha addiction, his grim past full of treachery and tribulations.
Orhan Emmereth, a man torn between his loyalty to the state and to the throne, has the foresight to anticipate an invasion the empire might not be able to withstand. He gets involved in a plan that comes to fruition in a way unanticipated by him and changes his and the lives of all the key people in the novel.
‘Desire and disgust’ is the recurrent theme in the book, something all the main characters feel in so many different ways. Be it lovers like Thalia and Marith of Orhan and Darath, or the mercenaries seeking glory and fortune, or Landra looking for vengeance.
Everybody gets something they want but lose something in return. The cost of ambition, greed, pride, vanity, or even freedom, is hefty.
I couldn’t have dreamed of a better ending. Makes me want to reveal a spoiler. DOn’t worry, I won’t.
A crown of silver. A throne of gold. A sound of weeping. A scent of blood in the air. King Ruin. King of Dust. King of Shadows.
One of my favorite lines, this wraps up the pitiful life of Marith so far. Wonder how he fares in the next book. Does he rise to greatness with Thalia’s love strengthening him against his demons? Or does he succumb to them?
A veil of grimdark thrust upon this book suits the glorious narrative and the stark beauty of the landscape. The prose is sharp, yet lyrical. The author skillfully changes person, POV, and tenses, uses sentence fragments to create powerful scenes, and shifts between the bloody horror and tender romance like a dream.
Yes. Dream. The Court of Broken Knives is a concatenation of dreams and nightmares of the narrators through whose eyes we observe a great story unravels itself. It’s as terrible and beautiful as the dragon unfurling its wings. The events occur with the same menace and unpredictability as the dragons that haunt the desert sky.
I love journeys in fantasy. This is one of the best I have ever read and hope the rest of the series can keep up.
Five Bohostars for amazingly quotable lyrical narrative, memorable characters, and a shockingly bleak and dry world.
Wrapping up with a line from one of my favorite reviews of this book, Kari from Moon Magister Reviews with permission.
It’s a tale told by a poet with the mouth of a sailor and the voice of an angel, and it suits the tone of the book so well.
Look at the stunning covers. I got the US version from Amazon India.
Anna has great taste in shoes. Go check her website if you don’t trust me.
Can’t have the shoes so bought the book. This review is based on the published Kindle copy proudly owned by me. 🙂
They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust.
In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it.
Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built.
The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.