The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

#9 - The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams (Reviewed by Bane of Kings)

Bane of Kings reviews the stunning debut novel by Mazarkis Williams, The Emperor’s Knife, published by young publishing industry Jo Fletcher Books in the UK and Night Shade Books in the USA.

“A fascinating, original and enthralling début that will leave the reader eagerly awaiting the next instalment in the Tower and the Knife Trilogy. Recommended.” ~The Founding Fields

I’ve wanted to pick this book up ever since I first saw the cover-art. I don’t know why, but I tend to like cover arts that fall into the ‘hooded man’ category. The Painted (Warded in the USA) Man by Peter V. Brett, The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller, Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky and Assassin’s Creed 2 are examples of that, and it seems, for however long we’re around, there’ll always be at least one hooded man cover on a novel in the bookshop, or on your bookshelf. Did I mention, there’s another thing that everything in the category has in common – they’re all really enjoyable, and fun to read/play. So, would this be the case with The Emperor’s Knife?

I’m pleased to say that yes, yes it was. The Emperor’s Knife, despite its flaws, I found to be a really enthralling read, and I can safely say that I will be eagerly looking forward to Book Two of the trilogy.

There. I’ve said it. But, in order to make this a ‘proper’ review, I have to write more than just that. So, you’re probably wondering what the heck The Emperor’s Knife is about. Well, let me tell you. Or rather, let Goodreads tell you, because I’m lazy:

There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike, marking each victim with a fragment of a greater pattern. Anyone showing the marks is put to death. That is Emperor Beyon’s law . . . 

But now the pattern is reaching closer to the palace than ever before. In a hidden room, a forgotten prince has grown from child to man, and as the empire sickens, Sarmin, the emperor’s only surviving brother, is remembered. He awaits the bride his mother has chosen: a chieftain’s daughter from the northern plains.

Mesema travels from her homeland, an offering for the empire’s favour. She is a Windreader, used to riding free across the grasslands, not posing and primping in rare silks. She finds the Imperial Court’s protocols stifling, but she doesn’t take long to realise the politicking and intrigues are not a game, but deadly earnest.

Eyul is burdened both by years and by the horrors he has carried out in service to the throne. At his emperor’s command he bears the emperor’s Knife to the desert in search of a cure for the pattern-markings.

As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence and rebellion, the enemy moves toward victory. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who once saw a path through a pattern, among the waving grasses.

Certainly ambitious for an author’s first novel, huh? I’d like to say that I was slightly cautious about reading The Emperor’s Knife before I actually did read it, but alas, that was not the case, I dived into the book with little more than the blurb to see my way through. And, after the first few pages, I wasn’t confused. I wasn’t wondering who these characters were and I wasn’t wondering what the hell was going on. Neither does Williams overload you with info-dumping, the bane of many fantasy authors.

The characters are certainly well developed, and intriguing enough to keep you reading along with the captivating plot, that although is unoriginal when you look at previous fantasy novels, is certainly enjoyable, and combined with a well-designed world that has obviously had a lot of thought put into it.

Unfortunately, not every novel is perfect, and you will often find the pacing a bit uneven, with parts (especially towards the end), where you are turning the pages desperately to find out what happens next, and other times where you aren’t turning the pages as fast as you should be, which is a letdown, but one that I’m not too fussed about.

The novel itself draws upon several Middle Eastern influences, which is something that I’ve not encountered in fantasy before, so Williams gets +1 on the originality front (if there are more fantasy novels that draw from Middle Eastern influences that I haven’t read yet, drop me a line – I’d love to read them). You can tell that the world has been carefully constructed with a lot of research put into it, especially when you look at the magic system.

If there’s something else that let the novel down, again a minor issue, is that the ‘big reveal’ wasn’t as good as it could have been, and people who’ve read this novel will probably share my thoughts on this thing. Also, there’s romance, lots and lots of romance in this novel, although don’t let that put you off from reading The Emperor’s Knife. Romance or not, you won’t want to be missing this. It contains several elements of a dark fantasy novel, yet at the same time it still feels like you’re reading an epic fantasy, a novel that could be fit into the same sort of genre as George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

I’d also like to point out that although The Emperor’s Knife is technically part of a trilogy, aside from a few parts where Williams sets the scene for the rest of the novel, it could effectively be read as a standalone. However, my advice is, don’t read it as a standalone and buy the next book as soon as it comes out! For one, I can’t wait to read it, and if Williams sorts out the pacing in the next novel, it will be truly superb. I strongly recommend this novel to any fans of fantasy that are looking to try something new.

Verdict: 4.5/5

 More Tower and Knife: The Emperor’s Knife, Knifesworn (Coming Soon)  

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer