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Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Title: The Emperor’s Blades

Author: Brian Staveley

Series: Unhewn Throne #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again… The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy. His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation. Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move? -Goodread

The Review:

This review has been a long time coming, as Emperor’s Blades is still one of the best books I’ve read this year (actual Goodreads update: “5/5 stars! And a new addition to my shelf of favorites!”). But for some reason I’ve been stalling on writing the review. Maybe because I know logically the book had a few problems and won’t work for everyone, but I tell you, every single aspect of the story worked for me. So I’m going to proceed fangirling as if I was unaware of of the things others found fault in. ;P

To start it off, y’all know how much I love books that have training sequences and competition, and Emperor’s Blades had both in abundance! These Kettral warriors train endlessly in a really brutal regiment to become deadly strike force… and I ate up every single moment. What’s more, the giant birds (badass mofos (cover image background) that for all intents and purposes are feathered dragons), were the cherry on top of what was an already riveting segment. I found this POV (Valyn) the most compelling through the series, made even better by all the great side characters around him.

And then we move into another POV (Kaden) who is going through training for a religious order and brings with him a whole host of skill-honing (more along the lines of mind-over-body and minor magic-wielding). While Valyn’s POV was fast paced action and excitement, Kaden’s provided a slow burn to break it up. Both were equally interesting to me at this point in the series (this is the problem I get into with waiting too long to review – reading the rest of the series inevitably affects my overall impressions).

And then we have the final POV, Adare. I really liked the political intrigue this perspective offered, and spent most of the book fascinated with this character. I sincerely couldn’t figure out if she was that painfully nieve, or if there was a grander plan in place I’d yet to discover (you’ll have to tell me what you think – I won’t spoil anything here). What I saw in this first book was the potential for some really great character growth with Adare, and that prospect enticed me.

This book also contained a mini murder mystery that had me actively trying to narrow down “whodunnit.” I absolutely love when a book gets me analyzing things about it when I’m not actively reading it, so you can see why Emperor’s Blades was such a success for me. I’m just going to try my hardest to forget that someone spilled the beans on whodunnit before I got that far… I’m not bitter.

Overall, Emperor’s Blades had all of the things that excite me about reading fantasy – in abundance! I won’t endorse it as the perfect read, but it was a perfect match for me and I loved every single gut-wrenching moment.

Series status: I’ve since finished the entire series and enjoyed it as a whole. The last two are perhaps not quite as good as this first book, but they’re still very much worth reading (mere 4/5 stars ;P). I’ll definitely be picking up anything else Brian Staveley chooses to write.

Recommendations: if you glance at that cover and are even mildly interested in what you see – give the book a go! It’s a well-done trilogy that offers lots of action and excitement. I would feel comfortable handing this to both seasoned fantasy readers and those new to the genre. A great pick! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018!

Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018!

I’ve had a pretty decent year in reading so far, and a few of these titles have even been added to my very conservative list of all-time favorites. What’s more, I actually wrote reviews for most of them (that’s a big wow for me). So, in no particular order:


The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Emperors Blades by Brian Staveley [5/5 stars]

This review has been a long time coming, as Emperor’s Blades is still one of the best books I’ve read this year (actual Goodreads update: “5/5 stars! And a new addition to my shelf of favorites!”). But for some reason I’ve been stalling on writing the review. Maybe because I know logically the book had a few problems and won’t work for everyone, but I tell you, every single aspect of the story worked for me. So I’m going to proceed fangirling as if I was unaware of the things others found fault in. ;P To start it off …This is a sneak peak of an upcoming review scheduled July 20, 2018.

Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Child of a Mad God by R. A. Salvatore [4/5 stars]

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) R.A. Salvatore for almost 20 years, so what struck me as profound during Child of a Mad God was how well-rounded a writer he has evolved into. He was always an accomplished storyteller, but compared to his early works in the world of Corona (published in the late 1990s) it’s immediately clear how next-level his work has become. Child of a Mad God was superbly written and I don’t have a single critical thing to say about any craft-related aspect of this book – it was excellent. I didn’t realize this book was part of the Corona …Read Full Review

Siren by Kiera Cass [4.5/5 stars]

No one is more surprised than me how much I freaking loved this book. Cass and I have a bit of a hit or miss relationship where I’m either 100% on-board fangirling… or throwing the book in disgust. Luckily, The Siren fell into the former category – something I wasn’t led to expect based on some brutal early reviews I read for the book. I have a theory as to why it caused such harsh reactions for fans of Cass’ work: The book is less about the romance, where the main love interest is kept on the periphery for most of the book …Read Full Review

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien De Castille

Knights Shadow by Sebastien de Castell [4.5/5 stars]

Considering how polarized my opinion was for Traitor’s Blade, it’s surprising even to me how thoroughly I enjoyed Knight’s Shadow. It must have been the perfect combination of elements to satisfy my mood because even while reading it I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I liked it so much. It just had that addictive quality that kept pulling me back to it in favor of other things, which is something books don’t do to me a lot these days. The balance between humor and grit was well done, so I enjoyed laughing while …Read Full Review

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik [4.5/5 stars]

Woe is me for not having read this years ago! I had this amazing dragon book sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years… and I’m surprised no one revoked my membership to the dragon obsession club (not a real thing). In all fairness, the way people described this book and series gave me a very different impression than what the first book actually entailed. They’d say, “it’s an alternate military history, but with dragons.” I’m sure that description is completely accurate for the series as a whole, but had someone mentioned even briefly that His Majesty’s Dragon was less about …Read Full Review

[July 17, 2018] Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen [4/5 stars]

I’m really pleased with this sequel. The story seems more in line with what I think people were expecting from the first book: highly-trained teens dropped on an alien planet to mine Nyxia. There was less competition in this book than the first, and I missed a bit of that head-to-head drama, but the good character dynamics remained strong. What it offered instead was a new world to explore – complete with diverse flora and fauna, a fascinating planetary history, and indigenous beings with a breathtaking culture. Nyxia Unleashed was filled with countless moments of wonder and awe. The world-building was superbly …This is a sneak peak of an upcoming review scheduled July 16, 2018.

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews [4.5/5 stars]

Everybody who said “ignore the cover, this book is awesome!” was absolutely right. I should preface this review by saying that I recently got up to date with the Kate Daniels series (my current holy grail of urban fantasy), so I’m still riding the high from all the amazing things I experienced there. My opinion of Burn for Me was definitely influenced by my feelings for these authors in general. Had I read this first, I’m certain the rating would’ve been more conservative because I’d have still been trying to assess how I felt about the writing. Since I already know …Read Full Review

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Murderbot Diaries (the whole thing) by Martha Wells [5/5 stars]

Murderbot might be my spirit animal. I loved this novella. It had a fun plot and, more importantly, it had a killer main character (pun intended) who will speak to your inner introvert like no other. And it was funny. I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much at a SecUnit POV, but the situational humor and dialogue delighted me at every turn. Good humor will spark a higher rating in me every time, and it almost feels like a bonus that everything else was so good too. Overall, All Systems Red had all the components I look for in a sci-fi …Read Full Review I have a fun full-series narrative review coming July 23, 2018.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews [5/5 stars]

Iron and Magic somehow managed to become my favorite Ilona Andrews book to date! It joined a very small percentage of books allowed on my all-time favorites list, and no one is more surprised at that than me. It’s a true testament to these writers’ skills that they managed to make me fall in love with a book about a character I don’t even like. And furthermore to get me feeling deep empathy towards him. I can say with confidence coming out of this book that I’m 100% rooting for Hugh (even though he’s still an ass ;P). He was always an interesting …Read Full Review

Menagerie by Rachel VincentMenagerie by Rachel Vincent [4.5/5 stars]

I reeled so much from this book but I never got around to writing a review. It was a fantastic surprise and I’m very eager to see how the trilogy concludes in Fury this fall. :)

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I can’t single out just one as my very favorite, but my top 3 are easily Emperor’s Blades, Iron and Magic, and All Systems Red. Here’s hoping the remainder of 2018 is just as awesome. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan

Title: Empire of Ashes

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Draconis Memoria #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: For hundreds of years, the Ironship Trading Syndicate was fueled by drake blood–and protected by the Blood-blessed, those few who could drink it and wield fearsome powers. But now the very thing that sustained the corporate world threatens to destroy it. A drake of unimaginable power has risen, and it commands an army of both beasts and men. Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and Ironship captain Corrick Hilemore, spread to disparate corners of the world, must rely upon the new powers and knowledge they have gained at great price to halt its forces–or face the end of all they know. -Goodreads

The Review:

Empire of Ashes solidified Draconius Memoria as one of the best series I’ve ever read!

For me this book started out with a bang and didn’t let up until the whirlwind finale. So much action and conflicts coming to a head that I wouldn’t recommend venturing into the last 25% if you have to get up early the next morning. This isn’t the kind of book easily set aside.

My favorite part was the convergence of storylines. This multiple POV series is unique for me because I feel equally drawn to all of the characters. It made for an amazing read because no matter which perspective had the stage, I was enjoying the ride immensely. Seeing how each person’s tale ended was particularly satisfying, as was the conclusion. I was really nervous this final book was going to be a letdown after how hard I’ve been fangirling for the series. It had a lot to live up to, and I’m so happy to report that it delivered.

As you would assume, this final book focuses more on action and conflict than exploration. The discovery of so many breathtaking places in the first two volumes is what helped solidify this series as a favorite. However in Empire of Ashes exploration is set aside in favor of action, conflict, and momentum. I missed that component a little, but at some point I guess it had to end (maybe I’m most upset that it ended at all – I want more!!). The story also contained quite a few answers to some burning questions I’ve had throughout the series. I find that the more I know, the more I want to discover. I’ll just throw it out there that this world is screaming for a prequel trilogy – there’s so much cool stuff packed into the histories that I feel we’ve only just scraped the surface thus far (Anthony Ryan, please write more!). :)

Let’s talk a minute about the dragons (or drakes, if you want to get picky). I absolutely love how well this series portrays dragons. Every aspect of their existence on this world and how it’s in conflict/harmony with humanity was in line with my favorite types of dragon stories. They’re not magical or ethereal, but their raw bestial attributes makes them feel magical, but still like the type of beings that could exist in our world. It might be funny to call them “realistic” dragons, but that’s how my dragon-obsessed mind thinks about them and why I loved them so much. Add to all of that practical uses for their blood (in the same vein that metals are useful to humans in Sanderson’s Mistborn series), and consider me sold.

Overall, Empire of Ashes had a lot of expectations to hold up to, and I’m thrilled it met all of mine. I’m still kind of reeling from the ending, but I’m certain that these gorgeous hardcovers will have a place of honor on my favorites shelf from here on out.

Recommendations: this series has quickly become my #1 recommend for fantasy readers, especially those who love dragons. It’s a cool flintlock fantasy that promises adventure, excitement, and intrigue at every turn. It is among my personal favorites and has the Obsessive Bookseller’s official stamp of endorsement. ;)

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Anthony Ryan, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Empire of Ashes. It was my most anticipated release of 2018, and you seriously made my year! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

[August 28, 2018] Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Title: Bloody Rose

Author: Nicholas Eames

Series: The Band #2

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: August 28, 2018 <-Release dates are subject to change. This date is accurate as of the day I composed this post.

The Overview: Live fast, die young. Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death. It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.-Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Kings of the Wyld was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2017. I laughed at the irreverent humor more than I thought I would – it was just stupid-funny enough to win me over without being just stupid. The whole book gave me similar vibes as Locke Lamora and Greatcoats, and I’m finding this weird sub genre of “cheeky grimdark” (I just made that up. I don’t know if it’s officially a thing, but it’s definitely a thing I enjoy) is really working for me. Bloody Rose is a spinoff of sorts with a different cast of characters and I’m eager to see if it will have the same flair.

Who else is ready to bust a gut? :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Twelve Kings of Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Title: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

Author: Bradley P. Beaulieu

Series: Song of the Shattered Sands #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first. -Goodreads

The Review:

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is a book I’ve had high on my priority list ever since that enticing cover came across my radar in 2015. The cover is actually a pretty good indication of what to expect from this book – excellent attention to world-building and a main character determined to shake up the status quo using swordsmanship and stealth. It was a very entertaining read, but it did leave a few elements on the table.

Pacing was by far the biggest miss for me. This book is riddled with flashbacks that, while interesting, effectively killed momentum for the main story. Actual forward plot advancement took forever. It’s only saving grace was that the flashbacks contained a good number of “reveals” that I think were supposed to serve as plot advancing tools (where the story moves forward in concept instead of action), but I think it could’ve done with far fewer (as it was, I occasionally got confused and forgot which timeframe I was reading and had to reorient). Eventually, it all came together, but the lack of momentum made for the type of read I didn’t have qualms setting it aside for other reads.

The characters also lacked a little bit of depth. They had great backstory (as was emphasized practically every other chapter), but never really pulled me in more than surface level. Perhaps this issue was also caused by so many flashbacks taking away time from development. Whatever the case, I’m sitting here really liking the characters but not feeling anything for them.

To that effect, other than the occasional language and sex scenes, both the character profiles and love story came off very YA (okay, maybe a leveled-up YA), but fantasy readers will probably find it a little thin when compared to the likes of Malazan or even Game of Thrones. I actually think Twelve Kings in Sharakhai could be a great recommend for those in that transition between YA and adult Fantasy, as several elements (the setting and fight scenes) reminded me strongly of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series (specifically the prequel, Assassin’s Blade). When I say something “came off YA” I usually mean that in a disparaging way, but in this case I didn’t count it a bad thing.

Overall, this isn’t the strongest I’ve read in the genre, but the world building and story were enough to keep me engaged when the pacing started to lag. Good drop-in details about a new world always goes a long way with me, so I definitely came away from this happy to have read it.

Series status: I liked it, but if it wasn’t for the scheduled buddy read for the sequel I signed up for, I wouldn’t be in a huge hurry to continue. Especially since discovering that it’s planned for a six book series instead of what I thought completed as a trilogy. Even so, I’m hopeful for the best in the next one.

Recommendations: I’d hand this to fantasy readers in the mood for something light and creative, or to YA fantasy fans who want a good translation series from Throne of Glass to adult fantasy. The world building was easily the biggest selling point for me, so if you like to immerse in new places, give it a try. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

Title: A Tyranny of Queens

Author: Foz Meadows

Series: Manifold Worlds #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves.

Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns? -Goodreads

The Review:

Reading A Tyranny of Queens positively changed some of my overall impressions of An Accident of Stars (book 1). You see, the story arc and general issues with pacing in the first book (where I thought a lot of things were inconsequential) actually came full circle in this second book, completing the story. I’m now looking at it as one full novel separated into two parts and, as a whole, the story ultimately provided me with all the components I felt were missing in reading book one as a standalone. Honestly, I don’t think that’s necessarily the best marketing strategy, but luckily for me I was committed to finishing, so no harm done. It does make it a bit harder to recommend though.

That’s not to say the first book was bad, by any means – it had engaging (LGBT friendly) characters who carried the story and were just as strong in Tyranny of Queens. The world-building was good, if a little shy of its potential (but still creative enough to keep me intrigued). And it gave the religion and politics a good base to expand on in the second book (which it did, kind of).

Tyranny of Queens felt like it had more separate POVs, and I did find myself more interested in some than others. However, when they all started to merge again, the story really gained momentum. I have to say, though, as interesting as the characters and the story were, I kind of expected more travel and adventure from a self-proclaimed “Portal Fantasy.” I basically wanted a Stargate experience. I’m hoping Meadows continues to write in this saga with a heavier focus on exploration. The cover image world was really cool and exactly the kind of stuff I was after, but we didn’t get do spend a lot of “page time” there, which is a shame.

One thing I’d like to mention about the author is how impressed I was with her writing (as in, the components that make up her sentences). She’s really good at imagery and nuances within a scene, such as facial expressions and gestures, and I found myself admiring how well she could “articulate” her thoughts. It’s hard to describe what I’m talking about (ironically), but every time I’ve seen other writers try to add what she does, it always comes off as overworked. So, issues with story components aside, the writing gets an “A” from me.

Series status: Up to Date. If Meadows writes more in this world, I’ll definitely read it, but at the moment I’m sitting satisfied with what felt like a completed duology (with potential for more but no real loose ends). I’m going to mark this as a finished series until anything else pops up on my radar.

Recommendations: this “portal” fantasy is a great pick if you want something heavily character-driven. It’s also LGBT friendly, which is always awesome to see on the market. I’d venture in with the mindset that you’ll have to read both books to get the most out of experience.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes