I just finished reading the debut novel by Mazarkis Williams, The Emperor’s Knife last night (this morning) at 5am. I’m slightly tired, but hey, it was worth it! The Emperor’s Knife is a well written story with very good use of language that guided me with a constant sense of foreboding while displaying unique magical systems, and plenty of blood, brains, and sex.
This story on the surface is about a magical disease that when it infects its victims it slowly covers their skin in geometric patterns until no clean flesh remains and they either die or become slaves to an unknown (and evil) master. Despite magical protections, the sickness has set root in the very heart of the empire – the emperor himself. The story is about multiple characters’ attempts to both save and unseat his Majesty.
When I initially read this blurb, I was immediately hooked. This story made me think of Weis and Hickman’s Death Gate Cycle, and Brett’s Warded Man, and even Week’s Night Angel series – all of which I enjoyed immensely. I jumped on Amazon (.co.uk) and placed my order. Alas, Amazon was super slow about shipping to the USA, and to top it off after they finally arrived one of (I ordered two copies) the books was missing, and the other was kinda banged up… not what I wanted for my book-snobbery bookshelf! Amazon did fix this and I at least had my reading copy to use. I dove in the first chance I could get.
I have always been intrigued by mazes and labyrinths. A labyrinth is much like a maze and yet completely different. While they both have lots of twists and turns, a labyrinth only leads the journey in one direction. Mazarkis managed to pull off something new – he created a maze of labyrinths with multiple patterns all arriving succinctly at the same spot.
Multiple character plots are threaded together very well so the reader knows mostly what is going on throughout the book. The book’s length is average for a fantasy novel today, but reads quite quickly due to the faster than normal pace and the shorter length of its chapters when compared to most other fantasy novels I have read. I may be alone in this, but I find this refreshing – in my opinion too many books nowadays could have easily been half their original length through editor and author distillation while still managing to tell a great (and in many cases better) story. At the end of the book Williams’ character plots have all joined neatly together or have ended in their telling leaving the reader quite satisfied with the tale. This clean ending opens up the field wide for book 2.
The characters were well thought out and stayed true to themselves throughout. I did feel some of the characters fell into friendship/love too quickly – or perhaps not too quickly, but just that the building up to these levels of relationships wasn’t fully divulged to the reader. Still, the characters were outstanding. They all had their own mentalities, passions, motivations, tragedies, and vices. All the characters were flawed and very human.
The one thing I felt lacking in The Emperor’s Knife was world building. I wanted to hear the Persian influenced music in the background, smell the roasting kabobs over the open fire, and hear the throng of people crowding the streets of Nooria in the evening hours. I would like to hear from the commoners themselves what its like surviving in the Cerani Empire. While you get the feeling that the world is immense, the story is primarily told in two locales – the desert and the inner palace. There was no real hustling and bustling in the streets and no venturing into any of the smaller villages dotting the landscape. All this said, the desert is a beautiful place in itself – it just felt empty to me. On the reverse, this emptiness adds to the sense of foreboding throughout the book and the quick pacing which made it so enjoyable. I read an interview today where Mazakis Williams said the next book in the series will be half focused in a more European stylized section of his world. I look forward to exploring this expansion.
Lastly, the magic systems were just awesome. The patterns themselves hold some mystical secrets more ancient than the elemental magics of the mages’ tower. And the mages’ magic was quite unique as well even though we only saw glimpses. Fans of unique magic systems will be pleased.
I am wavering between 4 (loved it) and 5 (crazy about it) stars. Regardless of the rating, I highly recommend whoever likes original fantasy to give this book (and series) a read. I look forward to the rest of the series and wonder where Mazarkis will bring me next.
You can buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/Emperors-Knife-Tower-Trilogy/dp/1597803847