Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Review: 'The Emperor's Knife' by Mazarkis Williams...

I felt guilty about my little rant a week or so back regarding the cover of this book.  Don't get me wrong, I still agree with every word I wrote.  I still agree that the saggy chin of the guy shows a lack of attention to detail in the design, but the story itself didn't deserve such a rant.  I suffered sleepless nights afterwards, loss of appetite and a decline in health...well, a bit of an exaggeration, but it did prompt me to track down and apologise to the author himself via his blog, 'Sarmin's Corner'.  He said he was okay about it, much to my relief, and then I thought I could go one step further and publish a little review of his book, 'The Emperor's Knife'.

I rarely write reviews so bare with me while I stumble my way through this one...

Review: 'The Emperor's Knife' by Mazarkis Williams


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...

In a hidden room, a forgotten prince is grown from a child to a 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 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 serious.

Eyul is burdened both by years and 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 towards 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.

This fantasy story opens with a harrowing scene of a young boy, a prince, being dragged from his bed, still groggy with sleep, and taken to a tower where he witnesses the brutal assassination of his brothers in the courtyard below.  From this point, you know the story is going to be gritty and harsh.  It's going to be hard-hitting and spare no one, not even women and children, to make it a fairytale read.  It's a harsh, hard world which comes to life the instant you open the book.

The story mainly centres around the three main characters: Sarmin, the forgotten prince in the tower: Eyul the assassin, charged with the Emperor's Knife and the only one allowed to kill a Royal; and Mesema, a chieftain's daughter from the north on route to become the conspired bride of the forgotten prince.  Each tale goes about their own way, intertwining with one another, and each fed with the mystery of the strange patterns that mark people, killing them or driving them insane.  What are these patterns?  What magic do they come from?  And who is controlling it?

The one thing I noticed as soon as I stared reading was Mazarkis's use of prose.  I was blown away by his style.  He spares no words, and doesn't confuse with long descriptions that can jar the flow.  His style moves you forward, forcing you to turn page after page, and using up those precious hours when you should be sleeping.  The words carry you through a plot that twists and turns, forcing you to hold that book open just a little longer, and keeping you guessing till the end.  Only one other author out of all the books I've read has ever blown me away like this, and that was Scott Lynch.   

There are certain books that, once read, will remain with you for a long while afterwards, while some can be enjoyed and then quickly forgotten.  This is certainly one that will stay with me for a while yet, and certainly one that I will be recommending to anyone who is a fan of the fantasy genre.

'The Emperor's Knife' is Mazarkis Williams' debut novel and the first in his Tower and Knife Trilogy.  The second instalment from Jo Fletcher Books is titled 'Knifesworn' and is due for release soon.


  1. You've repaid whatever debt you imagined you owed. This is one heck of a tempting review

  2. You certainly didn't owe me anything! I am so glad you liked the book.