Thursday, 17 April 2014

Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina

Blades of the Old Empire is the first book I've read by Anna Kashina. I decided to read it on a whim, and I'm glad I did. I must say, I'm not overly fond of the blurb — it's a bit melodramatic and slightly spoilery for an event admittedly close to the start — but it's not too bad so I'm still including it.
Kara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, and a member of the notorious Majat Guild. When her tenure as protector to Prince Kythar comes to an end, custom dictates he accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.

But when they arrive they discover that the Prince’s sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services – to capture and hand over Kythar, himself.

A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honour, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonourable?
There was a lot to like about Blades of the Old Empire. For me, the real strength of the book was the way everything came together into a smooth package. It opens with Prince Kyth being attacked by some mysteriously powerful bad guys (the Kaddim) and some troubles with the priesthood regarding Kyth's ability to succeed his father. The main characters set off in a couple of groups to deal with the religious issue and the story mostly follows them on their journeys (even if the "journey" doesn't necessarily consist of much travel thanks to complications).

You know how in some books, poor timing and coincidence is used to send characters off on misinformed missions of revenge and so forth and you're left shouting at the page in frustration? Well, Kashina doesn't take it quite that far, which was a nice change. I mean, I like books which toy with my emotions and make me yell at them (well, not if I'm yelling because they're crap, but that's not what I'm talking about here). But it was nice to have some of the suspense of that but not necessarily played out to the worst possible conclusion. I didn't realise how much less stressful that would be! ;-)

I should probably admit that I have a soft spot for assassins guilds. It certainly wasn't the only think I liked about Blades of the Old Empire, but it helped. So did the implausibly awesome warriors (one of whom, Kara, adorns the front cover). The Majat Guild has a ranking system based on gem stones; Diamond rank is the best, Jade rank indicates particular proficiency with ranged weapons, a group of Rubies plus one Diamond form the king's guard, that sort of thing. There are three Diamonds in the group of main and secondary characters, so we have ample opportunity to read about their implausibly good fighting abilities. The only think I would have liked is a glossary or appendix listing the ranks in order since that didn't come up in the book in very much detail (beyond what we needed to know about the characters). Actually, a list of characters — especially the rulers of the other kingdoms, which I briefly lost track of — would also have been good. And of the roles of Keepers, another powerful sect in the world. I do feel like some of this stuff will slot into place better upon reading the next book, however.

All the main characters were enjoyable to follow. The two main(-est) assassins have very few point of view sections (I think only when no one else is around for a plot-relevant scene) which serves to make them even more mysterious since we only have the other character's observations and thoughts to go on. The prince and friends were also very likeable characters. I particularly liked Ellah, who probably has the most complete emotional journey throughout the book. And, needless to say, I liked that there were several female characters (really, most of them) who actually got to control their own destinies, despite living in a fantasy world. Always good to see.

I enjoyed Blades of the Old Empire a lot and I highly recommend it to all fantasy fans, especially fans of BFF (big fat fantasy) books. Once I got a few chapters in, I found it very difficult to put down (you would think that having relatively short chapters would make this easier, but it was not the case). I will definitely be picking up the sequel which, apparently, is due out in (Northern) "summer". Looking forward to it.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2014, Angry Robot
Series: The Majat Code book 1 of ? (at least 2)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

2 comments:

  1. Implausible does sound about right. I'm betting the heroine is about eighteen and the world's greatest warrior. That tends to be the case in these BFF series. And that's another question - is she a mercenary, an assassin or what? Authors of such books never seem to be able to make up their minds. Throne Of Glass was another such book and while it was better than some reviews would have it, I felt no urge to read any of the sequels. I found some of her physical capabilities VERY implausible, and the fact that she was spectacularly beautiful and a successful assassin also hard to swallow; successful assassins manage to do their jobs because no one notices them. But the series is a huge bestseller anyway. :-) I guess it wasn't written for the likes of me, but for teenage girls Is the one you've reviewed a YA book also?

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    1. I don't think the girl on the cover's age is explicitly told to us, although, yes, she is on the younger side. The prince is 18 and the other main mercenary guy is 24, so I'd put her somewhere between those two. She and the other guy draw for best warrior. I think implausibly good fighting skills are part of of a particular type of wish-fulfilment (who doesn't want to be able to accurately throw six knives with one hand?). I've been a Taekwondo instructor, I know it doesn't work like that in real life, but these people do spend their whole lives training — I'm pretty sure they're raised by the guild — so at least there's justification for their talents and level of fitness.

      I think I've called them assassins in the review, but they're definitely more mercenaries. Just about all the jobs they do are as body guards. I've haven't read Throne of Glass, but from what I've heard, Blades of the Old Empire isn't like it at all. For a start, the girl on the cover isn't a point of view character (well, I think she gets one scene) and the main characters are the prince, the king and one of the prince's (female) friends. Also, this isn't YA. I mean, the sex scenes aren't explicit and the violence is no worse than on TV (and there's no rape) so I wouldn't be worried about giving it to a teenager, but I definitely wouldn't call it YA.

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