Book Review: The Court of Broken Knives (The Empires of Dust #1) by Anna Smith Spark
The Court of Broken Knives is an excellent grimdark fantasy book which I found super intense to read and left me feeling a bit overwhelmed – in the best possible way!
It follows the story of a group of mercenaries employed by a bored noble with grand ambitions to kill his Emperor and court to usher in a ‘better rule’. One of the fighting men turns out to be rather more than anyone expected and then with double crosses and triple crosses (and maybe even quadruple crosses), the assassination attempt goes tits up and everyone has to deal the best they can with the fall out.
Told from multiple point of views, the story opens with the brutal narrative of a soldier in the god Amrath’s army and we see first-hand the god’s lust for death, glory and violence and the sway he holds over his men. It swiftly leads on to Tobias, a senior in the mercenary group, traipsing through the desert on their way to the assassination job only to be attacked by a dragon.
After this fast-paced, brutal action, the story takes a slower turn as we see from the perspective of the bored noble Orhan in the city of Sorlost in the Sekemleth Empire and learn about his plotting and machinations. Thalia is the High Priest in Sorlost and she has a tough job that involves lots of human sacrifice. And there’s also ‘new boy’ Marith, the mercenary with a past that he’s trying to run away from.
The plot is quite straightforward: the first half of this book is the lead up to the assassination attempt, then the epic storming of the Emperor’s palace and unexpected outcome. After, Marith goes back to confront his past and Orhan attempts to pick up the pieces in Sorlost. There are plenty of interesting subplots that kept my attention, but it is the complex characters that really shine, with narrative that at some points reads like a stream of consciousness.
What I loved about this book was the prose. There is a very unique and distinctive use of language and syntax that creates a kind of forceful, rapid-fire rhythm that makes reading exhausting yet exhilarating. For me, it really amplified the bleak and oppressive atmosphere of the story.
I would’ve liked to have seen more female characters, and for Thalia to be a bit more kick-ass and not just the ‘trophy’ girlfriend. Before the assassination attempt (and before Marith comes into his own), there were a couple of scenes which I couldn’t tell if they were being told by Tobias or Marith. And after the assassination attempt Orhan’s narrative went completely off the boil and seemed to lack a sense of urgency and tension.
Otherwise, I massively enjoyed this book and I’d recommend it to those who are looking for fantasy on the grim and dark side with grey characters, violence and a pervasive sense of doom but who are open to a refreshingly different style of writing.
My rating: 4.5/5
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>>My debut novel, a grimdark epic fantasy called MELOKAI, is out now! Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.<<
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