The heirs of the murdered Annurian Emperor Sanlitun take separate paths toward uncovering and defeating the coup that toppled their father in this sequel to The Emperor’s Blades (2014).
Kaden, the uncrowned emperor tutored as a monk, vainly seeks answers and aid from the Ishien, a vicious cult devoted to defeating the immortal, emotionless Csestriim who are apparently at the heart of the conspiracy. Kaden’s younger brother, Valyn, and his band of elite warriors struggle across the steppe toward the imperial seat at Annur, only to encounter a vast army of the nomadic Urghul, seemingly poised to invade. And the dead emperor’s eldest, Princess Adare, having discovered the true assassin of her father—the Empire’s regent, head general and her lover, Ran il Tornja—attempts to secure her own army, that of the fanatic worshipers of the goddess Intarra. At every juncture, the siblings confront constantly shifting truths concerning why their father died and who deserves their trust. Following in the footsteps of George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and the like, Staveley doesn’t hesitate to treat his protagonists harshly, subjecting them to utter privation and pain, devastating betrayals and the vast uncertainty that results when long-distance communication between potential allies is impossible (ah, for the magical equivalent of a cellphone!). But none of this feels gratuitous; all is in the service of the series plot, which remains gloriously unpredictable, although it’s at least clear by the end of this installment that an affectionate reunion among the three imperial siblings has been ruled out.
Brutal, intriguing and continuing to head toward exciting events and places unknown.