book reviews by Althea

The Emperor’s Knife – Mazarkis Williams ****

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Picked this up without knowing that the author’s name is a pseudonym, and his-or-her identity is still a mystery to the world at large. There are a few clues on the Internet – but I still don’t know who this is.
I’d lean toward female – but I’d also recommend this to fans of Daniel Abraham. It’s not actually a debut novel, apparently the author has been ‘mainly writing’ for 10 years.

It does come across as a practiced, expertly-written story. This is the kind of fantasy I like – set in a vivid, well-thought-out world, with a focus on ‘real’ and interesting characters and plenty of danger and intrigue.

The Cerani Empire (vaguely influenced by the Ottomans) is a paranoid monarchy of the sort that thinks nothing of assassinating or imprisoning all potential rival claimants to the throne. But an insidious threat has infiltrated all the way to the royal chamber none-the-less. A mysterious plague is spreading; its visible sign tattoo-like geometric patterns that spread over the victims’ skin. At some point those infected lose self control, and become violent assassins. It is suspected that this is no true illness, but magic, and the marked individuals are tools in the plot of a Pattern Master.

In this situation we meet Sarmin, a prince who’s spent the last 15 years confined to his luxurious room. Mesema, a princess of the horse tribes who’s been summoned to be Sarmin’s bride by the scheming Queen Mother, Nessaket. The Emperor, Beyon, may interfere with those schemes, but it’s unclear where Beyon’s strength and cruelty end, and to what degree he may be a pawn himself. And of course, there is ‘The Emperor’s Knife,’ the guilt-haunted assassin Eyul, and the sorceress Amalya…

I definitely want to track down the sequels and find out what happens next in this world, even if  by the end of this book, most of the characters end up dead.


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