Book Review, The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Brian Staveley draws from the age-old plot of ‘prince thwarted from his rightful place on the throne’. Nothing new there. The story follows three tracks; two princes and their sister. The king sent his two boys away eight years earlier to study, while their sister remained in the palace.

by Brian Staveley

The eldest son and heir to the throne went to a Shin monastery, where he learned about living on the land. His ability to meditate and clear his mind, however, may be his most valuable skill. His brother trained as a soldier in the country’s most elite military service, while their sister negotiated a place among her father’s ministers. The king’s murder sets his children on a quest to punish the murder and regain the throne. But the enemy’s alleys come from all directions and threaten to dispose of the king’s entire family.

Intricacies of setting and personal challenges bring characters to life. Staveley pays as much attention to each prince’s unique training and environment as to their friends, mentors and individual foes. He ratchets up the drama with the return of an ancient species, who possess powers that threaten to destroy the human race.

This is the first book of seven in The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne.

Brian Staveley is a Master of Descriptions

Staveley writes details into every facet of his story. Although appropriate to each scene, setting details fill lengthy paragraphs. This makes it a long read. Details get the reader oriented to the world, but if you don’t like long paragraphs, they may signal a time to skim.

For a review of the entire series check out

Book Review, The Emperor’s Blades by Brian StaveleyThe Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, #1) by Brian Staveley
Published by Tor Books on January 14th 2014
Pages: 480

Book one in an epic fantasy of intrigue and empire, for fans of George R. R. Martin and Douglas Hulick.
The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .
The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.
His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.
Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Redd Becker Book Review

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine AddisonI tire of the standard plot of ‘underdog prince who fights to establish his rightful place on the throne’, but Katherine Addison won me over.  Addison created a prince with ample flaws, but whose honest goodness refreshes the plot. I enjoyed the simple humaneness Maia showed as an emperor. He strove to do the right thing for his country, while attempting to remain true to his personal nature. Beyond the struggle of claiming his throne, Maia reveals his personal struggles and learns it’s lonely at the top.

When the emperor and his three oldest sons die, the throne is left to the youngest, a mixed elf-goblin brother who was untrained for the position and exiled since childhood. The palace must make adjustments. The goblin king, Maia, is nothing like his father. He works through great resistance among the royalty in the palace.

Katherine Addison nails her single-sentence-pitch

For those interested in writing: When asked for a single-sentence-pitch forThe Goblin Emperor Sara Monette, a.k.a. Katherine Addison, responsed. “The youngest, despised, half-goblin son of the Elvish Emperor succeeds to the throne after an airship accident kills his father and half-brothers.” Can we all be so concise in our summary?

My Rating five-stars

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine AddisonThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Published by Tor Books on April 1st 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 446
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A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend... and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

Redshirts by John Scalzi; scifi time travel adventure

Redd Becker Book Review

Redshirts by John ScalziA solid scifi novel in the traditional sense.  Scalzi weaves multiple themes. He entwines the favored sci-fi motifs of time travel and parallel reality wrapped  around the basic human drive for survival. The desire for meaning in death eventually ties the main story and subplots together.

Plenty of movement and dialogue make it an easy read. I had issues with references to phones, tablets and making coffee. They didn’t fit with a space ship of 2456. And the crew’s ability to handle life in 2010, when they were transported back in time, was weak.

Scalzi brings the reader into the story as a new support crew, each with eccentric backgrounds, arrive on the flagship research spaceship ‘Intrepid’. In their youthful hubris the new crew members are ready to start trouble. They soon realize their death, by some obscure, yet to be determined catastrophe, is imminent. Dahl wants to know why all crew members are not equally at risk. He works relentlessly to figure out what’s going on and to keep his new crew mates alive. He finds their survival depends on a concept that is beyond strange.

Scalzi Shows his Writing Muscle

Scalzi shows us his versatility as an author by attaching multiple Codas that could be short stories themselves. Fun shifts of perspectives (1st, 2nd and 3rd) present issues around the central story from various character’s viewpoints. While the reader of the Codas are in cahoots with what’s going on, the protagonist of each coda grapples for truth.

After finishing the Codas I was impressed with Scalzi’s skill as a writer, but I had started the book thinking he was somewhat lazy in his writing and old school in his approach. Redshirts had the basics of plot development, but sentence structure wasn’t great and obsolete ideas were used when creative solutions could have been imagined. Thankfully Scalzi avoided rhetoric to describe the futuristic world, favoring active scenes and dialogue.

For those interested in writing: Study Scalzi’s use of shifting POV in the codas to make a novel out of what was basically a novella.

My Rating three-stars

Redshirts by John Scalzi; scifi time travel adventureRedshirts by John Scalzi
Published by Tor Books on June 5th 2012
Genres: Science Fiction, Time Travel
Pages: 320
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Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that: (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.