The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1) by Anna Smith Spark

I must say from the outset that The Court of Broken Knives is an impressive debut novel and that Anna Smith Spark has a unique way of spinning a tale that twists and turns as it travels around this world she has created.

The story begins with a vicious battle on a blood soaked field and has a chaotic, almost hypnotic quality.  I must confess that I had to read this twice because I wanted to understand the battle, who was fighting who and, more importantly, why, but I don’t really that that was the purpose.  What this opening really left me with was an overwhelming sense of destruction, almost without purpose, almost casual and cruel.  The deaths on either side purely incidental as though nothing mattered other than the conquering.

I must admit that at first I did wonder whether the entire novel was going to be blood and guts but after this opening gambit the author then sets about introducing a number of different characters and giving us a glimpse into their respective worlds until their paths eventually cross.  That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty more fighting along the way but more that it’s not an incessant battering of bloodshed.

To be honest, I don’t really want to elaborate on the plot too much because I think that the author has contrived a story that is as slippery eels.  She takes you so far along until you think you’re getting comfortable, maybe even smugly thinking you know what’s going on and then everything goes arse over tit and you’re left scratching your head a little bit in wonder because it really isn’t what you expected, it’s like you’ve just been thrown from your horse and you’re scrambling around with the stirrups trying to get back in the saddle.

The Court of Knives has four distinct characters whose stories help to shine a light on the world explored here.  Basically, we have a priestess, a politician, a toughened mercenary and a young recruit.  Their stories are all linked and as we set out we pick up with the band of mercenaries crossing the parched and dusty deserts to reach the City of Sorlost.  They’re mostly a ribald bunch of characters aside from one young man, Marith, who keeps himself somewhat remote from the others.  We then jump to Sorlost to make the acquaintance of the scheming politician, of course he’s only scheming because he wants change and his plans of assassination will certainly be the catalyst for that.  The final POV is that of the priestess.  A young woman, the highest in her order, whose role it is to carry out the most important duties – those of sacrifice.  This is an unusual religion which seems to be based on maintaining a fine balance between life and death.

The strange thing about all of the characters is that although they’re all strangely compelling to read about with their imperfections and dark thoughts, none of them are easy to like, and even reading further on doesn’t change that too much.  I sometimes find it difficult to really get into a book if I don’t like the characters and yet this read was slightly different in that the author gives you this bunch of characters, that on the face of it you could be forgiven for thinking fit the usual tropes but she then seeks to peel off those comfortable outer layers exposing a completely unexpected inner core.  Its a bold step because rather than making you feel a connection to certain of the characters it could make you dislike them.  At the same time though the author throws in these sympathetic elements that serve to counterbalance those feelings and add complexity.

Added to this we have a rather huge empire, one with magic, mages, dragons and other mythical creatures.  To be honest these elements don’t play a massive driving force in the story, up to this point, but more colour in the background and add depth and there is definitely one element that will no doubt be explored further.

The author’s style is definitely quite unique and I confess it took me a little while to get used to.  There’s a succinct quality to the sentence structure, almost like a paring back of some elements but then in other ways a descriptive element that conjures a picture without being overly flowery.  Like I said, it took me a little while to get used to but once I did it felt perfectly natural.

I admit that I found this review difficult to write.  I didn’t want to give anything away about the plot, or the characters really, because when I thought about it it would be very easy to simply give everything away and I didn’t want to do that.

So, overall, an impressive debut, a number of schemes, a couple of twists, a lot of fighting, an unexpected romance (not overpowering) and although self-contained, an ending that leaves a lot of scope for the next book.  A story that feels like a journey, not just from ‘there’ and then ‘back again’ but a discovery of self.  I look forward to seeing where this story goes next.

I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.



12 Responses to “The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1) by Anna Smith Spark”

  1. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    An author who keeps her readers on edge, leading them on and then subverting their expectations, is one whose writig I *need* to explore, particularly when such uncertaintyvextends to the characters as well! Thank you for a very intriguing review 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’d like to see what you make of this one if you get a chance to pick it up. I think it could be one of those books that people might love or hate – although, it’s enjoying very positive reviews so far. It has a certain poetic feel to the prose which I wonder if everyone will like and it did take me a little while to get used to but then I really did enjoy the style.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    Not sure if this book is for me. I enjoy grimdark but it’s not my favorite genre. However, you’ve definitely piqued my interest, and I’m curious to read a grimdark novel written by a female writer.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think the start was a bit brutal and probably a little bit off putting but it then calms down a little – don’t get me wrong, there are still grim and brutal parts but bolting out of the stalls with such a grim start was a bit shocking. I thought the author had a very interesting style, it took me a little while to get into but then I found it quite compelling.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I’m quite intrigued by the unexpected romance and curious to see how that’s going to be handled. Let’s just say, I’ve found that in my experience, grimdark and love just don’t mix, haha! *recalling all the awkward Joe Abercrombie sex scenes* Like Tammy said though, maybe a female writer will bring a whole new outlook. I’m really looking forward to this, and thanks for leaving out the details so I can be surprised 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      To be honest, the romance, well, it’s there, but its really not a big thing. There’s no passion or love in a strange sort of way. It’s odd. It doesn’t feel like a romance is going on at all.
      Lynn 😀

  4. June: My Month in Review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark […]

  5. Best of the Best 2017 | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark […]

  6. ‘…and they all lived happily ever after.’ | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] of Dust series by Anna Smith Spark kicked off in a breathtaking fashion with the release of The Court of Broken Knives.  The next instalment, The Tower of Living and Dying is due out in August 2018 – I am giddy […]

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    […] I go further, first things first.  You will need to read book one in the series.  My review is here.  Also, it is possible, although I do try to avoid them, that some spoilers may be lurking here […]

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