The Empire’s Ruin (Ashes of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley

My Five Word TL:DR Review : I absolutely loved this

Empires

Wow, just wow.  What can I say.  Would another wow suffice?  I loved this book.  I really did.  It’s epic-y goodness, fantastic characters, adventure, danger, conflict and such a book of emotion.  This is a book that I would simply love to read again.  One of those books that you can have at the side of your bed and just pick up every now and then and read a little more, dive straight back into the world, meet up with your favourite character/s and become immersed all over again.  I am in love.

To be honest, I feel woefully unprepared to write this review because this book is so good I don’t see how I can possibly do it justice.  What I plan to do instead is gush uncontrollably.  You have been warned.

I think I will mostly stay away from the plot because there are some excellent reviews already out there that elaborate in a far better fashion than I could.  If you want something of an idea then here’s the description from the cover (I don’t usually cut and paste these but this is spot on so why reinvent the wheel?)

‘The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The advantages it used for millennia have fallen to ruin. The ranks of the Kettral have been decimated from within, and the kenta gates, granting instantaneous travel across the vast lands of the empire, can no longer be used.

In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates.

But time is running out. Deep within the southern reaches of the empire and ancient god-like race has begun to stir.

What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever. If they can survive.’

There you have it – in a nutshell.

Now, to my thoughts and feelings.

I guess it’s all about perspective but the main winner of any book for me is the characters, you can have a great plot, lovely writing and a stunning world BUT if I don’t connect with the characters then you’ve pretty much lost my attention.  I can’t engage if I don’t feel anything.  So, this story follows three characters.  I would say the main character is Gwenna – and I loved her.  To be honest I can’t conceive of the idea of anybody not loving this character.  It just doesn’t compute.  Ruc is the next pov and this is a character that I’ve very happily met before in Skullsworn (for info – I think this is a book you could pick up fresh but I personally enjoyed the fore knowledge of Dombang and its inhabitants and their violent tendencies).  Finally we have Akiil.  I would say that Akiil initially comes across as the least exciting of the perspectives but don’t be fooled.  His story brings with it some fascinating ideas and some rather breathtaking scenes.

So, why did I love Gwenna so much, you might reasonably ask.  Put bluntly, she made me feel good, I felt uplifted when I was reading her chapters.  She’s prickly, tough, makes mistakes and swears like a trooper but she’s also fundamentally good.  Staveley certainly puts her through some trials and some very low periods.  Some of her chapters make for difficult reading.  But, at the same time, I just couldn’t get enough of them.  She’s such a ‘full of life’ character.  Over the top you might be forgiven for saying.  Her chapters are quite simply exhilarating and I couldn’t get enough of them.  We travel to jungles with unspeakable monsters, places that will slowly poison the mind and body.  There is so much to make you gasp.  The Kettral, which are fundamental to Gwenna’s story are fantastic, huge birds, used for war, gigantic, magnificent birds of prey.  I mean, just, everything.  The time at sea and the tribulations they encountered, then taking on board a rather feral young girl known as ‘rat’.  The whole idea of the deformed creatures within the jungle – some like a strange combination of animal and insect, impossibly fast, strong and hideous. What more could you ask for – abandoned towns? Check. Impossible scenes of bravery? Check.  Monsters aplenty? Check.  Fighting aplenty? Check.  I could go on.

Ruc.  A monk for the Goddess of love and his love interest Bien.  Ruc has a fascinating story that involves the swamps that surround Dombang.  His current God of choice, in fact, couldn’t be further from those of his upbringing.  The two of them also share a fantastic story arc that eventually sees them meet up with a surprise character (who I can’t or won’t unveil here) and puts them into a gladiatorial style arena where, in spite of their ‘loving deity’ means they will either fight or die.  I loved this.  Again, this will give you highs and lows, make you gasp as you read – I mean, the concluding elements of these chapters, not to be a tease or anything, are amazing.  Amazing I tell you – but don’t take my word for that – pick up the kent kissing book and find out for yourself.

Finally, Akiil.  I feel a bit grim on this character because he gets a little bit of a bad rap comparatively speaking.  His chapters feel sedate after the excitement of Gwenna and Ruc but, don’t be misled, these chapters are integral to the story so don’t be in a big rush to skim forward.  Yes, I found these a little slow at first.  Akiil is something of a monk turned con artist.  He’s trying to charm some gold out of the Emperor but eventually he has to take action – possibly life threatening.  He’s bragged about his abilities to travel through ancient portals – fatal to some – and so eventually he has to take that leap of faith.  From here his story gathers pace – but I’m also not going to share any of it here.  Because spoilers.

I don’t think I can add much more.  To conclude I can confidently say this will be one of my top ten reads of the year.  It was fantastic.  If you love fantasy you simply have to read this book, I implore you to do so.  Pretty please even.  What more can I say?  Come for the fantasy, stay for the characters, prepare to be gobsmacked and read in wonder.

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

My rating

5.5 of 5 stars – I know, it’s not possible but let’s just say I’ve been in the jungle and my mind has gone a little crazy.

Weekly Wrap Up : 16/4/17

Last weekend the weather was glorious and so I was in the garden working like a maniac, this week, nothing but rain, so, back to the decorating.  Not much reading this week because I’ve been so busy that the day has virtually gone before I even know what’s going on and then I just crash into bed.  Anyway, my reads –  not much to report:

  1. Skullsworn by Brian Staveley – completed and loved this – my review here.
  2. Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele – not done very well – purely because of the aforementioned decorating – about a third in to this one.

skullsworn3

And, next week I’m hoping to finish:

  1. Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele which I’ve also just started.
  2. The Moonlight War by SKS Perry (SPFBO)

And, finally, my cover compare this week is a book I’m very excited to get to:

I like both these covers but I think this one is very ominous with the dark colour and the footsteps:

whiteroad2

How was your week?  What you currently reading?

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Posted On 13 April 2017

Filed under Book Reviews
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skullsworn3Skullsworn is a book that I’ve had on my shelves since last year.  As soon as I saw it I wanted it.  I had ninja grabby hands and fired off a request in a New York minute. Yes, I am fickle enough to be captivated by the gorgeous cover but aside from that it sounded so good and given that I hadn’t, up until now, read anything by this author, I thought a prequel to his series seemed a great starting point, a lovely little alleyway that could lead to a world of possibilities (or, maybe a dead end).  So, as you can see I did put this up on a pedestal a little bit – which meant it had a potentially long way to fall.  It didn’t fall.  I loved this.  In fact I’m struggling to write a review because all my thoughts are a big incoherent mess of rambling happy-higgledy-piggledy-chaos.

Ananshael is the God of Death – a God with no shortage of offerings on a regular basis, after all the only real certainty in life is death.  However, the Priests and Priestesses who serve Anashiel are trained in the art of everything that is deadly, be it hand to hand combat, stealth, poison, or any number of other means.  For this reason they have become known as the Skullsworn – feared and loathed for the way they dish out death.

Pyrre Lakatur is an acolyte, yet to become a priestess.  Her trial awaits and having been given the goal posts she is, for once, experiencing self doubt about her own chances of success.  In order to become a priestess she has a set number of days to make a number of pre-ordained sacrifices to Anashiel – one of which is “the one you love / who will not come again.”  The problem arises in that Pyrre has never been in love.  In lust, maybe, but not in love.  So she now finds herself returning to the home that she quit long ago to try and find the one thing that has continually eluded her.

Dombang is the place Pyrre was born.  Seemingly built on a swamp the place has become a huge city served by a causeway constructed above the water and reeds which allows people easy access.  Dombang is a hotbed of trouble.  It literally seethes with rebellion and fear.  Over the years the original inhabitants have been conquered and their Gods cast out – but behind closed doors people still worship in the old ways and tempers run high.  The people of the City are balanced on a knife edge of expectancy and Pyrre is about to stride in and tip the balance.

This is such a contradictory book.  A book about opposites almost.  Life and death, love and hate.  It gave me much pause for thought – particularly in terms of all the different forms of worship and most curiously the strange worship of Anashiel,  Pyrre herself is a contradiction.  She says she’s never been in love and yet as the novel progresses you can clearly see that she is deluding herself a little in that respect.  She suffers from self doubt and although she is practically brimming over with self confidence in so many ways she’s afraid to embrace life.  I loved Pyrre – she’s a remarkable achievement.  Brutal and honest but also with the ability to deceive, especially herself.  Oddly enough this is a book about a search for love that isn’t actually a love story or a romance.

There actually aren’t too many characters to focus on here and this allows the author to  give you a really good look at them.  We have the two witnesses, Ela and Kossal.  They accompanied Pyrre to ensure that she remains faithful to the terms of her trial and if not – well, she will meet her own end.

Ela is an absolutely excellent character – I really loved her.  She’s just so latently sexy and at the same time absolutely deadly.  A beautiful woman with almost inhumanly fast reflexes – also a bit of a raging sex maniac with a fondness for plum wine and a tendency to fall in and out of love  – I just loved her.  At the start of the story we read a scene where a part of the causeway collapses hurling people to the mud and swamp below and leaving them at the mercy of any number of predators, crocodiles and meat eating fishes being only two – in the midst of this commotion Ela remains perfectly calm, impeccably dressed, toting a waxed paper parasol to keep the sun from her brow and simply observing the chaos with something akin to boredom.

Kossal  is absolutely lethal.  He appears to sometimes look like a kindly older gentleman but he’s probably only smiling because he’s just slipped poison into your cup.  He’s testy and grumpy at the best of times and has this quiet sort of menace.  The two of them together are outrageously deadly.  I could read a prequel based on Ela and Kossal any day of the week.

Then we have Ruc Lan Lac.  Ruc is going to be Pyrre’s object of attention.  The two of them were previously an item.  Their relationship was tempestuous and stormy and one day Ruc woke to find Pyrre simply gone.  New she’s returned into his life and she needs to find a way to work her way back into his affections.  More than that she needs to love him, otherwise she fails her trial.  The two of them definitely have a stormy relationship and whether Pyrre can make something more of that remains to be seen.  Ruc is very different from Pyrre – he’s a none believer, everything can be explained away with rational explanation.

Chua is a fishing woman.  The sort of woman that legends are made of.  Unbelievably, she survived, alone in the swamp for an unprecedented number of days.  Since returning to Dombang she moved as far from the water as possible and never speaks of her ordeal. This in itself tells you a lot about what she actually went through.

The five of them are going to find themselves thrown together.  They need to solve the mystery of the swamps and in order to do so they need the help of a tribe that lives amongst the marshes.

Now, in case I’ve made all of this sound incredibly pedestrian, well, I can only say that it really isn’t.  There is plenty of action that all blends in seemlessly with the rebellion and the search for Gods.  There’s this underlying current of tension, there’s plenty of death, fighting and sacrifices.  On top of this the setting is just amazing.  It really does make the story to be honest, the icing on the cake.  Dombang and the surrounding swamps are terrifying and fascinating in equal measure.  With very little effort we find ourselves in a place that is teeming with history and back story.  I loved this place – I’m not sure I’d like to visit it thank you very much – although it does have it’s moments of incredible beauty – even if at times if seems a cesspool and a breeding ground for unsavoury characters.

I don’t know if that has whetted your appetite.  A brief recap just to be sure couldn’t go amiss.  A story of intrigue.  Of Gods and prophecies.  A setting that is brutal and yet breathtaking in it’s deadly simplicity.  Surrounded by predators in all forms.  Characters that you can really become involved with and a simply marvellous ending.  All the way through I was trying to second guess the outcome.  I failed to do so quite miserably and I’m pleased as anything about that because this ending was nigh on perfect – for me anyway.

Why are you still here – just go and read it.  It’s a standalone novel – which is almost as rare as a Dodo in recent times.  If you’ve read the author’s previous works then I’m sure this gives you an entertaining glimpse into one of the characters you already know.  If, like me, this is a new beginning for you.  You don’t need to have read the other books in order to pick this one up.  It’s a perfectly neat little package.  However, if you do pick this up – be prepared to want more Stavely because I think this is a perfection introduction to his work.

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