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.



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

Friday Firsts
 is a new meme that runs every Friday over on Tenacious Reader. The idea is to feature the first few sentences/paragraph of your current book and try and outline your first impressions as a result. This is a quick and easy way to share a snippet of information about your current read and to perhaps tempt others.  Stop on by and link up with Tenacious Reader.    This Friday I’m reading : The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1) by Anna Smith Spark.


Knives everywhere. Coming down like rain.

Down to close work like that, men wrestling in the mud, jabbing at each other, too tired to care any more.  Just die and get it over with. Half of them fighting with their guts hanging out of their stomachs, stinking of shit,oozing pink and white.  Half-dead men lying in the filth.  Screaming.  A whole lot of things screaming.

Impossible to tell who’s who any more.  Mud and blood and shadows and that’s it. Kill them! Kill them all!  Keep killing until we’re all dead. The knife jabs and twists and the man he’s fighting falls sideways, all the breath going out of him with a sigh of relief.  Another there behind. Gods, his arms ache.  His head aches.  Blood in his eyes.  He twists the knife again and thrusts with a broken-off sword and that man too dies.  Fire explodes somewhere over to the left.  White as maggots.  Silent as maggots.  Then shrieks as men burn.


My First Impressions

That is a brutal and violent start isn’t it!  Crazed or frenzied almost and although the person who we’re reading about has totally lost it which is understandable given the circumstances he finds himself in.

What you reading this Friday??  What are your first impressions??

*The above excerpt was taken from an advanced reader copy and it is possible that the final version may have further changes.

Waiting on Wednesday : The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1) by Anna Smith Spark

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme created by Breaking the Spine.  Every Wednesday we get to highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  My book this week is : The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1) by Anna Smith Spark – where has this sneaky little number been hiding eh?

court of broken knivesThey’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust.

In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it.

Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built.

The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.

Due June 2017