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.