Review of Emperor’s Knife from Fantasy-Faction!

Read on for a fantastic review of the Emperor’s Knife by Marc Aplin over at

Never judge a book by it’s cover… that’s the rule, right? Kinda broke it on this occasion. Yes, I know, I am a respected(?) reviewer of Fantasy literature and shouldn’t let such things draw me any longer… but damned, this is a beautiful, beautiful book. Yes, there is that now very, very common hooded man on the cover, but also, there is a beautiful city in the distance and these two are washed over with a kind of midnight blue. Most impressively, there are some beautiful, almost tribal type patterns that are embossed on-top of the hardback novel in a kind of vinyl (you will find out the relevance to these a little bit later in the review).

The Emperor’s Knife is a wonderfully difficult book to describe… It is by no means your typical fantasy novel. Amongst the Cerani Empire there is a disease that is spreading throughout the inhabitants. It seems that anyone can be infected at any-time and there is no known way to prevent it from taking hold of you.

The only thing that keeps the Kingdom calm and under control is the powerful ruler, Emperor Beyon. However, when Beyon himself is revealed to have the prominent patterns covering almost the entirety of his body, it comes down to a number of the highest ranked people in court to keep the fact the Emperor is soon to die – or perhaps even worse, fall under the power of the Pattern Master – a secret. Without an heir, Beyon’s followers each have their own ideas as to who should rule once he falls. His mother believes that the lost prince: ‘Sarmin’, who has been locked away in a tower, should be given the role. Others tell her they agree, but once her back is turned, can they really be trusted not to seize power for themselves?

A number of plans are set in motion and the beauty of the book is that we never quite know who is being honest. We meet a number of characters that are all pawns in this game, including: Medema, a type of seer who has been put forward to become queen, should Sarmin be allowed onto the throne. Her abilities have given her clues to the Pattern Master’s location, but can she grasp their meaning in time? We also meet Eyul, who is “The Emperor’s Knife”, an assassin, who goes on a journey to find a cure for Beyon, a journey that will reveal even deeper plots and darker powers looking to take control of Cerani.

It is certainly a fantasy novel to get excited about, there is a good amount here that won’t feel familiar and the plot will keep you guessing until the very end. For me, the characters are the most enjoyable aspect of the novel. ‘Sarmin’, the Emperor’s brother that has been locked away is a fantastically dark, manic and volatile personality that we never quite work out. He grows extensively throughout the novel, even trapped within his dark, isolated room and this never interest in him and interaction in him changes him dramatically. These changes are very, very nicely done and I think readers will have a pleasant struggle trying to decide whether to route for ‘Sarmin’ or one of the other characters. This is due to the authors purposeful ambiguity in regards to who is good and who is evil. Perhaps that is what is the biggest draw of this novel, because other than ‘A Game of Thrones’ there aren’t many novels in our genre that keep you guessing as to the characters real intentions.

With ‘The Emperor’s Knife’, Mazarkis Williams has added his name to the very, very strong debutees we have had in 2011 (Douglas Hulick, Mark Lawrence and Elspeth Cooper leading the way for example). I think though, comparing this novel to anything else is very, very difficult and this is perhaps what makes ‘The Emperor’s Knife’ a must read – its fresh, its exciting and the ’Tower and Knife Trilogy’ looks set to get even better!

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