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The Emperor's Knife (Tower and Knife…
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The Emperor's Knife (Tower and Knife Trilogy) (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Mazarkis Williams

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2111555,323 (3.4)9
Member:wyvernfriend
Title:The Emperor's Knife (Tower and Knife Trilogy)
Authors:Mazarkis Williams (Author)
Info:Jo Fletcher Books (2011), Edition: UK Airports, Paperback, 388 pages
Collections:Library Loans, Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:fiction, read, 2013, january, library, nb, fantasy, assassin

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The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams (2011)

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Picked this up without knowing that the author's name is a pseudonym, and his-or-her identity is still a mystery to the world at large. There are a few clues on the Internet - but I still don't know who this is.
I'd lean toward female - but I'd also recommend this to fans of Daniel Abraham. It's not actually a debut novel, apparently the author has been 'mainly writing' for 10 years.

It does come across as a practiced, expertly-written story. This is the kind of fantasy I like - set in a vivid, well-thought-out world, with a focus on 'real' and interesting characters and plenty of danger and intrigue.

The Cerani Empire (vaguely influenced by the Ottomans) is a paranoid monarchy of the sort that thinks nothing of assassinating or imprisoning all potential rival claimants to the throne. But an insidious threat has infiltrated all the way to the royal chamber none-the-less. A mysterious plague is spreading; its visible sign tattoo-like geometric patterns that spread over the victims' skin. At some point those infected lose self control, and become violent assassins. It is suspected that this is no true illness, but magic, and the marked individuals are tools in the plot of a Pattern Master.

In this situation we meet Sarmin, a prince who's spent the last 15 years confined to his luxurious room. Mesema, a princess of the horse tribes who's been summoned to be Sarmin's bride by the scheming Queen Mother, Nessaket. The Emperor, Beyon, may interfere with those schemes, but it's unclear where Beyon's strength and cruelty end, and to what degree he may be a pawn himself. And of course, there is 'The Emperor's Knife,' the guilt-haunted assassin Eyul, and the sorceress Amalya...

I definitely want to track down the sequels {edit: and, I've now done so!} and find out what happens next in this world, even if by the end of this book, most of the characters end up dead.
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
I didn't know this author when I got this book. I might have gotten it as a free download, I'm not sure. I was pleasantly surprised -- I tend not to have high expectations for free books. But the characters, the story, and the writing are strong. And not your ordinary fantasy story. If you enjoy fantasy, but are looking for a change, a change of setting, characters, situations, and motivations, you'll enjoy this.

The story concept is interesting. I haven't read a story like this before. It made it unpredictable, which kept the suspense high.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! The mystery was fascinating as it evolved and developed. The twist with Sarmin seeing through another's eyes was unexpected -- it seems he gave himself the pattern and changed things. Many unanswered questions kept me reading. Very well done.

As the story continued to complicate, I got a little confused about who was on whose side, but that's probably because I read in bits -- reading too many books at once will cause that -- and sometimes I lost the thread. I became uncertain of Tuvaini's allegiance, but I think I was supposed to be. At first it seemed he was on the prince's side, then expressed loyalty to the emperor. Then he was after the emperor's mother and the emperor's throne himself. I was always on Mesema's side myself. I love her character. Strong, even when she's afraid, she did the best she could.

And Eyul is a great character. Killing the two assassins while blind, with help from a voice, which he couldn't identify or place, impressive. He's an honorable assassin, and I love that gray area for the character.

Then people started dying! I thought Sarmin was dead for a moment, which was upsetting, as I had hopes for him coming out on top at the end. But Eyul killed Amalya because she had the pattern! Grr, I hate when the good characters die. Eyul's doing his assassin's job as always, killing her because it's the law. I thought he'd changed, though.

Sarmin's control over the pattern was exciting but also frustrating. I wanted him to do more, and I couldn't see what he intended to do. In the end, things began to make sense as people's loyalties became clear, and things came together quickly. I will definitely be reading the sequel. ( )
  monica67 | Mar 25, 2014 |
I started reading this during my vacation, figuring that it was different enough from my other vacation reads that I wouldn't get everything confused. One review I read described it as being like George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, except set in a fantasy Middle Eastern world. Unfortunately, although some of the magic and political intrigue was interesting, it turned out to be a bit of a slog. I couldn't connect with the characters and had trouble caring about what was going on around them.

The politics and character relationships were complicated. Years ago, when Emperor Tahal was in power, everything was better. When he died, someone (maybe Tahal himself? I can't remember) arranged for all of Tahal's sons to be killed by Eyul, the Emperor's Knife, in order to avoid future power struggles. The only ones spared were Beyon, who became the next emperor, and Sarmin, who was locked up for the rest of his life, in case he was ever needed (fantastic idea, right?). In the book's present, Beyon has become a respected but sometimes brutal emperor. By his command, anyone found to have been patterned (mysterious pattern marks spontaneously appeared on their skin) is put to death. However, there are rumors that Beyon himself has the pattern marks and may eventually become a Carrier, a dead shell used as a tool by the Pattern Master.

I was a little confused about who was trying to accomplish what, and how. I think Nessaket, Beyon's mother, was doing whatever she had to in order to remain the most powerful woman in the palace, but she also potentially cared for her sons...maybe. Tuvaini was definitely trying to overthrow Beyon, put himself in power, and claim Nessaket as his wife (he seemed to both lust after her and hate her). Eyul wanted to serve the empire but wasn't sure whose orders would best help him do that. Sarmin would have done anything to protect his brother. Mesema, Sarmin's future bride, just wanted to figure out what was going on, learn what the patterns meant, and stay alive. I think I followed all that well enough, but I couldn't always keep the assassination attempts and reasons behind them straight.

It probably didn't help that there wasn't a single character I really cared about. There were some characters I liked more than others, and yet it didn't upset me at all when a couple of those characters died (don't worry, no spoilers). Of them all, Sarmin probably appealed to me the most, but having been locked alone in a room for nearly his entire life meant he wasn't the most comfortable of characters. When he first began exploring his magical abilities, I wasn't sure if what he was dealing with was actually magic or if he was as insane as Tuvaini said he was. After all, his advisers were faces he saw in the walls of his room. And he had almost no experience interacting with others. I thought his excitement at the thought of eventually meeting Mesema was nice and kind of sweet, until I realized that he viewed her as something like a present, someone that would belong to him alone.

I wish I could have liked Eyul, Amalya, and Mesema more than I did. Eyul, the world-weary assassin, was fascinating at first. However, he spent much of his time away from the palace, and I had trouble remembering why anything he did was important to the overall story. Some of the reasons why he disappointed me were also tied into my disappointment with Amalya.

Almost across the board, women in this world had little freedom and power. Even Nessaket, the most powerful woman in the palace, couldn't leave the palace grounds. She was powerful because she was the emperor's mother and previous emperor's wife, and, if Tuvaini got his way and became the next emperor, she hoped to stay powerful by becoming his lover. There was no way for her to be powerful that did not involve some sort of connection to a more powerful man.

The only women who had anything resembling power and freedom all their own were mages, and there were only two female mages in the entire book: Amalya and Mura. Mura was mentioned so rarely I had to look up her name just to include it in this review. She was the one female character Tuvaini met that he didn't view in terms of her sexual attractiveness to him, primarily because he was uncomfortable with the knowledge that a wind elemental was trapped inside her. Amalya was a much more prominent character than Mura, but unfortunately she didn't amount to much more. She used her fire elemental's magic a little, but it was mostly Eyul's skills that kept them safe. Amalya's greatest skill, it seemed, was cooking, and her primary purpose in the story was to give Eyul someone to fall in love with. She had so much potential, and it was all wasted.

I wanted to like Mesema more than I did, but she kept doing things that annoyed me. She supposedly loved Banreh, a man from her tribe who escorted her to her new home in the Cerani Empire, and yet she frequently insulted him. Years ago, he'd shattered one of his legs and could no longer ride well – not good in a culture that prizes riding skills. Mesema sometimes called him Lame Banreh. At one point, she said “You are barely more than a woman yourself...” (13.5%). Later, she thought of him as a “thrall” not once (41.3%), but twice (45.9%). There was also occasionally some pity in the mix.

And I was supposed to believe she really loved him? Had they interacted more and had Mesema done some groveling, then maybe, but instead I was left feeling like she just latched onto whoever was uppermost in her thoughts. When she wanted to go home, she loved Banreh best. When she was in the thick of things at the palace, Beyon began to attract her. Even though she was there when, earlier, Beyon threatened to kill Banreh.

It's possible that this series gets better, but I doubt I'll ever read the next book. I didn't like the characters enough to risk another slog.

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Dec 4, 2013 |
Mazarkis Williams picked deserts and middle eastern inspired culture as a setting for his debut novel. It's a refreshing change from medieval based setting that most of fantasy authors use. Add to this two magic systems:
1) commanding one specific element (fire/stone/air..) by forming symbiotic relationship with elementals;
2) spell-casting by drawing intricate patterns on objects and hive-mind group behavior;
and we have a base for great fantasy book. I love a good unique magic in a book, and on this The Emperor's Knife did not disappoint me. My only regret is that there is almost no explanation how that magic actually works.

The story is told through four point of views:
• Prince Sarmin, locked in a tower from childhood;
• Eyul, royal assassin, whose honorary tittle Emperor's Knife is the name of the books also;
• Mesema, Sarmin's fiance from horse-riders tribe in norther planes;
• Tuvaini, the high vizier - emperor's chief adviser.
They all plot and scheme trying to fulfill their desires. Whether they yearn for freedom, forgiveness for past sins, love or power, each of them weaves another strand in a web of court intrigues that can have only one winner.
I usually love multiple viewpoints in a book because they offer us different perspective and view on plot, but in this case they only added to the general confusion. The descriptions jump from one character to the other randomly and sometimes just after one page or even paragraph of text. I think that it is better if writers stick to rule one chapter per character and to use multiple POVs in one chapter only when there is a culmination of plot.

If we disregard the POV confusion problems, I must admit that there is a good character development for all main and even some side-characters in a story. The only front where this failed is romance/love. There was a lot of sex happening, but I could not feel the love, affection or sometimes even motivation for it between characters, even where it should be. But I'm a girl, so maybe male readers won't even notice this.

'The Emperor's Knife' is an interesting start to a series and Mazarkis Williams is definitely a new promising fantasy writer. I only hope that point of view jumps will not be so sudden and quick in [b:Knife Sworn|13595011|Knife Sworn (Tower and Knife Trilogy, #2)|Mazarkis Williams|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1342535256s/13595011.jpg|19183544], next book in a trilogy. This book is next on my to-be-read list so I will find out soon enough. :)

This text is also posted on Amazon and my blog. ( )
  bookwormdreams | Apr 10, 2013 |
Actual rating: 3,5 stars

I'm all for shaking up the usual Fantasy setting and Williams has done a wonderful job accomplishing just this. We enter a Middle Eastern scenery with the matching silk robes and exotic weather and buildings, while being introduced to the rather harsh culture of the Cerani Empire. (They ride camels! I was so used to reading about characters riding horses it didn't sink in at first. Off course they're riding camels in the desert, that's kind of logical, but it was still a nice "ha!" moment for me.)

Political intrigue is a central theme in "The Emperor's Knife", but interweaved is the imaginative plot of a disease threatening to overwhelm the people of the Cerani Empire. And it's not just any disease, but a blue/red Pattern of circles, crescent moons, triangles, diamonds, ... that slowly spreads over the body and when complete, kills you or makes you a puppet doing the bidding of the Pattern Master. Big thumbs up for this original idea, the mystery about the Pattern and it's Master got me hooked right away.

I'm a big fan of Williams' writing! There are lots of writers that can write fairly good, but don't give me that extra, special feeling. Mazarkis Williams is definitely in the group of authors that can write beautifully. I love the way she describes everything and how she can make her character's thoughts sound so philosophical and put so much meaning in them.

Although I enjoyed the story, I didn't get a "wow" feeling while reading it. There's definitely room for improvement and some growing. I can't really pinpoint a real problem, but I missed some sort of connection with the story, it could have used more depth on some occasions. I'm really frustrated I can't put a definite 'why' on the problem, I want to give the author an explanation if a make a remark about their book.
At times the story confused me a bit, everything happening at a rather fast-moving pace, which is where I missed the depth sometimes, this especially in the second halve of the book. Williams did succeed in surprising me about certain decisions the characters had to make (Eyul and Amalya) and I would have liked more of these shock moments in the second halve.
The ending was good, but not as explosive as I'd hoped it would be. I kind off already guessed who the Pattern Master was (but not why he did it). But still, I'm curious about the rest of Sarmin and Mesema's story.

I'm starting the second book, Knife Sworn, in a few minutes and I'm really hoping I can find what's missing in the first one in there.
( )
  Cindy_DraumrKopa | Apr 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Williams's fantasy debut, the first volume of a projected trilogy, details an exotic world that combines Asian and Middle Eastern cultural references with subtle intrigue and a touch of romance. Fans of fantasy intrigue will want to try this new author.
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Jackie Cassada (Jan 1, 2012)
 
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For Phil and Shyrley
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Hands found Sarmin through the confusion of his dreams and the tangle of his sheets.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0857388002, Hardcover)

There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that marks each victim with a fragment of a greater design. Geometric patterns spread across the skin, until the victim dies in agony or becomes a Carrier, doing the bidding of an evil intelligence.

The lost prince Sarmin, the emperor's only surviving brother, lies locked in a hidden room. As the pattern draws closer to the palace he is at last remembered: now he awaits a bride, Mesema, a Windreader from the northern plains. She is accustomed to riding free across the grasslands and finds the Imperial Court stifling, but she soon realizes the politicking is not a game. It is in deadly earnest.

Eyul, the imperial assassin, is burdened by the atrocities he has committed. As commanded, he bears the emperor's Knife to the desert in search of a cure for the pattern-markings.

As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence, the enemy moves towards victory. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who saw a path in a pattern once, among the waving grasses.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:15 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The Pattern Master has designs on the Emperor Beyon, and only Mesema, a girl from the plains, and Prince Sarmin, Beyon's half-mad heir, can stand against the evil manipulator.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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