The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams is the first book in the Tower and Knife trilogy. Now, I’ve always believed that assassins in a fantasy setting goes really well together if done correctly. Besides, who doesn’t love reading about deadly and silent killers of the night? I remembered when I first saw the Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks. I saw the cover and immediately purchased the first book. It has been one of the best fantasy series I’ve read to date about assassins. With The Emperor’s Knife, I’ve tried to duplicate that success. Well, I’ve failed. More correctly, the book has failed me instead. The cover sure does look enticing doesn’t it? Well, that’s pretty much all the book has going for it. While I did manage to stomach the entire book rather than leaving it unfinished, I doubt I will be following the series anymore. There just isn’t that much substance to hold me over. I feel like I’ve been spoiled by reading other fantastic fantasy novels but The Emperor’s Knife just didn’t do anything for me no matter how hard I try.
“There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike. Geometric patterns spread across the skin, until you die in agony, or become a Carrier, doing the bidding of an evil intelligence, the Pattern Master. Anyone showing the tell-tale marks is put to death; that is Emperor Beyon”s law…but now the pattern is running over the Emperor”s own arms. His body servants have been executed, he ignores his wives, but he is doomed, for soon the pattern will reach his face.”
The excerpt sounds interesting, am I right? But as you read the book, that “cancer” hardly seems all that it cracks up to be. While it’s true that no one would want to get marked by the pattern, the author just doesn’t do that good of a job throughout the book portraying the doom and gloom of that fact. To sum up things quite nicely, the book is about a prince who is locked in a tower while his brother emperor sits on the throne a marked man. A person conspires against the emperor to remove him from his throne and a whole chain of events follow one another all in the while some are trying to figure out what the pattern means. Again, everything sounds pretty interesting on paper but reading the story is a different thing. The world itself in The Emperor’s Knife is seriously lacking from my viewpoint. The author does go over details about individual places very well, for example, the interior of the castles and whatnot. Overall though, you just don’t really get a sense that here in the palace, the center of an entire kingdom ruled by the emperor, is a kingdom at all! What I’m trying to say is that the only people that seems to exists in the story are the main characters themselves. There is no grand feeling of an open market place bustling with merchants and whatnot. There is hardly any mention about how the actual people’s lives are throughout the kingdom.
What the author does do well for the most part is developing individual characters. What he doesn’t do well is developing character relationships with one another in the story. Certain times, characters do not even spend enough time with one another in the story to build a relationship of any kind. For example, Eyul, Tuvaini and Beyon hardly see each other in the story yet you’re suppose to believe that everyone hates one another. Things just don’t gel together. Another example is between Sarmin, Masema and Grada. Throughout the book, they never meet one another. Then when they finally do, it seems as if they were long lost lovers finally reunited. It just doesn’t make sense and in a way seems very cheesy and cheap.
Action wise, it’s pretty much non-existent save for a couple of fights between Eyul and a couple of Carriers. I was disappointed in this purely because I thought the book had more to do with assassins. I mean, did you see that cover? Instead we get to read about Eyul, the emperor’s “knife-sworn”, reminiscing about his old assassin days. So if you were also expecting to pick up this book hoping to read about assassins slitting people’s throats in alleyways and whatnot, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Seeing how the assassin part disappointed me, I got a little bit of excitement when I found out that mages were involved. Particularly, mages who can possess a certain elemental power within them (earth, wind, fire, water). Well, that excitement was very short lived again because mages takes a back seat throughout the story.
All in all, I really can’t see myself recommending The Emperor’s Knife. There were some interesting parts, particularly in the beginning, but then as I read on, things got boring and fast at that. And no, I’m not an immature fantasy reader who only revels in books that talks about sword fighting and killing. The characters spend way too much time traveling and to make things worst, they travel in the desert where nothing surrounds them! Hardly what you would call exciting. I do see potential in the author, however. His writing abilities is actually pretty good. It’s just that he needs to learn how to make things more interesting. Also, he needs to learn how to build and shape a world for his characters. There is a lot of talk about emperors ruling kingdoms by doing this and that but you don’t have any idea how that world actually looks and behaves like because it’s completely dead and non-existent.