“Why we march and why we die, and what life means… it’s all a lie. Death! Death! Death!”
— Anna Smith Spark, The Court of Broken Knives
It’s always refreshing to dive into a pool of murky grimdark water after a long thriller swim. With fantasy books, the world alone transports you to unimaginable places filled with impossible people and creatures. Set in environments that take a life of its own, you’re bound to find yourself chained to the details of the land and to lurk in the shadows of its people. Anna Smith Spark brings us a new and gripping debut story that swears to have everything you’d want, from blood and betrayal to magic and dragons. The Court of Broken Knives, book one in the Empires of Dust series, offers us four different and unusually fascinating point of views to tell a story filled with back-stabbing decisions and rightful ownership. Although each character (mercenary captain, mercenary recruit, politician and high priestess) all have their own goals and slowly discover the harsh reality of the decisions they are to make, Marith, the latest recruit to the company of soldiers, remains the center of attention as his uncommon background resurfaces and takes a hold of his life.
The Court of Broken Knives remains a very aggressive and relentless adventure that promises blood, gore, profanities and betrayals in every installment to come. Its world is unique and delivers an immersive and engaging experience through composed banter or savage skull-bashing. While the story is built on the idea of mercenaries being hired to take down an emperor, Marith quickly grows into a character that discovers his true potential and is thrown straight down a life-changing path. With every action, he becomes even more consumed by his heritage and what he could possibly become. Certain point of views however turned out uninspiring, especially when preceded with another character’s action-filled and charismatic lifestyle. It just so happens that among the four perspectives you get, the politician barely ever managed to grab my attention with his forbidden love and his whole I-didn’t-know-it-would-be-this-hard attitude. On the other hand, the other character’s ended up putting forth a much more adventurous and thrilling journey to follow and gaze at.
Unfortunately, the biggest issue I ended up having with Anna Smith Spark debut was her writing style. This was detrimental to my whole experience and became heavily bothersome as the story unfolded. While I tried really hard to embrace it, I never truly saw its benefits. There were primarily two issues. First of all, the author adores short powerful sentences. You might wonder how this could possibly be a problem, but when you find yourself in front of consecutive short verb-less sentences that often also are quite repetitive throughout the book, they’ll never stop jumping at your face, making it so much more difficult to appreciate the writing. Think of it like selective attention, once you realize it, you just can’t stop seeing them. For example, the book starts off ass follows : “Knives. Knives everywhere. Coming down like rain.” While this seemed quite epic at first, it quickly grew too recurrent and too annoying for me to truly enjoy the story. Second of all, the author writes the story in third person omniscient. There are four point of views spread throughout the book and you’ll end up knowing everything they’re thinking and everything that’s going on. However, at times, Anna Smith Spark also infuses first-person narrative within her story in a weirdly unconventional way that simply makes things unnecessarily confusing.
While the writing style was the biggest downside to my experience, it is far from being a reason why you should stay away from this debut novel. Consecutive short dramatic sentences might not have worked too well with me, but it might have a pleasant and impressive effect on you. The Court of Broken Knives still delivers plenty of blood, gore, obscenity and treachery. It is filled with anger and lust, and presents it all in a universe that sounds promising and seems filled with secrets. This first book of the Empires of Dust series will only leave you with more questions upon reaching the end, but things can only get better from now on. Anna Smith Spark is definitely a great writer who can create colourful worlds with decent characters and banter. Fans of grimdark should definitely give this one a go if a band of mercenaries mixed into a ploy that is bigger than life fascinates them. If you’re looking for characters trying to understand power in their own unique ways, while simultaneously finding out the meaning of life and death, this might just be the right book to pick up next.
THANK YOU TO HACHETTE BOOK GROUP CANADA FOR SENDING ME A COPY FOR REVIEW!
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MY OVERALL RATING: ★★★☆☆/