I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina
Series: The Majat Code #1
Published by Angry Robot in 2014
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An ancient order of evil magicians called the Kaddim have risen from the ashes and threaten King Evan’s lands. Only two people appear to be immune to their power: Prince Kythar, and his bodyguard Kara. Prince Kythar isn’t supposed to exist, because it’s forbidden for royals to have magical talent. He should have been killed at birth, but King Evan had a soft heart. His bodyguard Kara is an assassin in a guild called the Majat. The Majat are superhumanly talented fighters, and the guild exerts total control over each of its members in order to keep them from going renegade and destroying the world order. They are bound by a strict code of conduct and honor and are forbidden to have personal relationships. But Kara and Kythar care about each other too much, and the result could be catastrophic.
See that description? That’s what the publisher should have used when marketing Blades of the Old Empire. Instead, they gave away a major plot spoiler, and it had a detrimental effect on my reading experience. When writing cover or marketing material, my feeling is that the first 15% or so of the book is fair game, but anything beyond that needs to be less specific. You shouldn’t give away a major twist right away, because then readers already know what’s gonna happen, and it takes the fun out of guessing.
My thoughts on Blades of the Old Empire as a whole run in a similar vein. While generally I’ve loved everything that Angry Robot has published, this was a case where the book needed more editing and another set of eyes on it before it was released. There was even a chapter missing from the first print, although they’ve since rectified the problem. And I feel bad for the author too, because she’s got a very good story that would have been amazing with an extra pass from the editor and more care with respect to marketing and production as a whole.
You see, Blades of the Old Empire is a companion to Kashina’s earlier novel The First Sword. But that also wasn’t mentioned in any of the marketing materials or on the book itself, so I jumped in and felt lost. Certain characters weren’t introduced particularly well because it was assumed that the reader already knew who they are. And that’s fine if readers know that they are supposed to have read something else first, but I didn’t, and so I felt like I was missing a lot of things and that the pacing was off. This got better as the book went on, but the damage was already done.
And then some little editing things irked me. The Kaddim have weapons called orbens, which are sort of like a medieval flail. Orbens are forbidden in the kingdom because they’re big and scary and they’re symbolic to the Kaddim. However, a character gets hit in the head with one and somehow is fine because his hair cushioned the blow? Pretty sure it doesn’t work like that. My hair didn’t prevent me from getting a concussion when I slipped and fell on the ice this winter, and I’m pretty sure a dude’s hair isn’t saving his life from a blow to the head with a spiky metal ball. I’d also have liked to have seen a bigger demonstration of what the Kaddim could do early in the book. For all that the villains are swinging around these orbens, they don’t really do much damage for most of the book. Good writing should show, not tell. Sacrifice some guards to the cause and show what the orbens are capable of, otherwise the villains come off as bumbling and comedic instead of scary.
And yet, the story itself is good. I love the world, the conflicts between the characters, the magic systems, etc., so it makes me sad that this book came out the way it did. I’m still going to continue the series when the next book comes out, because I do think that there’s potential and I have faith that the next one will be better.