Blades of the Old Empire, by Anna Kashina

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Publication date – February 25, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Kara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, and a member of the notorious Majat Guild. When her tenure as protector to Prince Kythar comes to an end, custom dictates he accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.

But when they arrive they discover that the Prince’s sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services – to capture and hand over Kythar, himself.

A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honour, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonourable?

Thoughts: Anna Kashina’s tale of a kingdom in peril, a dark infiltration of the church, and a quest to change laws and protect the innocent and uncover the newly risen dark cult’s plans should have been a book to leave a deep impression on me. It sounds, on the surface, like a tale filled with potential to be action-packed, intriguing, riddled with controversy and grey morality.

Instead it was a book with a story that didn’t seem to delve much deeper than the surface. The enemies of the dark cult were all power-mad and very much aware that they were doing evil things in the name of evil. Characters fell flat and didn’t have too much to them, and the most interesting things about them seemed glossed over in such a way that I felt very much as though this was the second book of a series, not the first. The dual romance subplots felt half-hearted at best, and there was more than a bit of info-dumping in the form of, “As you know, [character]” exposition.

(Some research tells me that the story for this technically began in another series, published by a different publisher, and not mentioned in any way when the pitch for this book was given to me. This may explain why many of the characters felt so flat and underdeveloped. They were developed in a previous novel, and so in a way I really was coming into the middle of a story, with no warning and no preamble.)

The book wasn’t entirely bad. It’s just that its good moments weren’t as common as its merely okay moments, and even then those good moments seemed to have caveats to them. Hints are made about the history of the world, the politics around the monarchy, it’s said blatantly that the church hates magic but it’s unclear as to why, and the Majat themselves are a fairly interesting warrior society, their ranks coded by gems and semi-precious stones. Like I said, this book, and many of the plot elements used, held what I thought was a lot of potential. But I don’t feel it lived up to that potential, and that was disappointing.

There was also a lot of deus ex machina going around. Each Diamond-ranked Majat has a secret “shadow” who knows all their fighting weaknesses and are used against them if they ever betray the guild, and conveniently there are 2 Diamond Majat in the story, one of whom is the other’s shadow (neither of them knew it before that moment). The world’s most deadly poison is conveniently also something that can save a person from deadly infection if used in small doses, and of course a character was carrying a vial. There’s a miraculous healing potion that can heal even the most deadly wounds, and a character was given some by a person who is later revealed to think that this character shouldn’t have anything to do with the Keepers or their knowledge, including that potion. A character has a fear of heights so profound she says she even hates standing on stools to get dishes from high shelves, and so is terrified to cross a chasm until the man she’s crushing on helps her across, but this character has shown no fear at riding a horse for over a day, an animal that keeps her much higher off the ground than a kitchen stool. Convenient phobia that never appears again, exploited for a bit of romantic tension.

I don’t think this is a series I will continue with, which is a rare exception to the rule for an Angry Robot book. The background of the kingdom was interesting (what little was revealed, anyway), the Majat Guild were interesting, and the few hints about the Cha’ori culture were interesting (I have a weakness for reading about nomadic cultures), but there were too many issues with this book to override what interest it did bring out in me. This may be a case of “Your Mileage May Vary,” though, since people who have read Kashina’s other books with these characters may have a better time with it. They likely won’t feel so lost, will understand the background a lot better, and it’s entirely possible that many of my issues with lack of explanation and expansion would be nullified because they were explained elsewhere.

However, when presenting this book as the first of a series with no info that it’s technically a continuation of another series, readers may very well find themselves floundering from the get-go, having no foundation, or even an idea that one exists. I’ll be generous and says that this was just a very poor introduction to the world that Kashina has created. The world itself seems intriguing and full of potential for epic adventures, plots and politics and great battles, and all of that may be better appreciated by having read the author’s previous novels, but all of that gets lost in over-the-top battles you know the good guys will win, convenient plot devices, and only average writing that felt like it could have used a bit more polish before being revealed. Even the potential of the world isn’t enough to draw me back after such an awkward and unsteady introduction.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

6 comments on “Blades of the Old Empire, by Anna Kashina

  1. Some research tells me that the story for this technically began in another series, published by a different publisher, and not mentioned in any way when the pitch for this book was given to me.

    >>This explains so much and why readers have been bouncing off of it. That does feel like a bait and switch. This also ties into the whole “what’s wrong with epic fantasy” and worldbuilding.

    Thank you so much, Ria. This crystallizes things a lot.

  2. I dunno, outside of learning a bit more about he who seduces spider goddesses, I can’t see how have access to extra world building would have made this book any better to me. I love me some Angry Robot, but the last two epic fantasy I have read from them left something to be desired, and even Iron Wolves was good but only to a specific niche of fantasy reader.

  3. Ria, hope you get this.  Read the author interview and Kindled the sample.  Got three pages through and went, Huh?  Went to your blog and found you hadn’t reviewed it yet.

    Wipe sweat off brown.  And now the other shoe drops.  Whew.  For a while was afraid my favorite reviewer had gone around the bend, LOL.

    You ARE my to read list.

  4. I have very similar thoughts. So many things were overdone or exaggerated in this book that at times it almost felt like a parody of a fantasy novel. I will probably not be continuing this series either, but I am not completely closed to the idea of maybe picking up that previous book that introduced the characters. For an indie it seems well received.

  5. I’ve been reading a lot of similar reviews to yours regarding this book–and that’s unfortunate, because the blurb sounds so intriguing. I’m definitely going to avoid this book in the future.

  6. Pingback: March in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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