I reviewed a late 2011 novel, The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams, and posted it to SFFWorld today. This novel generated a healthy amount of discussion on the intarwebs and was published in mid-2011 in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books and December by Night Shade Books. The book didn’t work for me quite as well as I hoped it would:
The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams tells the tale of a disease spreading through the Cerani Empire, and how it affects the Emperor, the people and the fate of the Empire itself. This disease leaves pronounced, clear markings on its victims so keeping an affliction secret is a most challenging prospect.
Set in a fully realized secondary world, the Asiatic / Middle Eastern flavor comes across as exotic and vivid. At times, I was reminded a bit of Eärwa, the world in which R. Scott Bakker’s Second Apocalypse saga takes place or even elements the world of Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esselmont’s Malazan saga and the saga begun with Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man. In addition to the solid world-building employed through the characters, Williams also unravels a plot that is not predictable or entirely straightforward. A great deal of subterfuge is part of the novel as the truth of Sarmin’s life is not known. Much of the Empire believes Beyon is the only surviving member of his family as a result of a purging and a plan is proposed that should the Emperor Beyon succumb to the disease, Sarmin will be placed on the throne. Though large external conflicts exist and threaten the Empire, Williams chooses to show this conflict through the lenses of his fractured characters. This provides a nice contrast of the intimate and large scope.