The Emperors Knife by Mazarkis Williams Book Review

Eastern promise

While all other industries collapse around our ears, it’s good to know that the market for fantastical books is still healthy: this promising debut (first in the Tower and Knife series) comes from Jo Fletcher Books , which launched in September and is the second new SF/fantasy imprint to appear in recent months.

Eschewing high fantasy’s habitual Euro-medievalesque settings, the pseudonymous Williams conjures a world with strong flavours of the early Ottoman empire (imperial children live in a harem and get bumped off when one of their siblings rises to the throne; slaves are harvested annually from provincial villages), medieval Persia (semi-nomadic horselords trade and raid in the borderlands, and there’s even a grand vizier called Tuvaini, which is only one letter away from the family name of a long line of Persian government officials), and Arabic legend (a reference to the 1001 Nights ‘ City of Brass).

It makes for a rich and entertaining storytelling environment, and Williams creates a twisty and enjoyable tale centred on a creepy magical plague sapping the strength from the heart of the Cerani Empire. The characters, too, are well drawn: believably ambitious and conflicted individuals who struggle to survive in a maze of tradition and intrigue. Mesema, daughter of a tribal chief sold in marriage to the imperial heir, is a particular highlight, upholding her people’s customs while also adapting to the new. The plotting suffers from a couple of longueurs, but overall, this is strongly recommended.

Nic Clarke

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