The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne is the debut series of Brian Staveley and has been translated into over ten languages world wide. The first book in this trilogy, The Emperor’s Blade, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award, the Reddit Stabby for best debut, and scored semi-finalist spots in the Goodreads Choice Awards in two categories: epic fantasy and debut. The inspiration for this series definitely came from Brian’s travels throughout Asia while bringing his own flair of family, religion, philosophy, magic, and war to his epic fantasy trilogy. This series is riddled with different nations each one worshipping a different god, ancient races, and a very interesting magic system. If you haven’t read anything by this author, then sit back and let me explain the many deeds, wonders, and horrors of the Annurian Empire and by the end your might change your mind.
This trilogy starts off with the murder of the emperor, leaving his three children surrounded by enemies in different parts of the world. The first son we follow is Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, the Kettral, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation. Valyn chapters were by far my favorite in the entire trilogy as they were dark, bloody, mysterious, and they get to go on missions flying on a gigantic bird! One of the best warrior POV characters you will come across in fantasy.
The second son we follow is Kaden, oldest son and heir to the unhewn throne. He studies in a remote monastery where the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move? Reading Kaden’s chapters reminded me of the training necessary to becoming a shaolin monk. Clearing your mind to a state of quite and calm. His storyline goes down the more religious and philosophical aspects of the trilogy until the emperor’s soldiers arrive at the monastery and everything changes.
Final character we follow is the Emperor’s only daughter Adare. Left behind in the capital to deal with the politics of the emperor and to pick up the pieces of her shattered heart with her father is killed. She hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. Her story starts off as kind of a detective story but quickly evolves into something much more in later volumes. I didn’t expect to enjoy her character as much as I did and she wins the award for the most improved from the beginning to the end of the series. She doesn’t have many chapters in the first book, but is drastically increased in book 2 and 3 of the series.
The magic of the world is limited. It’s regarded with not only hate but also a primal disgust that leaves those caught to be able to use magic, “leeches,” executed immediately. That is unless the Kettral recruits them. Valyn’s interactions with fellow leech cadets paints a picture for the reader on how the magic works in this world. Namely, each leech draws from a specific well – iron, solar power, emotions, water, animals, the possibilities are endless – and manipulates the world with that power, relative to how much of their well is nearby they can draw from.
Brian Staveley’s prose is terrific and the world building felt very real, vivid, and immersive. It can be a bit slow at times, but I never got the feeling that he was giving me huge amount of information or throwing the kitchen sink at me. The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne is without a doubt a character driven series with a very tense and ever evolving plot that will take you in directions you never intended to go. Even after reading the entire series and the prequel novel, Skullsworn, there is still so much of the world left to explore. Brian has a new book set in the same world coming out next year, The Empire’s Ruin, and it can’t come soon enough.
All epic fantasy fans would have a blast with this series especially fans of Ken Liu and other Asian inspired fantasy authors. Most SFF fans have probably heard about this series in one way or another and I hope you will give it a shot if you are still teetering on the fence about it. This is a series that has stuck with me over the years and I have been itching to get back into it refreshed for the new year to come!
Excellent job Mr. Staveley. I can’t wait for your next work!