A Day of Wonders (Book Giveaway!)Posted: January 14, 2014
You guys, some totally awesome stuff happened today and I need to tell you about it stat.
First of all, THE EMPEROR’S BLADES is out today! For those of you who don’t know already, The Emperor’s Blades is a kickass fantasy novel written by my dear friend Brian Staveley. “What’s that!?” you say, “You’re using real names on the blog now?” Yes. Now that Brian is a public figure, when addressing something he has done as a public figure, I will use his real name. When addressing something he has done as a private figure, like peer pressuring me into drinking Jägermeister or marrying someone completely fabulous, I will continue to use a code name for him (except now).
It takes place in the richly imagined and keenly rendered Annurian empire, where the Emperor’s three children must don the mantle of adulthood after the death of their father. Kaden, his heir, is tucked away in a Shin monastery far from the capital (and everything else). His days are spent performing grueling and/or minute tasks, designed to teach him the vaniate, a state of emotionless emptiness. (My favorite Shin proverb: “The mind is a flame. Blow it out.” It still “blows” my mind that Brian made this up and it’s not an actual proverb.) Valyn, Kaden’s older brother, is training with the Kettral, an elite special-ops force who use enormous birds as transport (and occasionally fighter) jets. And Adare, their sister, is back in the capital where she has recently been named Minister of Finance, and where she must keep her own emotions in check as she tries to root out her father’s killer. Each of the siblings knows that treachery is afoot, but they are unable to contact one another and unsure of whom they can trust.
Now yes, Brian is my friend, but I can tell you the truth: it’s a great freaking book. When I read the galley, I couldn’t put it down even though I knew what was going to happen (having read a bunch of drafts). Perhaps even more telling, I don’t think about Brian when I’m reading it. I forget entirely that my friend wrote it because I’m so swept up in the story.
The Emperor’s Blades has everything you want from a fantasy novel: intrigue, battles, suspense, and a world filled with cool stuff that someone made up, and which feels just familiar enough that you’re willing to journey along with the writer. Some areas in which the world-creation particularly excels are religion, with a Zen-like eastern feel; magic, which is a persecuted (and varying) ability that non-magical folks seek to either kill or control; and warfare, with the aforementioned Kettral.
Another thing that makes it special, and in my opinion far better than other fantasy novels, is the prose. Brian is a great reader and writer of poetry, and his language reflects that. The images are precise, lovely, and at times just unusual enough that you pause to enjoy them. For example: “[t]he sun sank and the eastern sky purpled to a vicious bruise.” Purple makes a great verb. Brian is particularly gifted at crafting aphorisms for the Shin monks: “Fear is blindness. Calmness is sight.” “Emptiness exists only when something else has been gouged away.” “Easier to recall a loosed falcon than a spoken word.”
One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that both of the male protagonists are involved in training. The camaraderie and conflicts, which range from the petty to the deadly, benefit from the intense environment that life in the monastery or military training affords. We see how hard the characters work, and we get to really know them and understand their alliances during their few moments away from training. At times when Valyn runs off to quaff a pint with gal pal (and spoiler alert: love interest) Ha Lin, it’s reminiscent of the Harry Potter folks sneaking off to the Three Broomsticks: we feel like we’re there with them.
Now, for Staveley’s women. Not the ones in his personal life. Because there is only one of those. His lovely wife. I mean the ones in the novel. I’m often bothered by the treatment of women in fantasy writing (ok, in writing in general). But Brian has a lot of female characters who kick ass. Not in the one-off Brienne in Game of Thrones way, but in the women-are-central-to-all-aspects-of-the-novel way, where they are fiery munitions managers, sly assassins, scheming ministers, and, ok, murdered prostitutes. Yes, Adare struggles to control her emotions. But so do her brothers. In fact, a central theme of the novel is the conflict between emotion and reason. [Sidebar: this conflict has fascinated Brian as long as I’ve known him.]
The main characters are well-rounded and complex. As with real siblings, there’s a temptation to typecast each: the favorite, the meat head, the irresponsible one, the smart one, the jealous one, etc. And, as with real siblings, if you do so, you’ll get bitten in the ass. No one is simple. The supporting cast is filled with delightfully loathsome villains, people who die and make you cry, and really, really funny and sassy people who make the book sparkle.
Here’s the thing. It’s kind of like Buffy, or Game of Thrones, or even Harry Potter. I’m not a big vampire fan, I think abominable snowman wraiths/human trees/asshole child kings are ludicrous, and adolescent witches and wizards sound silly (ok, so maybe not that last one). But in the end, none of the aforementioned series are just about what they seem to be about. They’re about humanity and life’s biggest questions. Same deal with Brian’s book. On the surface it’s a wicked cool fantasy concept and a page-turner. But its sophisticated prose, deeply human characters, and existential questions make it so much more. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.
Now for the second exciting thing about today: I was recognized! I was shopping (for The Emperor’s Blades, no less) in my local bookstore. As I was telling the delightful young bookseller, Rebecca, (I guess she’s a public figure, too) about the book, she asked me, “Do you blog?”
I was taken aback. “Yes. Yes I do.”
YOU GUYS! Someone recognized Hipster Hausfrau! I am famous! I don’t mind telling you that this made me totally giddy. Now yes, folks in the bookstore know my blog because I link to them when I recommend books and I’ve had blog-convos with their former manager. But still! A stranger reads my blog and recognized me! A tiny moment of validation.
So basically, in honor of our writing accomplishments and mutual fame, I am giving away a signed copy of The Emperor’s Blades to one lucky winner! Enter below!