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Knife Sworn by Mazarkis Williams

After spending most of his life in captivity, Sarmin now sits upon the Throne of Cerana. But his reign is an uneasy one. And the emperor’s own heart is torn between two very different women: Mesema, a Windreader princess, and Grada, a lowborn untouchable with whom Sarmin shares a unique bond.

In times past, a royal assassin known as the Emperor’s Knife served to defend the throne from menace, but the last Knife has perished and his successor has yet to be named. Sarmin must choose his own loyal death-dealer . . . but upon whom can be he bestow the burden of the Knife-Sworn?

It was great to get back into the world that Mazarkis Williams has so skilfully created, and I am pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Knife Sworn. This book is a lot more polished than its predecessor and the story flows more smoothly. The return of many of our favourite characters, and the introduction of some intriguing new ones, make Knife Sworn an interesting and engaging read.

It’s been a long time since I read Knife Sworn, and I dearly wish I’d had the time to re-read it. Williams begins his novel without recapping or explaining what had occurred in the last book – which meant that I floundered for the first few chapters until I remembered who was whom and how they were connected to Sarmin and Beyon. Once I got my bearings, however, I was able to enjoy the adventure and intrigue that the author lays out for us, and I can’t say I was the least bit disappointed.

One of things that really stands out about this author is the methods he employs to tell his story. He is very much a fan of show rather than tell, and so while we get to see Sarmin do certain things and make certain decisions, his motivations are not exactly clear until later on. This caused some confusion for me but I think ultimately added to the story, because I was always curious as to what he could see that I couldn’t. I think Sarmin was a more sympathetic character when he was the underdog, and now as Emperoer he’s become conflicted and lost, and I found myself sometimes losing patience with him.

In contrast, Grada’s passages confused me because I couldn’t place her actions into the larger scheme of the novel until fairly late – I’m not sure if this was intentional or not. My favourite chapters are definitely those told from Nessakit’s point of view – the author does such a wonderful job of realising her hopes, fears, dreams and schemes, and I found myself simultaneously feeling incredibly sorry for her and wishing for her death.

I have to mention the romance in this book – having been disappointed in the romantic element in the first book I was pleased that this one doesn’t dwell on unnecessary entanglements between the characters. This is not to say that the book is devoid of romance all together – but it comes across much more subtly and is nuanced by Sarmin’s conflicted feelings between Mesema and Grada.

Overall, Knife Sworn is a commendable accomplishment and showcases the growth Williams has undergone as a writer. This series is a new and exciting facet of the Fantasy genre, and fans would so well to acquaint themselves with it. The book ends with the hardening of Sarmin’s stand regarding the ruling of his Empire and leaves readers breathless for the next instalment: it’s obviously going to be a game changer. I can’t wait!

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