The book cover for The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams immediately caught my eye and, when I read the publisher’s blurb, I knew I wanted to read this one. The combination of thriller and fantasy, with a mysterious plague and lots of court intrigue mixed in – how could I resist? I don’t think you’re going to be able to resist The Emperor’s Knife either.
The desert empire of Cerani is overrun with a mysterious pattern plague. Symbols and patterns appear mysteriously like tattoos, little by little, on people’s bodies over time. When these tattoo-like symbol patterns reach a certain coverage level, the person either dies in horrible pain or is turned into a mindless zombie-like creature. These creatures are said to be controlled by an evil Puppet Master. No one, including the palace wizards, has been able to find an antidote for the plague or to discover who the Puppet Master might be.
When Sarmin was a small child, he and his younger brothers were ripped from their beds in the middle of the night by palace guards. Sarmin was locked into a tower room where he watched as his younger brothers were being slain by Eyul, the Emperor’s Knife, in the palace courtyard. That’s how he knew the Emperor, his father, had died and his older brother, Beyon, had become Emperor of the Cerani Empire. Sarmin is the empire’s backup plan, in case Beyon is unable to produce an heir, and is never allowed out of the tower. He is one of the empire’s greatest secrets.
“Sarmin looked about the room. Beside the bed they had left him a chair, set beneath a slender window. He clambered up onto the seat, stood on tiptoes, and pressed his nose to the window’s alabaster pane. Nothing, just a faint blur of light offered through the translucence of the stone. Kashim’s cries came clearer though. He was outside, far below.”
Beyon and Sarmin have grown into young men. Sarmin fears he may fall into madness due to his extreme isolation. Beyon has grown into his throne, even if he has become known as a harsh ruler. Despite his many wives, Emperor Beyon has been unable to produce an heir to the throne. Even more worrisome are rumors that he has the beginning stages of the plague – rumors fueled by all of his body servants being executed. Those who suspect worry about how much longer he will be able to maintain control over himself, and about what will happen to the empire once he dies with no heir or no longer controls his own mind.
“’Your brother carries the marks now. I had it from the executioner who slew the royal body-slaves. The sands run swiftly. The time may come when it is you, and not Beyon or his son, who sits upon the Petal Throne.’…Treachery. He’d [Sarmin had] been frightened to see it in his mother’s eyes, but the vizier didn’t scare him…’You speak of replacing the emperor,’ he hissed. ‘Do you think I have no love for my brother?’”
For those reasons, two covert expeditions have been launched: one has been sent to the herding tribes in the green northern boundaries beyond the desert, and beyond the plague ravaged area, to bring back Messema, a bride for Sarmin; and the other, consisting of the Emperor’s Knife and a wizard, has been sent in a last ditch effort to seek a hermit oracle in the mountains who is rumored to know a cure for the symbol plague. At the same time, court intrigue is boiling over with those who hope this will prove the ideal time to wrest the throne away from Beyon for themselves.
“’What do you see?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know.’ The wind blew harder, and Mesema felt suddenly cold. ‘A – A strange patterning. Now waves, huge waves with a man riding across them. A cliff. A prison. I don’t know! Nothing.’
‘You see more than you know.’ Banreh said.”
The Emperor’s Knife is Book #1 of The Tower and Knife Trilogy. It’s a highly complex debut novel, filled with devious subplots, and enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most demanding reader. The world and the characters are very well developed. You’ll love some of them and love to hate others. Messema, a windreader, and Sarmin were my favorites but I also found myself fascinated by the Emperor’s Knife, a reluctant assassin if ever there was one. I am really happy to share this novel with you and have no qualms about recommending it. I can hardly wait for the next book in this trilogy!
The Emperor’s Knife was released on November 29, 2011, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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