The Court Of Broken Knives | Anna Smith Spark
Salutations to you all!
This is a series that I have been meaning to get to for absolutely ages. I thought I would finally get to this series, and my goodness what a series this is.
Perfect for fans of Mark Lawrence and R Scott Bakker, The Court of Broken Knives is the explosive debut by one of grimdark fantasy’s most exciting new voices.
They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust.
In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it.
Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built.
The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.
To describe Anna Smith Spark's The Court of Broken Knives is going to be a skill in itself, and to be quite honest I do not think I will be able to do the brilliance of this book justice. This is a book where the prose is the shining star. It's a book of mythical chaos that I am sure will click with some, but others will find the dense writing style to be off putting, and I can see that it could definitely be a barrier. However, for me I have to say that I think that this book is utterly amazing and utterly compelling.
The story centres around Tobias, a mercenary. Marith Altrasyr, a new recruit in the mercenary company who has secrets. Thalia, the high priestess of the god of living and dying and finally Orhan Emmereth, a high ranking official who has only one thing in mind to kill the emperor and save the decaying city of Sorlost from destroying itself in its own filth and decadence.
In order to do this, Orhan has hired a company of elite mercenaries who are skilled in the art of shoving a knife into the back of whoever you want disappearing.
Enter Tobias and Marith, the beautiful boy whose secrets follow him like death.
The book opens with the group of Mercenaries that Tobias is in charge of (including Marith Altrasyr) making their way through the arid desert to carry out their mission of destroying an empire. They are set upon by a beast of myth and legend, a dragon whose breath melts the bones from those it kills. The troupe are saved from almost certain death by the aloof new member of the group, Marith, who in a spectacular, stupid feat of bravery kills the dragon and subsequently carry on and make their way to Sorlost to do their job. We watch the story unfold from the first act, to the last, and I have to say I had no idea where this was going and how it was going to get there.
Like I said this is a breathtaking piece of fiction and that is utterly compelling from the moment it starts. However, it is not for the faint of heart not just because of the writing style, but also for the pitch black nature of the book. This book definitely puts the the grimness and the darkness in grimdark and is definitely one of the bleakest books I have ever read.
Bad things happen in this book. Bad things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people and even worse things happen to innocents and guilty alike. There is nothing nice about this book, so be prepared. However, whilst at times the book never falters in its depiction of war and the degradation that happens, it never really steps over the line. It never shocks for the sake of shocking.
Now, it's hard to describe Anna Smith Spark's writing style, it will quickly move between beauty and ugliness. It will change from first person to third person, from past to present tense with no warning. It will repeat phrases over and over again highlighting on a particular motif. Spark will focus on a microscopic scene and then in the next paragraph pull back to focus on the epicness of the story. Honestly, it's unbelievable.
In regards to the plot, it chaotically moves from one thing to another. Anna Smith Spark completely throws out linear storytelling and it goes from one incident to another in a rather haphazard manner that moves towards an inevitable conclusion.
Another thing that I thought was amazing was how Anna Smith Spark paints the characters of the book. The characters in this book are horrible in every way. They do reprehensible acts that can be morally repugnant. Even the main character, Marith is utterly unlikeable. He verges on the psychopath and is completely dispassionate about most things, except when he is killing or ingesting whatever substances makes him feel alive. However, much like the story, the complexity of the characters makes them vivid and compelling to read about.
In amongst this, Anna Smith Spark uses the familiar tropes of fantasy, god's, demons dragons etc etc. But it is done in such a startlingly original way that at times you forget that this is something you recognise and you have seen many times before.
Like I said, I don't think I can do this book's brilliance justice in anyway, but I hope my paltry attempt to give you some idea of this book's excellence makes you at least curious to find out more.
And as a post script to this review, I did this book on audio where Colin Mace amazingly brings this book to life.