*** UPDATE – I just found out my review copy was missing an entire chapter. I hope to get a chance to look at the complete book and evaluate if that could have impacted my opinion/review. Many of my comments and observations will stand, but even if the book has faults, I feel bad that the author’s work, particularly in regard to its resolutions, since I understand this chapter is towards the end, is being judged on an incomplete version. ***
I enjoyed reading Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina, but I’ve debated how to go about writing this review. So, what I’ve decided on is to explain why this is a hard one for me to write. I think the process should get across what I want to say about the book.
So firstly I’ll start with saying that my mood and how well a book fits it at the moment can impact my enjoyment level of a book. Sometimes I think it may make the difference between a 3 star and a 4 star or a 4 star and a 5 star rating. Maybe that is not a fair thing to admit. I have actually thought about writing a blog post on exactly that, so will save further comments on it for that piece (if I ever get around to writing it).
So, as you may have guessed, this book is one that I recognize is a book that if I read on a different day, my reaction may well have been different. In this case, I think unfortunately on another day my enjoyment level may have been less. So is that a fair thing to bring up during a review? I enjoyed this book, but at the same time I recognized numerous things that other days I would be less tolerant of. So, I decided that yes, it is fair game to bring up during a review. Especially since I have decided it is not my typical reading preference.
I’ll start with what I liked about it. Honestly, it was a fun, familiar fantasy. There is an elite guild of mercenaries, the Majat Guild, whose skill and dedication is renowned. Especially for the Diamond Majat mercenaries who are the most elite Majat and practically living legends. One aspect of the Majat is their personal detachment from the cause they are being hired for. No matter the task, the Majat mercenaries show up and do as they are paid to do. Loyal to whoever paid them until their contract is up. Of course, what happens when a Majat is put in a position to be hired for a task that they as a person find unfathomable? Where will their loyalties really be? Also, because I really enjoyed it, I want to mention there is one character that wears a ‘dress’ of large living poisonous spiders. For some reason, I loved this.
There is nothing ground breaking here, there is nothing that is testing the bounds of the genre. But you know what? Who cares. I think there is room for books that stay in familiar ground because quite frankly, if readers didn’t enjoy it, it wouldn’t be so popular. I was in the mood for something like that, a quick easy read with magic and adventure, on that it delivered.
So, what did I recognize in this story that normally would pull me out and make me have a less favorable reaction? I’ll make a list.
- Deus ex mahina. Like I said, there is magic in here. Nice comfortable type of magic that has the ability to come and save the day. I was in the mood for it, so didn’t really mind, but when it comes down to it, there were some awfully easy solutions that suddenly appeared.
- Anachronisms. This is a minor complaint on my part. But expressions such as “Get lost” or “he looked good enough to eat” just felt very out of place.
- Unwilling Suspension of disbelief. Yes, we need suspension of disbelief in all books, but some test the bounds way more than others. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that hair is capable of padding someone’s head from a mace. There were a couple of other events that had this same type of reaction from me where I just couldn’t bring myself to believe.
- Romance. I’m not against romance in books, I actually often like it as a sub plot, but I usually don’t go for ones this angst-y and dreamy. It’s the type of romance that makes characters pine from afar and become idealistically dreamy when together. I really think the romance in it felt more YA . Not a bad thing for many readers, but it does fall outside of my usual preferences. This time, I didn’t mind so much, but I could recognize the patterns I usually don’t care for as much. I will add that I was happy not all romantic interests happily fell into place. Not that I like characters to be heartbroken, I just felt it served the story and the characters better and I wasn’t sure it would be that way.
So, now the real question is: did I not mind these things because the quality of writing made me overlook them? Or, did I not mind because when it came down to it, I was in the mood for something different than my usual dark and gritty books. I was in the mood for a story with a strong female character. I was in a mood to just enjoy the magic and not care how unlikely or how easy much of it was. I think the answer to my question about is that it is both. I think the author deserves credit for writing a story for which I am not the normal audience, but I was still able to enjoy, as well as for fitting what I was looking for at the moment. The author always deserves credit for writing a story you enjoy. This is what made writing this review so hard. I enjoyed it, but also felt obligated to point out the areas where I saw weakness even though while reading, I didn’t much care and overlooked them.
So, if those are things that don’t normally bother you (because not all readers will care) or if you are just in the mood for a fun fantasy with mercenaries, an evil brotherhood, then, yes, give Blades of the Old Empire a try.
Blades of the Old Empire will be released Feb. 25th by Angry Robot Books. Many thanks to the Angry Robot and NetGalley for the ARC in return for my honest review.