“There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike. Geometric patterns spread across the skin, until you die in agony, or become a Carrier, doing the bidding of an evil intelligence, the Pattern Master. Anyone showing the tell-tale marks is put to death; that is Emperor Beyon’s law…but now the pattern is running over the Emperor’s own arms.
His body servants have been executed, he ignores his wives, but he is doomed, for soon the pattern will reach his face. While Beyon’s agents scour the land for a cure, Sarmin, the Emperor’s only surviving brother, awaits his bride, Mesema, a windreader from the northern plains. Unused to the Imperial Court’s stifling protocols and deadly intrigues, Mesema has no one to turn to but an ageing imperial assassin, the Emperor’s Knife.
As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence, the invincible Pattern Master appears from the deep desert. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who saw a path in a pattern once, among the waving grasses – a path that just might save them all.”
I’ve got a feeling this one is a bit of a Marmite situation. You’re either going to love it, or hate it. From the blurb, The Emperor’s Knife sounds amazing, and it should’ve been 100% my cup of tea, but in all honesty I really struggled to finish it. It felt similar to Brett’s The Desert Spear in terms of backdrop, and with that Middle Eastern style it felt much fresher than the vast majority of the ‘hooded figure on the cover’ end of the genre. Add to this the concept of the mysterious disease that colours and patterns skin and I should’ve been in my absolute element reading this.
Unfortunately, the reality here was that I couldn’t summon an ounce of sympathy for or interest in any of Williams’ characters. The pacing was also, I felt way off the mark. I don’t have a problem with slow burners, but this one was too much even for me. The only thing that kept me going was the exciting promise of the blurb, and I felt misled. The pace was glacial at best and I lost interest repeatedly along the way.
I don’t want to dwell just on the negatives here, especially as it’s a debut novel. I thought that the concept showed a huge amount of promise, but for me only a tiny percentage of that potential was realised. When you have to consciously force yourself to continue reading, it’s clear that it’s not working. It was a real shame, a missed opportunity to shine.
I’d be curious to see if the second in the series is an improvement.