Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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?
Thoughts: Continuing shortly after the point where The Emperor’s Knife left off, the Empire is in a state of uncertainty. Sarmin, his life spent in captivity and more than half mad, is now the Emperor. The Many, previously afflicted with the Pattern, are directionless, seeking the unity and certainty that they once felt through the Pattern-Master’s influence. A new religion rises. The Empire is under threat from a spreading emptiness from the previous Emperor’s tomb. Plots weave in and out, a tight set of stories all interconnecting, with a rich culture behind them and a fascinating world to explore.
If it’s been a while since you read the first book of the series, then I recommend picking it up for a reread before tackling Knife Sworn. There are very few reminders of events that happened in the first book, so unless your memory is quite good, you’re going to be a little lost in the beginning. This is where the book fell down for me, largely. I spent the first chunk of the novel trying to figure things out from context, and there’s no gentle reminders or nudges in the right direction. Williams pulls no punches when it comes to assuming that readers know the ins and outs of what’s been happening. Easy to circumvent, but only if you know what’s coming first.
Williams has a superb ability to weave separate plot thread into one solid story, taking complex situations and characters and building upon the foundations of the world established in The Emperor’s Knife. The characters, even when you don’t like them or understand the depth of their motivations, are never the less highly interesting to read about. From Sarmin’s attempts to understand reality and his own hidden gods, to Nessaket’s political schemes, to Rushes’s encounters with a growing religion inside the Empire, each character’s focus is unique and attention-grabbing, switching often enough to keep things interesting but not so often that the multiple stories become disorienting.
But while the set-up and story-building was engrossing, the ending was somewhat underwhelming, leaving things feeling incomplete not just in a way that heralds another book in the series, but more in the way that an ending was just reached, anti-climactic, because that was the end of this plot arc. I can’t fault Williams too much on this, because an underwhelming ending is still better than dragging a book on when there’s nothing left to be done, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel disappointed.
While definitely a strong novel with intelligent themes and masterful characterization, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the previous one in the series. It has a great deal of potential and I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of the story goes, though I think after my experience with Knife Sworn, I’ll make a point of rereading the series once more before picking up any future books, just to make sure that the author and I are on the same page.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley)