Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina

Blades of the Old Empire is a romantic fantasy set in a pseudo European settings with hints of Asian/Baltic lore. Although the world building is interesting, the characters are very flat, one dimensional, and interactions/dialogue/intrigue simplistic. If only rating for the action and world building, this would be 5 stars – and then the clumsily written dialogue happens and the plot quickly falls apart.

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Plot: Kingdoms are in turmoil as a mysterious barbarian horde begins conquering neighboring countries. Prince Kyth, son of a king of a vassal state, quickly realizes that their problems may also be internal: a new leader has suddenly been appointed to the church and he, himself, was almost assassinated. Knowing that his rare magic ability is both outlawed by the church and also a target of a newly resurrected set of evil magicians, he and his Majat bodyguard will travel to find allies. His father, Kyth’s childhood friend Ellah, and another Majah bodyguard will also travel to firm up alliances. Both parties will meet with betrayal and hardship as the storm of politics and war sweep them up.

There is a lot of interesting worldbuilding here: a church, nature gods, rare magic abilities, the politics of a vassal country owing allegiance to a mad king, acolytes/Keepers of an old religion/magic system, grassland nomads, resurrected ancient evil, conquering barbarian hordes, and a highly proficient but honor bound martial guild (the Majat). It should make for a very nuanced and interesting series. However…..

What we get is not one but two soppy and completely dead romances as both Prince and commoner (Ellah) fall for their Majat bodyguards. Supposedly some of those feelings are returned but we aren’t really made privy to much of the Majat thoughts though they are the focus of the book and tie in all the plot points. The author gives us a lot of POVs but keeps Kyth and Ellah as the Center as they moon over their Majats.

What frustrated me was how simple the characters were – in thoughts and dialogue. People all say exactly what they are thinking, in all political situations, and evil characters gleefully tell anyone who will listen about all their nefarious plans. When conversing with each other or examining the changing political climate, everything boils down to the most obvious and simplest of observations – even to the point where the King is rehashing political points to the son – who would already know this. At one point, the author suggests that the bad guys did the spouting in order to create an affect on one of the majat – and yet after springing that trap, they kept right on telling everyone of their evil plans.

And though the evil guys continually try to kill one or more of the characters, especially the prince, all anyone ever does is warn the bad guys away, “You’d better leave now if you want to live!” or weakly threaten them. After about the fifth encounter with the bad guys trying to kill or capture one of the parties, I just wanted someone to run the bad guy through with a sword already (the Majat are supposed to be unparalleled warriors but only kill random ‘red shirts’ now and then in the story). Letting your guarding assignment’s assassins live so they can try again at a more convenient time doesn’t strike me as intelligent bodyguarding.

It’s such a shame that all that wonderful worldbuilding is so lost in thin characters and childish dialogue. At times, the characters felt more like 12 year olds than adults and I kept wishing no one would talk or make any observations and ruin the lovely milieu in which they were living.

Received as an ARC from the publisher.

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