Show Notes for Episode 1.16

Quick Links for the Episode

  • Like James Barclay, Brian Staveley also has a Fantastic Fiction page.
  • You can also visit Brian Staveley’s website for more information about the author and his latest work, engagements, etc.
  • As mentioned in the episode, here is the Tor review on The Emperor’s Blades that Jennifer read. She also read a Tor review on The Last Mortal Bond, the third and final installment in the trilogy. Not really sure if Tor did a review on the second book, but the overall picture of progress and improvement in Staveley’s writing seems to be clear from reading these two.
The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley (2014)

This was Paige’s last Book We Hate pick. Her distaste, Jennifer discovered came not necessarily from the content – though there were issues there as well – but from the experience of listening to this story as an audio book. Similar to Jennifer’s experience with other fiction audio books, Paige could not get past the male reader straining to reach a higher register for female characters. Unable to finish, Paige was just as clueless to the ending of The Emperor’s Blades as Jennifer was upon beginning this read. But did Jennifer hate The Emperor’s Blades as much as her co-host?

Main Points from the Episode

  • A few notes about the author before we begin: Brian Staveley is a writer, teacher, and editor for Antilever Press. He has a Master’s in Creative Writing, and appears to be quite the active outdoorsy sort currently living in Vermont. The Emperor’s Blades was his first published work, won several awards, and the entire trilogy was generally well received – though there are some criticisms, some of which we will get into in this episode.
  • In what is becoming a tired refrain here at BBE, The Emperor’s Blades is another fantasy written by a man that includes unbelievable female characters, playing into stereotypes without innovation. The two most significant female characters in the story, Ha-Lin and Adare, are either only included to forward the character development of male characters or feature so infrequently that you literally forget they exist. The saving grace for The Emperor’s Blades is that Pyrre is such a badass character. Though still extremely one-dimensional, that could perhaps be forgiven since she appears very late in the story. In fact, Staveley wrote an entire book about Pyrre, Skullsworn, which was published after the trilogy and certainly sounds intriguing given how compelling a character she is!
  • A singularly odd and frankly disappointing aspect of Staveley’s writing is his portrayal of fat or overweight people. While it was not so blatant that all fat people were bad or evil (which is the case in some books – yikes), how Staveley described them was disturbing: in detailed, visceral, and negative terms.
  • Racism or discrimination also rears its ugly head in The Emperor’s Blades. There are characters in the book called leaches that possess a unique ability to harness the power of the natural world. This power also means that they are seen as dangerous and are persecuted brutally in most cases. When they are left alive, they still face ridicule, violence, and hatred. BBE has talked about including such touchy topics as racism and sexism before, perhaps most notably in our discussion of Green. In this episode, our main conclusion was that it is perfectly okay to include negative things like sexism and racism in your story as parts of a society because some societies (most, let’s be real) are that way. What is important, however, is how the main character responds to these beliefs or values. This is an opportunity for the author to show their own views, or to subvert these systems. What is interesting about The Emperor’s Blades is that the character, Valyn, is actively struggling with his internal biases against leaches because he is forced to work with one. While we are unsure if this promise of character growth is fulfilled in later books, it sure would be nice.


Overall, Jennifer found The Emperor’s Blades to be compelling. While there were issues that had her eyes rolling from time to time, it was sufficiently engaging that 600 or so pages went by pretty quickly. The worldbuilding had good depth and quality to it, the juxtaposition and exploration of emotions through two main characters (Valyn and Kaden) was fascinating, and the Csestriim made great soulless and emotionless villains. Jennifer is pretty sure that if Paige had read the book rather than listening to it, it wouldn’t have landed on our Books We Hate list. Jennifer finished the episode by giving Staveley 4 stars. In fact, if her TBR wasn’t already overflowing, she may even be interested in finishing the series. What more of a glowing tribute could a Book We Hate ask for?

Coming up next week: Bonus Episode 1.4 on Tolkien’s The Return of the King. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving us a review, and to keep up with all the BBE news, follow us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the podcast, head on over to Patreon (all links below). Until next time!

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