Unhewn Throne Is One Of The Best Fantasy Series I've Ever Read

Cover art for Brian Staveley's The Emperor's Blades

I have read many fantasy books over the years, many of them mediocre, and few as captivating as George R.R. Martin's now-ubiquitous A Song of Ice and Fire. So it was refreshing and thrilling to discover a trilogy that's nearly as good: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, one of the best fantasy book series I've ever read.

OK, I didn't discover it - Kirk told me about it. Whatever.

Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, written by Brian Staveley, is a trilogy that takes place in a large fantasy world full of knights, wizards, and walking gods. Like many fantasy book series, it barrages you with terminology, offering a steady stream of proper nouns like "Kettral" and "Meshkent" and "Ashk'lan."

Unlike many fantasy book series, it ties all those nouns together in a considered, compelling story, expanding its scope while rarely meandering or losing momentum. Put another way: Once I started reading, I never wanted to stop.

The series begins with the death of an emperor, and focuses on his three children: Kaden, isolated in the mountains and training to be an emotionless monk; Valyn, away on some islands training to be a lethal assassin; and Adare, who remains in the capital city, dealing with political machinations and the ramifications of her father's death.

Chapters alternate between each character's perspective, A Song of Ice and Fire-style, allowing the reader new glimpses into the heroes' internal monologues every time. Like George R.R. Martin, Staveley tries to make each chapter into a semi-self-contained story, with its own themes, threads, and tantalising cliffhangers. He has a real knack for prose, and his writing is evocative without bogging down the reader with too many details.

Staveley is also adept at world-building, and his fantasy kingdom is full of style and culture. There are monks who devote themselves to an existence free of emotion, nobles born with eyes that burn with awe-inspiring flame, and priests who serve the god of death by killing as many people as they can, yet live together in a pretty chill farming community where they all lounge around eating plants.

It's a world that feels real yet outlandish, and it's one I loved spending time in, as awful as some of the events of Unhewn Throne actually are.

The first book ("The Emperor's Blades") gives short shrift to Adare, and Staveley initially makes some questionable decisions with his other female characters, but the second ("The Providence of Fire") and third ("The Last Mortal Bond") books correct those mistakes.

By the end of the trilogy - which, you will be pleased to hear, is actually finished - the characters have all gone through horrible, horrible things, evolving and growing along the way. Their journeys resonated with me in some ways I didn't expect, and the story has some interesting things to say about love, pain, and what it really means to be human.

Also, there's a group of special ops who ride giant birds and use them to assassinate people, which is pretty much all you need to know.


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Comments

    You should give Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson a shot

    It was an enjoins read, the giant birbs are real cool.

    Another great book is Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series.

    I loved the first book, felt like it was setting up an epic story, then I feel it just didnt fulfill that in the next two.

    Check out Brandon Sanderson too. I'm currently enjoying the Mistborn series.

      I feel like the Mistborn series (at least the original trilogy) is aimed at young adults, so don't expect the kind of tits & blood you'd get with ASOIAF. That being said, it's still a great read. His Reckoners trilogy is also fantastic.

      My girlfriend is reading through the Stormlight Archives, and she can't put it down.

      td;dr - Brandon Sanderson, 10/10.

        So there are tits and blood later or in his other books? I have never read the guy but keep hearing good stuff. Not really into YA stuff though.

          Most of his stuff is not so much YA as it is just not all that grimdark. There's sex and death but neither are luridly depicted.

          Not in the Mistborn or Reckoners series, but I think there might be in the Stormlight Archives - that's the one he's best known for anyway. Everyone that I know that's read it says that those books are among the best they've ever read.

          I'm usually not a YA fan either, but I still really liked the Mistborn and Reckoners trilogies.

            I might give them a go. Any particular series I should jump into first? Or which one is clearly the best? I'd prefer to not start with the top, then every one after is a disappointment.

            I'd like to have a new author to add to my list. I've been making my way through Neal Stephenson's stuff lately and love it. Cryptonomicon is amazing.

              I liked the Reckoners trilogy more than Mistborn simply because it had such a great premise - suddenly a bunch of people in the world get superpowers, but they are all evil and take over the world, and humanity forms a resistance to fight back. Mistborn is a bit more derivative fantasy - young urchin gets powers and reluctantly becomes a hero.

              Stormlight Archives is his best by a long shot, from everything I've heard - but it's going to be a 10+ book series, and he's only just released book 3, so you'll need to be in it for the long haul. Reckoners and Mistborn are trilogies, although there are follow-on Mistborn books if you like the world - so it isn't such a commitment to jump in there.

                Thanks, I'll keep this in mind. I really hate waiting for books so I'm reluctant to start on an arc that is not finished yet. I'll definitely put them on my list the check in on.

        Great, many thanks for the tips on future reading options!

        Can confirmed. Stormlight Archives series is by far his best work. The scope and world/character building are exponentially better than his other series

        Last edited 23/05/18 10:32 am

          Jumping in here because holy shit Stormlight Archives is incredible. Granted it took me almost the whole first book to get into but after that I was hooked.

          I devoured Oathbringer recently and I'm pretty salty that I have to wait so long for the next one. It's pretty much the only multi-character perspective novel I've read where I actually like all the characters and their storylines (at least after Kaladin stopped moping)

          And in answer to @darren it's not really blood and tits in the GRRM style (in fact one of my favourite things about Branderson is that he actively steers clear of sexual violence in his writing.) The violence is pretty intense but in a different way to ASOIAF. Stormlight Archives actually explores a lot of stuff to do with trauma and mental health and does it really well. It gets pretty fucked up but it's a whole other brand of fucked up to GRRM.

            Thanks for chiming in, I'm adding the stuff mentioned here to my reading list.

        I could do without tits, but sign me up for blood! The only Sanderson I've read are the WoT books he finished. I should change that, after I finish my 15 book Dark Tower list, and Discworld after that, so.. a couple years.

          Yeah, I thought the final WoT books he wrote were in the same league as the early WoT books - that is to say, far better than the meandering mess in the middle of the series! That's what prompted me to pick up his other stuff.

          I know exactly how you feel, I recently finished the whole Riftwar cycle which is 20-something books long.

        What is td;dr?

        I'm currently reading the Wheel of time series and just started the first of Sanderons books for it. I really like his writing style and would be keen to read some more of his works.

          tl;dr = Too long; didn't read. Basically it's a synopsis you put for people too lazy to read through long replies.

          Reading two series at once? I don't think I could handle that - particularly seeing as how many different storylines there are to keep track of in the WoT books.

    In the same vein as SOIAF is the Prince of Nothing / Aspect Emperor series. It's like SOIAF only everybody is the absolute worst person ever except for the prostitutes.

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