Kaden has been training in a remote mountain monastery for the past 8 years. His younger brother Valyn has also been training for the past 8 years — as an assassin for the giant-bird flying Kettral, a deadly group of elite soldiers. Their older sister Adare remained in the capital to learn the game of politics from their father, the Emperor of the Annur. The Emperor’s sudden murder sends shockwaves through each of his children, and they must piece together the details of his demise before it is too late.
The premise, for the most part, delivers an entertaining fantasy adventure told through the eyes of the Emperor’s children. Some problems with pacing and a lack of character differentiation hold this book back from being a true classic. Although the book rotates through the points of view of each of the Emperor’s children, Kaden (the heir to the throne) and Valyn command the majority of the pages, with an Adare chapter thrown in every hundred pages or so. Adare’s story is interesting, but oftentimes her chapters would come right at the climax of a Kaden or Valyn chapter, and I felt like I had to plow through the Adare chapter to get back to the action. Hopefully in the second book, Adare’s story is featured more prominently.
Kaden and Valyn’s chapters read like extended boarding school training montages, with each brother progressing through the harsh regiments of their teachers. These scenes are interesting and Staveley does a good job building up the background and history of the Shin monks and the Kettral, but I wished that some of the material could have been skipped and that Kaden and Valyn were closer to the end of their training by the opening of the book. There was also not much done to differentiate the personalities of Kaden and Valyn, other than that one is a monk and one is an assassin. If the characters switched places, it seemed like the plot would have been identical. Again, hopefully Staveley expands on the backgrounds of Kaden and Valyn in the second book, so that we can appreciate their different personalities apart from their training.
One other minor squabble I had with the book was that so many places and peoples were thrown at the reader throughout that I could not really get a sense of how these different groups interacted. It would be better to tease out different groups a few at a time, so that the reader can understand how they fit in the world. George R.R. Martin does a good job of this, gradually introducing the reader to the different families in Westeros over several books to help the reader build a foundation of knowledge that will be remembered in subsequent books.
In the end, the various plot lines speed up and the climax is both internally satisfying and sets the table well for the next book in the series, due out next January.