Jo Fletcher Books. h/b. £16.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
Sarmin may have freed the Many but it has brought him little comfort. He is emperor now, but weakened from his years of confinement. Those whose bodies could not receive back their spirits are with Sarmin now and another voice speaks to him; a voice he has not heard before and soon, with an emperor who is losing control of his mind and body, no one will be safe.
Elsewhere Mesema is giving birth to an emperor’s child; women’s work that takes place behind doors closed to Sarmin. But there is already a baby in the palace and the honour of the child’s parentage is in question. If the emperor wishes its life be taken, it will be done. The emperor’s mother, Nessaket, must consider whether she should let this child die like all the rest.
Grada, the Untouchable, seems stronger now, strengthened by the memories of the Many. But, on her mission for the emperor, she cannot always tell whether these memories, thoughts and choices are hers or whether they are the lingering traces of the Many. Does her own will guide her knife hand or the will of another?
Knife Sworn continues Sarmin’s story as he faces off against political foes, works to protect the line of succession, and suffers the after effects of the Pattern Master’s death. Sarmin retains his role as protagonist but Mesema takes a back step and is no longer a point of view character, although she does feature heavily in the book viewed through others’ eyes. Grada, Rushes and Nessaket take her place adding new voices to the narrative and widening the scope of the story.
This second book in the trilogy offers more understanding and explanation to the reader of the pattern and how every aspect of life is linked by it. The magic system too becomes much more graphic and comprehensible; where The Emperor’s Knife gave us a taste of an imagined world and its rules and restrictions, Knife Sworn shows these in action. The politics and religions of the world are again a key part of the story and are far vaster in this instalment.
The pace is on the slow side until the last quarter of the book when it really picks up and delivers a dramatic conclusion, at the same time laying the path for the final book in the trilogy which will be out next year. The characterisation and detail is where Knife Sworn really delivers. Character motivations become much clearer and the reader’s empathy with the characters is solidified. A strong middle book which will secure book three’s place on many a ‘to read’ list next year.