The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1), by Anna Smith Spark

18 Jul 2022

The Book

The Court of Broken Knives
Series: Empires of Dust
Pages: 470
Age Group: Adult
Published on 29 Jun 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins


They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust.

In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it.

Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built.

The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.

My Review

Honestly, writing a review for The Court of Broken Knives feels like one of the hardest possible tasks. There are so many things I want to talk about but at the same time, I don’t want to make this extremely long. Let’s see how it goes.

I want to start the review by saying I absolutely loved The Court of Broken Knives and that I regret that I didn’t find it before. It has fastly climbed into my top 3 of all time favourite books, especially due to the great use of the prose Anna Smith Spark does.

Like I said if there is one aspect where Anna is really proficient is in the use of words. To an extent, it brought me back to reading Tolkien, or even if we go far back, to the moment I delved into the Greek epic poems, Iliad and Odyssey. She’s able to transport you to an epic world, as if you almost would be there, experimenting everything around you. In contrast with that, the dialogue between characters goes into a totally different style, being much more colloquial.

I cannot stress enough how vivid it feels. There’s a scene that is marked with fire in my head, an army is heading into the Empire, and you are almost there, between them, feeling the tension previous to a difficult action, you can experience the majesty of a big company of soldiers. Other scenes that come to my mind are the ones that happens in the temple.

Another particularity that I want to talk about is how sometimes it changes from a 3rd person narrator style to a 1st person, during the moments she swaps the point of view to Thalia. While it can be confusing at the start, it also helps to change from a more epic tone to a more intimate one.

The characters are charismatic and really memorable. Marith is probably the one that retains the spotlight most of the time, and honestly, I love how he is depicted and how when he is in a, let’s call, bloody outburst, everything becomes more confused, but you are feeling like he is feeling. Thalia is a character that despite starting as a side note, like some chapters where she appears here and there, gains importance as the plot advances. The rest of the characters are not as remarkable, but all the courtesans in Sorlost are well depicted, and I liked how the political intrigues are depicted.

Probably the hardest part to follow is the plot, as it tends to feel more like if you are being described what is happening instead of having an intricate plot you are following in a linear manner. Sometimes, it feels like you are basically a camera that is flying in between the places where things are happening. Despite all these, let’s call them problems, it hooks you from the start and keeps you with the book in your hands until the end.

In summary, this book has become one of my favourite ones due to the mix between epic fantasy and grimdark, and how well the words are used in general. If you liked high fantasy but also wanted something darker, and deeper, The Court of Broken Knives is the perfect entry point to an amazing universe.

The Author/s

Anna Smith Spark

Anna Smith Spark

Anna Smith Spark lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history, and a PhD in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher, and fetish model.

Anna’s favourite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart, and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at SFF conventions wearing very unusual shoes.