two-half-stars

Lately, I’ve been hearing many writers give the advice that the story should be as long as it needs to be. This advice is often aimed at reducing word count for bloated novels and series. Many great stories are told in shorter formats: short story, novella, flash, etc.

Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, by Brian Staveley, has the opposite problem. It is very ambitious in scope and tries to pack a lot of story into a trilogy of novels. It doesn’t quite fit.

The setup is grand and complex. Thousands of years ago, an utterly rational race noticed that their offspring had become broken–they had developed emotions. The senior race (Csestriim) battled their progeny (Humanity) and lost. Now, the humans have built an empire to hold things together and watch out for the possible return of the Csestriim. The death of the emperor sets off a power struggle, while his three children endeavor to survive and combat the hidden factions and open threats facing them.

If this sounds a bit like the scope and size of A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s because it is. However, George R.R. Martin and his publishers have repeatedly extended the series past its original trilogy format as it became obvious that the story needed more room to breathe.

They could have gone the “Kill your darlings” route. Eliminate some main characters and factions, remove a couple of story arcs and subplots, and simplify the story. This could have resulted in a well-paced story that resolved satisfactorily in three books. However, it would not have been this story. It would not have been the grand story that Staveley was trying to tell.

I understand the business decisions and literary traditions that pressure authors to deliver their stories in trilogies. However, some of the characters were not very well served by the lack of runway. Adare, in particular, went from idiotic mistake to idiotic mistake, making me facepalm every time we got her POV. A little more time would have allowed us to see her acting competently and making good decisions to go along with the bad. Some of her mistakes seemed to be plot-driven rather than character-driven, and may not have been necessary in a longer series.

Given the ambition and scope of the story, we needed a few more POV characters, including some Urghul and maybe a Council member or two. More set pieces and better delineated story arcs would allow the author to cut a lot of the expository dialogue that slowed things down and replace it with some “show-not-tell.”

Complaints aside, I really enjoy Staveley’s voice in his writing. He is excellent in tone and description. The worldbuilding was immersive and story concepts intriguing. I applaud the story he had in him and only wish that he had two more books to tell it with.

What Makes it Epic Grit:

  • Adventure and Wonder: There’s lots of action and immersive worldbuilding.
  • Believable Characters: Some, yes–others, not-so-much.
  • Real Consequences: There’s quite a lot of death, main characters hobbled by injury, etc.
  • Epic in Scope: Fate of humanity, etc.
  • Subverts “Good versus Evil” Tropes: Most characters act from what they think are best intentions. Some are straight-up psychopaths.
  • Different Perspectives: The POV characters are mainly siblings from the ruling family, though they do eventually add others. Any diversity of perspective comes from the radically different training and experiences of the POV characters and their interactions with characters from different factions and backgrounds.

Verdict: two-half-stars

Despite the great wordsmithing by Brian Staveley, these books did not live up to the hype. There’s too much story trying to be crammed into three books. A five-book format would have better suited the various story arcs.

The excellent artwork for the U.S. covers is done by Richard Anderson, who has done great covers for some other titles, including The Builders, The Dinosaur Lords, and Beyond Redemption.

Review: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian StaveleyThe Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Release: 2014
Type: Novel
three-stars

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Review: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian StaveleyThe Last Abbot of Ashk'lan by Brian Staveley
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Release: 2015
Type: Short Story
four-stars
Tor.com | Goodreads
Review: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian StaveleyThe Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Release: 2015
Type: Novel
three-stars

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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Review: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian StaveleyThe Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #3
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Release: 2016
Type: Novel
three-stars

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Book | Ebook | Audiobook | Goodreads