Anna Smith-Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives is by far one of the strongest debuts I’ve read in a long time. The world is rich and gorgeous and brutal and harsh and only eclipsed by the depth of its characters. Before we even get into the guts of this review, I’m going to give you my recommendation: slot this book into the top 5 of your TBR pile right now.
The Court of Broken Knives is delivered to you through the eyes of four protagonists. Tobias, leader of the Free Company of the Sword, is marching his men across the desert to find the richest empire ever known. Marith, a part of Tobias’ company, has got a past, and a violent one at that. Orhan plots to overthrow the Emperor. And Thalia is a high priestess who was never meant to see the outside of a temple.
While Tobias the hard-as-nails-but-with-a-very-well-hidden-decent-side mercenary captain, Orhan the politician, and Thalia the tired priestess of a bloodthirsty religion are all brilliant characters on their own–hell, each one is good enough to be the lead protagonist in another book–I want to talk to you about Marith.
Marith. Marith. Marith.
What a fucking amazing experience reading Marith was.
Irrespective of whose PoV you were seeing Marith through, he was bitter, and sad, and tortured, and glorious, and rip-my-hair-out-please-no magnificent. If there is one thing Smith-Spark has done–and she has done many magnificent things in this book–it’s create one of the best tortured protagonists I’ve ever read.
Smith-Spark depicts her world just as beautifully. Some of her descriptions in the early desert scenes were an absolute delight. Offset this against sharp witty conversation and her million-mile-an-hour battle scenes and you have a magnificent author voice that is going to make an impact in the dark fantasy market.
The writing style is something you’re going to hear a lot about in reviews of this book. It’s different. Smith-Spark writes in a unique voice with such pace and veracity your imagination has to struggle to keep up with your eyes, and I take my hat off to her for managing it. Getting that kind of voice right is like walking a tightrope. It’d be so easy to get it wrong and present something that’s just plain-old unintelligible, but Smith-Spark’s book is fantastic and engaging and vivid and sets a rip-roaring pace.
Cover to cover The Court of Broken Knives isn’t just a good read, it’s an experience. For me, it was pretty much un-put-downable. It was lightning-paced, beautiful, deep, haunted, violent, gripping, gritty AF, and exactly what what I wanted.