Review: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

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What an awesome cover ❤

Given the sheer palpability of the hype of this book, and my sensitivity to hype, it’s safe to say that I’ve been meaning to read this book for quite a while now. I have so little time right now to read books that I haven’t promised reviews for, and yet so much time for listening to audiobooks, so when an audible credit finally materialized for me, it almost instantly went right to this book.

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.

“There is no fear, there is no sorrow. There is life and there is dying, and we stand before them, lit by the sun.”

Guys. Jesus. This book is so well written. The imagery. Ermagherd, the imageryyyyy. The setting just came to life in my head as I listened. So gritty and real. I’m not sure anything I can tell you about it is going to do it justice. The prose is absolutely goddamned beautiful, but holy fuck does it describe a grim world.

This was one of those audiobooks that I turned on, and then just did not turn off until it was done. It’s about 16 and a half hours long, so, I started it in the morning and just… listened. Listened through dinner. Listened throughout the evening. Listened while getting ready for bed. Just sat there sometimes, with (I can only assume) a stupid AF look on my face while just listening. Always listening. It’s one of those.

We start off following a mercenary band who are on their way to Sorlost, which is something like the biggest, most important city in this world. It’s where the emperor lives, and these mercenaries have been hired to assassinate him. We see things from the POV of the mercenary band’s leader sometimes, and from the newest recruit at other times. Right off the bat, they’re attacked in the desert by a dragon. Yep, this book has dragons. Badass AF dragons with boiling acid for blood. Marith, the pretty boy who can just sort of use a sword slays this dragon… and that’s not even the most surprising thing about him. Oh no. No, no, no. There are quite a lot of surprising things about him, as we find out.

This book gets fucking daaaark. Anna Smith Spark is known as the Queen of Grimdark for a very good reason, ladies and gents. This book, on more than one occasion, had me just blinking and uttering a soft ‘goddamn‘ to nobody in particular. This happened most especially around a lot of Marith’s escapades. I’ve read a lot of dark stories but this one definitely sways to the darker side of things, while not being completely grim. Thalia, for example, seems to generally enjoy her life as the high priestess, at least at the beginning of the story, despite having to do some fucked up things. Necessary things, to her. She has never known otherwise. Sometimes you have to do necessary things, even if they are unpleasantOrhan, the politician and King’s advisor, is also leading a pretty great life, fucking his bf and eating lavish food while plotting an assassination on the side.

The characters, while not as richly described as the world they live in are still well described enough that I could visualize them. Beautiful, pale Marith with the dark hair, and Thalia with the lovely bronze skin. The horrible things that tend to happen at the hands of these beautiful characters- baby killing, eye gouging, limb removal, et cetera- are all described in a way that still made me grimace at the very idea of them, but weren’t described to the point of visually seeing it happen, if that makes sense. This, to me, is a really solid example of good writing. Making me cringe at very unpleasant events without making me sick to my stomach at the same time. Giving me horrible characters who do horrible things without making me want to immediately desist listening to their story, instead making me want to not stop listening to it… That takes skill.

This book has two narrators. Most of this book is told from the third person, from the point of view of four characters. Sometimes though, we see one of those characters, Thalia, in the first person. The use of more than one narrator here to achieve this in audio was kind of amazing. Colin Mace does the bulk of the narration here and he nails it so hard. Never heard him narrate before, but I can tell you that I’d definitely like to listen to him again. He put so much emotion into his narration of the story, and made each and every character unique. Really just quite amazingly done. Meriel Rosenkranz narrates the first person POV bits from Thalia, and she did great too. She gives Thalia a really great accent, and tells the high priestess’ story wonderfully. Loved the narration.

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Accurate representation me during most of the past day.

Well, that was a 16 hour long beautifully told grim story. 5/5 stars! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to a Harry Potter book to remember what happy books are like. 😉

Okay okay, so it’s a library book I’ve had a hold on forever that happened to become available just in time for needing a happy book. Either way. 😁

You can see this book on goodreads here, and grab a print copy of it here, or audiobook here.

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