The last installment of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy came out recently. I decided it was high time I read it and wrote a review. So, without further ado, my review of the fantasy trilogy the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley.
Before I continue, I have to say how brilliant the artwork of the trilogy is, which you can see above. It was done by Richard Anderson, who also created the artwork for the World Breaker Saga by Kameron Hurley. It’s a very unique style and it caught my eye where I usually only barely notice the cover of the e-books I read.
Off to a great start
The trilogy is about, you guessed it, the Unhewn Throne. The first book is ‘the Emperor’s Blades’, the second ‘the Providence of Fire’, and the third is ‘the Last Mortal Bond’.
A villain assassinates the Emperor of the Annurian Empire. He leaves behind three children: a daughter Adare, a son Valyn, and a son Kaden. Adare is in the capital at the time, but she is a woman and cannot inherit the throne. Valyn does not have the glowing eyes required. He is also far away, being trained to be a Kettral, the deadliest warrior sect in the Empire. That leaves Kaden, the heir to the throne, being trained in a monastery months from the capital.
The trilogy follows the struggles of the three for control of the Empire, which is threatened by a an age old plot of the Csestriim. The Csestriim seek to destroy humanity, their own ‘tainted’ children.
All in all, a fascinating set up. The first book is done very well, ending on a climax, but also setting things up for the rest of the trilogy.
The fizzling candle
The second books picks up from there, and propels the plot forward. Unfortunately, the second book also loses focus, seeming to dance around what is really going on. It tries to set up doubt and confusion about who is good and who is bad. Unfortunately, that makes for a very unsatisfying ending.
We seemed to know what was going on at the end of the first book, but by the end of the second book, we are actually further away from knowing what is going on. That leads to the third book, which doesn’t add anything new. It’s more of the main characters running around and not knowing what is going on. Until, it turns out, what we knew at the end of book 1 was actually correct.
You can pretty much skip from the end of book 1 to the climax of book 3. That alone is bad. What’s worse is that the actual climax is ‘we ran around like headless chickens for two books but somehow that now allows us to beat the bad guy’. The trilogy is like a staircase, that starts out in book 1, then levels off in book 2, and in book 3 turns out it was a staircase going nowhere.
I may have been reading too much science fiction, but by the end of the third book I found myself skimming some of the elaborate prose. The elaborate theories about gods and the explanations of strange religions just bored me. It could be that I’m a bit fantasy-weary. I think, though, that the lack of relevance to the overall plot did me in. That, and the constant going around in the same circle.
The main characters are the three people in line for the Unhewn Throne. As is habitual in fantasy, the story branches out to show more viewpoints than just these three characters, but not very far. In book one, the three characters have good arcs. Kaden is learning to be a monk, Valyn is learning to be a killer, and Adare is trying to keep the empire together. By the climax I was a big fan of Valyn and I was really intrigued by what was going on with Kaden. Adare was left hanging, but I had high hopes for the second book.
I hoped the second book would build on top of that basis. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Kaden didn’t really evolve any further, in either the second or third book. Adare had been running around like a wild bull in book one. She accidentally did some stupid things, and unfortunately continues to do so throughout the rest of the trilogy. Until her last action accidentally works out.
And Valyn… he was my favourite character in the first book. He spent the second and third book whining. Supposedly he has some kind of downward arc in the second book, and a coming-to-accept-who-he-is arc in the third. It doesn’t work. He just comes across as a petulant whiny coward, which is a real shame, because he was so cool at first.
Gwenna was the only character whose adventures I found interesting in the third book. But even that was a bit of a shame, because it had little to do with the rest of the plot, and it seemed this subplot was written with Valyn in mind, who was moping in a forest at the time.
All in all, the first book was great, the second okay, and the third a chore. Do with that what you will.