I was impressed with Mistress of Solstice by Anna Kashina last summer. When I saw a new series from her on Netgalley, I signed up for an ARC. Boy, am I really glad I did. Her new venture into the roller-coaster ride of action adventure novel is easily up there with Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind. Honestly, I would vote higher. She kept the writing fast paced and had just enough description to build great visualization without putting me to sleep.
Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina
This is a magnificent work of literature. You get fast paced travel with political intrigue and danger, amazing martial arts fights of extreme skill, cultural immersion from around the world, and a little hint of romance without ruining the tough fighter feel. Oh, and don't forget the magic. This book seriously had everything. The only con: lack of sleep. I read through the entire 496 pages in two days. I easily found myself losing track of the clock and was happy that it was just the weekend. Otherwise I would have been very tired at work.
The characters were amazingly real. They were incredibly flawed and struggling with the fight between need versus want. Five stars for the realism. Even the way people fell in love, or not, was incredibly realistic. Not everyone came out at the end of the story with a happily ever after (which I am always excited to see an author willing to abuse their characters since we don't always get a fairy tale ending or exactly what we wish for in life). We get to see the characters building the best from their lives with what they have. This fits perfectly with the tough warrior mentality being developed in this story. Though, I did appreciate a few moments of getting what I wanted from the characters instead of an entirely fatalistic ending. I felt like a stronger person in myself by the ending.
Speaking of characters, you get a vast array from around the world represented in Blades of the Old Empire. You have some Eastern and Western cultures with a touch of the Old World mythological types and even some native peoples. Fascinating blend! Ayalla was my favorite character -- what an outfit! The political intrigue of bringing all these different peoples together is only going to get better in the coming books. We had the great taste of action with this introduction, but I feel more coming with resurrecting this old alliance.
The magic system was underplayed yet very important to the development of both the story and the characters. You have the obvious good versus evil, religion versus faith debate going on along with the magic, but I don't really find it tiresome or irksome. (I am realistic that there are only a few types of story you can tell.) I appreciated that the story stuck more to the adventure than the heavy build up of magics and fantasy. There was a sense of grit and kick butt attitude with the Majat Guild that really separated this story from epic fantasy. I really cannot express enough times how highly I recommend this story to everyone.