Title: The Throne of the Five Winds
Author: S. C. Emmett
Publication date: October 15, 2019
Summary: After Khir is conquered by Zhaon, the Great Rider’s daughter Mahara is sent to be the Crown Prince of Zhaon’s wife to secure peace. Komor Yala, Mahara’s friend and lady-in-waiting, is the only one to accompany her and protect her in a potentially hostile country. Seemingly welcomed, Yala quickly learns there are six princes angling for the throne and two queens and two concubines who will do anything to attain glory for their children. Caught in a deadly game, Yala must use all of her training with a deadly hidden blade to keep her princess safe.
If you’re looking for fantastic world building, look no further. Emmett really took her time with crafting a world that made sense and and could support the characters and story. Inspired by East Asian cultures, it painted a beautiful, yet deadly world centered on the court of Zhaon. The reader is privy to how the people are entertained, what they wear, what they read and study, and what they eat. It’s a remarkably well-done world that one can easily be immersed in.
But as beautiful as the world is, I must admit it took me some time to really immerse myself in it. My Kindle read 11% before I finally caught on to who the main characters were and how they related to each other. The names are foreign, the relationships are different and sometimes hard to follow, and there are “foreign” words peppered throughout (there are footnotes to translate). It all adds great atmosphere, once you can figure everything out.
My only other complaint is that there was often too much extraneous detail. By the end of the book, I did not care what this man’s top knot was caged in or what kind of tea that lady preferred. On one hand, it lends a great deal to the world building. It paints the world and the characters as real, but it also felt a little like overkill. Still, I can’t dispute that this was an intriguing world, and it was fun to pick out what was inspired by the East Asian cultures I’m familiar with. Though I did sometimes feel like I was being slapped by a Western hand.
The characters felt like a bit of a mixed bag to me. Some were extremely well-done, and others felt a little one note. There are six princes, two queens, two concubines, a general, the Emperor of Zhaon, Lady Yala, Crown Princess Mahara, and the households of each prince, queen, and concubine. Of course it makes sense that not every character can be fleshed out, but sometimes they played a larger role and it would have been nice to see some complexity to their character.
Much of the story revolved around Yala. She had the most freedom to move around, so it made sense for the story to be told primarily through her eyes. It was refreshing to not have an overpowering sense of royalty behind her character as it offered a fresh perspective to a court without seeing it through scheming, devious eyes. Yala was always dutiful and poised, but she had a way with people I can’t help but be envious of. I think the only problem I had with her character was that she drew romantic feelings from two men, creating a triangle I didn’t fully enjoy. Still, it offered her protection as she was without any. I just had a problem with a single lady from a neighboring country drawing the attention of two Zhaon men when much of the larger court schemed against Yala and Mahara.
I spent much of the book enjoying the world building, to the extent that it wasn’t until the last quarter of the book that I realized the plot was a bit flimsy. Other than a few assassination attempts, all of which felt kind of brushed over in the grand scheme of the story, not much actually happened. Most of the book was centered on exploring and describing the world. I got some of the schemes of the princes, queens, and concubines, but there were also a few hints about schemes from Khir. All of it felt more like it was being hinted at. Something for the second book to more fully explore?
This was the story of six princes, two queens, and two concubines scheming for the throne. I have a feeling it was there. It just wasn’t as present as the world building. I’d say the world building took precedence in this book and the plot was more of something it simply had to have. After all, a book where the sole purpose is to describe a world would be pointless.
Unfortunately, I felt the story itself was lacking. It’s a long book where not much happened. Though what did happen was exciting at the moment. But there were also moments of action and excitement that we just didn’t get to see because the narrative switched to another character and all we got where the beginning and end of the action.
In terms of world building, this is an excellent book. In terms of a well-balanced book between setting, characters, and plot, it was a little lacking. Still, this was an interesting East Asian-inspired setting I enjoyed, and I can clearly see how it’s set up for a trilogy. I just hope that the next two books have more story and less world building. I think this first book sets the world up very well and I’d be interested to see how the story progresses. I must say, though, that, as much as the cover delivers a sense of war and battle, I was pleasantly surprised at the minimal violence present in this rather long book (the paperback is listed as being 704 pages).
How many cups of tea will you need?
4 cups would be just right.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.