Review: Knife-Sworn - Tower and Knife Book II / Author: Mazarkis Williams / Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books / Release Date: Out Now
Marzarkis Williams' epic fantasy series for grown-ups is most obviously marked by its rich middle-eastern flavoured milieu, with nary a broadsword or suit of boiled leather to be seen, nor a 'thou' or 'milord' to be heard. This second volume is a real slow burner, but no less riveting for that.
The events of the previous novel have seen young Prince Sarmin freed from a lifetime of imprisonment in a tower and placed on the 'Petal Throne' as Emperor. The threat of the first instalment was a 'Pattern-Master', who nearly undid the kingdom by causing a blending together of its citizens' consciousnesses, leading to the unusual, often Joycean, narrative style of that volume. Now freed from hearing the voices of their fellows ('the Many') in their minds, quite a few of them suffer instead from a deep emptiness known as 'the Longing', which causes them to turn to the emerging cult of the dead god Mogyrk for comfort. And where there's a dead god to turn to for comfort, there's always a legion of opportunistic acolytes waiting to capitalise.
Not unconnected to said god's death are some rather worrying holes in the fabric of space that threaten to devour the empire. To make matters even worse, due to a twist of the late Pattern-Master's defeat, poor Sarmin finds himself under the control of some voices of 'the Many' that should rightly be no longer of this mortal plane, to the extent that his actions are often not his own. How can a man who is not even the ruler of himself save an empire? Especially when many of his court, including his own mother, conspire against him and think him mad?
Low on bloody battles, but high on intrigue and dark magicks, Knife-Sworn grips the reader by the sheer force of Williams' sumptuous detail: the rustle of silks in dark, ornate corridors and the stark contrast between the lives of the lords and ladies of the ruling class and the 'untouchable' slave classes. There are a number of near-sublime hallucinatory passages that truly transport the reader.
However, on the whole it must be said that Williams' narrative never fully convinces the reader of its possible reality in the same way that George R. R. Martin's do so effortlessly. Many supporting characters appear as little more than cardboard cut-outs, seeming to pop in and out of the story as the plot requires with little sense of their having a life beyond it. There also isn't a great deal to go on regarding life outside of the tower's walls.
That said, these become mere kinks to be ironed out when one considers that this is only Williams' second novel. The pluses outlined above outweigh the minuses and he has succeeded in that tricky business of creating a middle volume that spurs one on to get to the conclusion of the saga. This reader for one will be ready and waiting when the final volume, The Tower Broken, comes around this time next year.