Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 704
Release Date: October 15th, 2019
Series: HOSTAGE OF EMPIRE, Book 1
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars – Liked it!
Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
The war between Khir and Zhaon is over, and the truce is to be sealed with a royal marriage. Princess Mahara of Khir, the losing side, travels to wed First Prince Takeyo of Zhaon, bringing with her only a single companion, her lady-in-waiting Lady Yala. Yala is dedicated to protecting Mahara no matter the cost, and that may prove difficult in the palace of the Emperor. Takeyo may be first prince, but he has five half-brothers who have their own designs on power, and queens and concubines who will do what they can to aid their sons in their efforts. Making matters even more complicated, neither Khir nor Zhaon is fully satisfied with the peace, and there are those on both sides who would be happy to see war reignited, and taking out the new Crown Princess might be just the spark necessary.
THE THRONE OF THE FIVE WINDS is a diverting read, full of longing looks and many assassination attempts, though a bit meandering in its ultimate aim. At the end of the day, I found the book is much more interested in relationships than actual intrigue and plotting. That’s not to say there isn’t any of the latter, but having finished the tale, it felt like some scenes were planting seeds for a much longer game than we saw in this book. For instance, two characters declared an alliance early on in the story, but I never really saw the fruits of that declaration pay off, or any reference made to it again (or if there was, it was too subtle for me to follow).
While this was mildly frustrating, I did enjoy the overall melodrama, particularly when it came to Yala and her slowly blossoming romance as she navigated court life. Indeed if the book had been shorter and just focused on her, I would have had an absolutely fantastic time. But time had to be split over all the other characters, and that dragged the plot a bit. And there are a LOT of other characters; in fact, I finally typed up my own dramatis personae list (as there wasn’t one in my ARC) to try and keep track of which prince was related to which queen and which prince had just returned from another country etc. After the first hundred or so pages I finally had enough of a handle on things that I stopped referring to it, but there’s definitely a steep learning curve. And as you might expect, not all those characters have equal depth or “screen time,” so they could disappear for dozens of chapters at a time. But those who were more fleshed out kept me engaged when they appeared.
A nod has to be given to the attention S.C. Emmett paid to the two cultures of Zhaon and Khir, particularly in acknowledging that while this is a book written in English, these people in “reality” are speaking and writing their native tongues. I was fascinated with descriptions of choosing how to write certain characters to give different implications to the reader, or the difference in idioms between the two languages. The author found ways to acknowledge that royalty has a different dialect than commoners, and that a person new to the language might struggle to parse which “level” was appropriate in addressing someone of middling status, like the head steward of a royal house. Emmett built a sumptuous world inside these palace walls, with myriad rituals and customs, and I loved exploring the nooks and crannies.
THE THRONE OF THE FIVE WINDS is perfect for those who prefer their royal court dramas to be more focused on royal protocols and slowly blossoming romance, interrupted every so often by an assassination attempt. The actual political maneuvering that some for look for in this subgenre is a bit light until the very end of the book, when the stakes begin to (finally) escalate quickly. If you’re looking for a quick, fast-paced read, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere. But if you’re looking to sit down with a tome and immerse yourself for a good while, have I got a book for you!