The imperial palace is perhaps the most dangerous place in the Empire of Zhaon. Komor Yala, lady-in-waiting to the princess of the vanquished kingdom of Khir, has only her wits and her hidden blade to protect herself and her charge, who was sacrificed in marriage to the enemy as a hostage for her conquered people's good behavior, to secure a tenuous peace. But the Emperor is aging, and the Khir princess and her lady-in-waiting soon find themselves pawns in the six princes' deadly schemes for the throne -- and a single spark could ignite fresh rebellion in Khir.
With a deliberate pace and fine attention to details of dress and custom, Emmett weaves a masterful tale ... This trilogy starter will only expand [Emmett's] audience, putting her into the favorable company of expansive fantasy writers like Kate Elliott and N. K. Jemisin, with more than an echo or two of James Clavell.
... characters’ reactions and facial tells are artfully crafted, conveying each aspect of social interaction with incredible detail and precision ... The political plot moves slowly, but peeling each layer of conversational detail will keep readers consistently interested. The sheer number of players on the board results in a near-endless web of relationships ... There is a serious learning curve through the first 100 pages (you really should see how many sticky notes I used), but the Zhaon empire and the kingdom of Khir are well worth exploring, despite the time investment required. The world is constructed well: Color is added to the world for context, never dumped on readers like an unfriendly reminder of history class from high school. Inserting colloquial names for plants, creatures and roles is a favorite trope of mine, and Emmett employs it liberally, if a mite too much ... The world feels real and expansive, complete with implied trade relations, a rich diversity of culture and five languages ... will appeal to patient readers; the quick-witted banter of modern superhero movies is nowhere to be found within its pages. Instead of fencing with quick verbal stabs and sardonic ripostes, Yala and crew are brutally sharp social gunfighters, holding their draws, each of their statements spoken with lethal concision. Those without such patience are almost always vulnerable and open to attack from more skilled fighters. Moving through Emmett’s socio-political fantasy drama is quite an undertaking, but definitely one worth attempting.
For a 650-page epic fantasy, the cast is actually somewhat limited, focusing instead on intense and concentrated character relationships ... Readers impatient for immediate explosive results are going to be disappointed. I, however, think that the author does an excellent job in arranging matters before unleashing the full power of action, on all axes. I came to understand and sympathize with all corners of the conflicts and the various factions ... readers looking for a truly alien secondary fantasy world are going to be disappointed. The world is close to our own, the characters entirely human, and their concerns, fears and actions entirely within our ken. While individual elements are unique, Emmett/Saintcrow successfully evokes a East Asian that never was in the cultural details and touches that she brings to her world ... The world is also extremely heteronormative in terms of depicted sexuality. The book also includes footnotes, used exclusively for definitions and explanations of things to extend that rich world. As such, I don’t think they are used quite as effectively as in Alix Harrow, Jenn Lyons or Alex Rowland’s work, which are much more willing to use metatext as well ... well written, and the novel’s narrative momentum and characters carried me through to the end and I enjoyed the experience. I’d return to these characters and this world.