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Blades of the Old Empire: Book I of the Majat Code

Blades of the Old Empire - Anna Kashina If mercenary Ninja Assassins are your thing, then this is a book not to miss.

The ‘Majat’ warriors are the ninjas. Sworn to the strict code of their order, they have a thousand-year reputation for being strictly neutral in every political struggle – until now, I guess, when emotional and ethical considerations get them breaking their vows left and right.

King Evan is on a mission to nullify the law that says that anyone born with magical power should be put to death. (He’s particularly motivated to do this because his son and heir, Kyth, has recently been revealed to have such power.) He is opposed by the traditional priests of the realm – who have recently been revealed to be harboring – perhaps even led by – a cabal of dark demon-worshippers with sorcerous powers themselves.

Both sides want to hire top Majat wariors to help them in their struggle. But, as I mentioned, love gets in the way – the plot prominently features two romances – one between prince Kyth and the young-but-unbelievably-talented warrior Kara, and one involving the young truthseer Ellah’s infatuation with the warrior Mai.

There’s also some nature/forest magic going on, and quite a few other things.

Overall, the story is a quick read, fun and entertaining, in the classic fantasy vein. It doesn’t really add anything remarkably new to the genre, or transcend any preconceptions, but not every work has to break new ground. I was reminded more than once of sword-and-sorcery movies from the 80’s. I like those, so I don’t mind. It’s not realistic: if you demand a believable description of martial arts (or of medical procedures after people are wounded by those martial arts), you’ll find things to nit-pick. Nope, the ninja stuff here is over-the-top fantasy fare. The writing style is unremarkable, sometimes a bit too overly-colloquial or awkward, but it gets the job done. The romance aspects got to be a bit much, though. There were some eye rolls as kisses ‘drown people, then bring them back to life and drown them again,’ &c, &c.

I’ve seen some other complaints about this book that say that some aspects are confusing, or that the character development is insufficient. After wondering about a few things, I looked at the author’s bibliography. This is actually the second book in the series, although it’s not being marketed as such. These characters were introduced in Kashina’s 2012 release, ‘The First Sword.’ I have a feeling that if I’d read that first, I would’ve felt like I already knew the characters a lot better, and some references to prior adventures would’ve made more sense.

I received a copy of this book for review from NetGalley. Thanks to Netgalley and Angry Robot!