The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley – Review

Published: July 6, 2021

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: Ashes of the Unhewn Throne #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 752 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor’s Blades, gives readers the first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy based in the world of his popular series the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, The Empire’s Ruin.

The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The advantages it used for millennia have fallen to ruin. The ranks of the Kettral have been decimated from within, and the kenta gates, granting instantaneous travel across the vast lands of the empire, can no longer be used.

In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates.

But time is running out. Deep within the southern reaches of the empire and ancient god-like race has begun to stir.

What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever. If they can survive.

I cannot even express my joy at having returned to this world and finding Gwenna Sharpe being a badass once again. Gwenna and her Kettral wing are in Dombang arming the resistance, but Talal and Qora have been captured and are being hauled off to the Purple Baths – one of two main garrisons. Things go badly, and I mean BADLY, wrong and Talal is captured, death reigns supreme, and Gwenna is ultimately thrown in the brig. Empress Adare sends Gwenna packing on another ship to the continent of Menkiddoc, where she is tasked with finding Kettral eggs so that the Annurian empire might rebuild their flying special forces. Thing is, the continent is corrupted and everything but the coastal regions are tainted and full of horrific murderous beasts.

Back in Dombang we have Ruc Lakatur Lan Lac, priest of Eira the goddess of love. Ruc has tried to forge a new future for himself, away from the gods that raised him and away from the death and suffering that comes from living in the delta. When a mob razes the Temple of Eira, only Ruc and his lover and fellow priestess Bien escape. He and Bien are brought to the Arena and forced to become participants in a gladiator-style competition to become priests of the Three. As three is a holy number, Ruc and Bien are paired with Talal who was in fact not executed upon capture. 

Our third POV is another that you may find somewhat familiar. Akiil, described as a monk turned con-artist, was a Shin monk alongside Kaden hui’Malkeenian in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series. Akiil has turned back to a life of petty crime since the monastery burned so many years before and is constantly in desperate need of money. So desperate in fact  that he decides to run a con on Adare herself, telling her he can teach her to use the kenta gates. The gates allow instantaneous travel to any other gate but if the user is not properly trained they will immediately be eradicated from existence. 

The Empire’s Ruin is the beginning to the next segment of the Unhewn Throne series and it rivals (if not exceeds outright) the quality of the first three Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne books. It’s a visceral tale of loss, love, redemption, and inner strength. I am blown away with how much I loved this book and completely fell back in love with Brian Staveley’s incredible writing. 

The world is already a well-established one at this point, but the addition of the continent of Menkiddoc further expands an already richly detailed setting. As I pointed out so long ago in my review of Skullsworn, Dombang and the river delta are such vibrant settings that you can almost feel the sweat beading on your brow and hear the insects buzzing. This is a world that has a sense of weight and history to it as well, since the supposedly extinct Csestriim and Nevariim are repeatedly brought up and their weapons and fortresses still exist and are used by those who hold them. There are ancient things in this world and the present inhabitants merely trod on history.

If you’re craving a book with depth, violence, and emotional connection to the characters I would highly recommend you check this out, but perhaps consider picking up The Emperor’s Blades first. You’ll enjoy the references and the long history behind many of the characters to the fullest, though it’s certainly not necessary if you want to jump in head first. The Empire’s Ruin is without a doubt a strong contender for Best Book of 2021!

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