Blades of the Old Empire tells the story of a Majat, Kara, a special type of skilled mercenary. These men and women are bodyguards, errand runners, and hired killers. The story revolves around a few characters, most notably Prince Kyth, Majat Kara, and Ellah, a woman who can see the truth. It is the story of betrayal, of conquest, of rulership, and of love.
TL;DR Version: I really enjoyed this book despite not being a huge fan of romance-themed novels. I feel it is for those who want more romance in their fantasy while also getting a hefty dose of action, adventure, and intrigue. If you don't like a lot of romance in your Medieval-styled fantasy, you may want to steer clear.
Note: This novel contains several steamy scenes, so if you don't like sex in your Medieval fantasy, it's in there. It's not explicit, taking a more artistic and romantic/passionate route, but it's definitely present — several times, for that matter.
Before I begin on my thoughts about this book, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the blurb of this book. Truth be told, it set certain expectations for me. It set the expectation that the focal point was Kara, the Diamond-ranked Majat. In reality, the true focal point is of the actual POV character, Kyth.
So, if you're expecting a feminine perspective lead, you'll be in for a surprise. Ellah is a female perspective, however, which does add a nice balance and contrast to Kyth's point of view. Kara, as the description of the book implies, does play an extremely major role, but I found that the real heart and soul of this story wasn't specifically Kara.
Kara's important, but the linchpin is Kyth. It is Kyth's power that serves as a focal point, Kyth's special circumstances that create almost all of the conflict in the novel, and Kyth's love for Kara — and her love in return — that determines the fate of both of these characters. Ultimately, Kyth's love for Kara protects Kara, while Kara's love for Kyth protects him in return.
In turn, it is Ellah, and her feelings for a different character, that also make a huge impact on the way the story progresses.
The description of the book also failed to set the expectation that there is a lot of character romance in this novel — because this novel is more about the love of characters than it is about the elements described in the description.
In a way, it was the prevalence of so much romance that turned this from a 5* novel to a 4* novel for me. While I enjoy undertones of romance, I don't actively go seeking romance novels. This is personal preference.
In my opinion, Blades of the Old Empire is a romance novel in a fantasy novel's clothing. There are lots of fantasy elements in here, including magic, sword play, Kings, Princesses, Princes, and an extreme cult seeking to conquer all things. But, almost every major character decision and reaction is colored by romance. For those who enjoy that sort of thing, you're going to gobble this book down and feel really satisfied at the end of it. While I did really enjoy this book, the constant bombardment of love and lust got to be a bit old after a while. I wanted to see what the characters would do without these themes being a major part of their motivation.
The characters who avoided the trap of amour were those perceived to be the antagonists. And even then, some of them use faked love (and lust) as weapons against the main characters. Others had to take actions despite their love for the character they had to fight against.
While it echoes a lot of real life motivations, I found it drowned out the other things that give characters more depth.
Outside of this issue, the book is really well written, taking a more simplistic stance to allow the emotional elements and action to shine. I found I didn't get bogged down in too much description, and that the book was a fast, easy read. This definitely helped me to enjoy the novel. The plot was fairly simplistic, at least compared to some other fantasy novels I've read, but this didn't hurt the book that much. If I had to pick a flaw of this book, it would be in the predictable nature of the betrayals and the twists in the plot.
Still, it was a good book, and well worth the read. I'll be reading this one again, even accounting for the subjects that don't really fit my tastes.