After a lifetime locked in his tower room, Sarmin has come into his own. He is the crowned emperor; he has wed Mesema of the horse tribes; the Pattern-Master – the being that caused a deadly plague in order to control the minds of Sarmin’s people – is dead. Everything should be happy-ever-after.
But war has ignited in the north; in the Palace intricate plots blossom around the Petal Throne, and in the darkness of Sarmin’s room, the remnants of the Many haunt his thoughts.
The worst damage left by the Pattern Master is about to take Sarmin unawares.
Knife Sworn is the second book in the Tower & Knife series and the middle book of a trilogy. As such it had a tall order in front of it; it had to live up to the first book and keep the narrative going so there will be a strong draw back for the third book. And of course, it has to avoid middle-book-syndrome. And people wonder why writing that second book is harder than writing the first! So you’ll be glad to know that Knife Sworn did the first and the second and was relatively successful at avoiding the last. I was quite pleased with how Williams continued the story after the relatively self-contained The Emperor’s Knife and the book’s ending definitely left me eager to start the final book. However, while it wasn’t less action-packed, slower-paced or only a bridge between book one and book three, Knife Sworn certainly doesn’t stand on its own; one could read it without having read the first book, but you’d miss a lot of background and the story doesn’t have as satisfying an ending as The Emperor’s Knife. Still, Knife Sworn is a very enjoyable read and shows Williams’ growth as an author quite well.
The book features different points of view than the previous one. Sarmin makes a return, and we get new viewpoints from Grada, Rushes and Nessaket. Which means this time we get three women and one man, whereas last time it was one woman and three men. I do have to say I missed Mesema’s point of view in this book, as I’d come to care for her and I was sad to only see her at a remove in this book. On the other hand, I really enjoyed Rushes’ and Grada’s story arcs and I appreciated getting to know Nessaket better and seeing what makes her tick. All of the point of view characters are unreliable in some way as well, which made the narration of the novel even more interesting as you had to keep reading closely. I really liked Rushes, as she’s an interesting character and she provides an informative view not just of the lower classes in the palace, but also more insight into the Mogryk faith.
Sarmin’s development from the imprisoned prince in the tower to a ruling emperor is a rough road and quite fascinating, especially with the pattern magic factored in. However, my favourite arc in the book was Grada’s. I loved the way she has to learn to live with what she has done as part of the Many and what that experience has made of her. She essentially has to remake herself, find her own identity again by incorporating all that’s been added to her by the Patterning. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I found it quite moving and I really enjoyed Grada’s voice as well.
Ostensibly Knife Sworn is about Sarmin dealing with the Nothing, an unexpected after-effect of the Pattern Master’s final pattern, a mysterious force that is one of unmaking and negation. But it is also about remaking; not just that which has been destroyed by the Nothing, but identity, self, peace, a nation, and people’s lives. I found Williams’ incorporation of The Longing of the Unpatterned, those who Sarmin cured of the Patterning and returned from the Many to themselves haunting. The sense of loss these people experienced and the loneliness Grada and Rushes feel is heart-breaking and you’d almost wonder whether Sarmin shouldn’t have found a way to make them better while still being able to connect to the Many. Especially Rushes’ story shows us why Sarmin was right in what he did and Rushes’ realisation of this was quite bitter-sweet.
Knife Sworn was the sequel The Emperor’s Knife deserved and in many ways was even better. The book felt better paced and the writing was far more certain and unflinching. There are some beautiful and gruesome scenes in here and Williams almost gave me a heart attack with a few of the developments. I found this quite an exciting read and I can’t wait to start The Tower Broken, the concluding book of the trilogy, which is what I’ll be doing once this review is up. A review for the final book will be up in the near future.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.