Review: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark - 9.25/10*
This is an exhilarating piece of grimdark fiction. It tells the story of a plague on one man’s mind. It’s raw, visceral and taps into darkest places fantasy can go. GIVE. ME. MORE.
I found the characterisation quite unique. Normally when writers create characters, they try to make them interesting and compelling and conflicted. They will tell you all that’s intriguing about them within the first few pages because they want you to carry on reading. Anna Smith Spark doesn’t do this. She introduces her reader to a rather nondescript boy who seems to be harnessing some hidden potential. Nothing remarkable here but as time goes on, she slowly reveals how fucked up and dangerous he is.
And he is bad, very bad indeed because he is pretending to be someone else. He is pretending to be a normal solider when he is something else entirely. He is harnessing a dark rage fuelled power. But why keep it secret? This question really kept me reading. Slaying a dragon as casually as you might pick a dead bug off your boot is a dead giveaway. Marith was clearly more than he was willing to let on. Being sent into a murderous rampage because someone looks at him wrong in the street is another. He proves himself to be ridiculously adept at killing. He was born to do it. Reigning death and terror are all he knows.
Complex characters are something all reviewers like to talk about, but this is a seriously complex character. In this rich character driven fantasy, Marith’s darkness takes centre stage. He is capable of almost anything, though he is hindered by his drug use, alcoholism, several mental disorders and his unbridled urge to kill indiscriminately. He is a murderer, a daemon, and he can’t stop himself from sinking his blade into someone’s, anyone’s, flesh. And the more he tries to stop himself the more unhinged he becomes; it’s like killing gives him a sweet release, an action that allows him to be his true self.
The prose is a unique blend of poetry and butchery. Now doesn’t that sound kind of cool? Imagine poetical prose about violence and blood and you’d be close to what Anna Smith Spark is doing here. Imagine a poet writing about the grim realities of killing a man and you’d be a little bit closer. The point is, the prose is of the highest quality within the genre. And she wields it to tell the story of a man who is ready to claim his destiny, his birthright, his throne.
On the way he meets a woman, a killer not too unlike himself and what develops is a dark romance between two maniacal psychopaths. And I loved their passion for each other, each using, and needing, the other to reconcile themselves with their own darkness. In the eyes of pure abject evil, they both see light. And I would like to say that it redeems them, but it doesn’t: it makes them stronger instead, more willing to kill for the other. I’m very curious to see where this goes through the series.
So this is a very solid entry from an exciting new author, I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.