Knife Sworn is the second installment in the Tower and Knife Trilogy after The Emperor's Knife (see my review - with spoilers - here).
What was frustrating earlier on quickly became a highlight for me in this novel - it was confusing as all hell. There's a lot to say about reading a story through the experience and perception of protagonists that are probably a little unhinged. As readers we take their word as gospel truth, especially after being privy to their internal dialogue. But when that view is limited, so too is ours, sometimes without us realising it.
Emperor Sarmin, affected by his closeted upbringing and now left with the aftershocks of being one of the Many as well as trying to rule Cerana, is not having a great time. There are gaps in his logic and memory, and we are swept into it without so much as a paddle, let alone a life raft. Grada is also one very strange individual, who the pressure has obviously gotten to.
The first third of the book leaves you struggling to keep up, giving you only snatches of information and certainly no solid ground to get your bearings. Characters such as as Nessaket and Rushes give us enough reprieve to get a semblance of a story together, but Sarmin remains thoroughly batty until the end. The magic and religion layered into the story are never explicitly explained or handed over to reason, although I found it easy in the end to roll along with the complex mystery of it all.
I did find that in comparison with book one, Knife Sworn feels like it was written by a different author, such is the change in tone and direction. Not even the characters feel the same. Even though the blurb claims that the book is the story of Sarmin and Mesema and focuses on Sarmin's decision to name a new Knife Sworn, this is hardly the case.
Mesema has been relegated to the role of bedside table, which is a real shame as she was a great presence in The Emperor's Knife. Sarmin and Mesema's relationship which seems to strong at the end of book one now seems almost non-existent. And on the matter of the Knife Sworn ... well it couldn't have had a less signficant role if it tried, not to mention that it was extremely late to the party.
Knife Sworn for me just felt like a watered-down version of The Emperor's Knife. Sarmin is once again faced with a new magical plague, tenuously linked to the Patterning. There's a half-hearted attempt at some political undertakings, but they really just die in the rear. What it ultimately feels like is that The Emperor's Knife was a story in itself, and that Knife Sworn is just left to find a sequel amongst the pieces, after most of the good characters have been killed off. The ending did have potential, but was extremely rushed and fell flat.
Honestly I don't really know how I feel about it all. It was truly a complex, mature and enjoyable read, and I was particularly drawn to the world that Williams created ... but some things were just a little inconsistent and rough for me; it lacked a clear purpose or drive. Nevertheless, still an interesting read if you like high fantasy with a strong signatory world and magic system.
Book three, The Tower Broken, comes out this November - still on my to be read list!