The Throne of the Five Winds, by S.C. Emmett, is a huge, meaty, historical fantasy/fiction that really likes to go into detail. It is a political drama, written like a historical textbook (so many footnotes) that anyone looking for a light fun read will bounce off of like they’ve run into a brick wall. Yet, for those who like their dramas complex and their politics convoluted but extensively planned out on the back end, this tome has a lot to offer. As the first book in The Hostage of Empire series, The Throne of the Five Winds is a book that will reward those with the patience to push through its glacial pacing and upset those who didn’t realize they were signing up to read something that occasionally reads like a census analysis.
Let’s start with the bad for once: this book is difficult, and sometimes straight-up unpleasant, to read. In particular, the first 100 pages read like the world’s dryest translator notes from an obscure language. You are thrown into complicated and confusing political intrigue from page one, and it is going to take a while before you even have a basic understanding of what is happening and who is doing it to whom. That being said, if you put the work in – and that is a big “if” – the book will reward you handsomely in the long run with beautifully written prose, strong characters, and political drama to rival anything to be found in the most popular fantasy series in the genre.
Our story revolves around a Khir princess hostage, given to the emperor’s firstborn son in marriage to smooth over and cement the end of a war between the empire and Khir. The main POV in the story is from a lady-in-waiting to the princess, but there are a ton of POVs scattered throughout the narrative. The court the princess is sent to is a hellscape of political espionage. The emperor is a weak-willed man whose selfish inattention to the effect his power has on those around him has built a tinderbox in the court. With two queens, two royal concubines, six princes, and a number of favored generals and magisters, the court is a free-for-all of backstabbings, subtle maneuvering, and not so subtle attacks.
The princess and her maiden are the heart of the story and have a beautiful and intricate relationship. They both feel very real, and as the eyepiece by which you are introduced to the courts, they make very likable characters you will find yourself emotionally invested in. The supporting cast of royals and important court fixtures are also fantastic. Emmett does an amazing job giving you these tiny snippets into every key player’s mind so that the conflict begins to feel very personal to the reader. I definitely had favorite characters I found myself rooting for and as the book progresses you only find yourself invested more and more in the happenings at court.
In the end, I don’t know if I can recommend The Throne of the Five Winds with a clear conscience. Although it is a heavy character/relationship-focused story with excellent political intrigue, the book has one of the slowest starts I have experienced in years and it is a little light on substantive plot. Then again, while the book wasn’t the most enjoyable it was definitely a work of impressive literary skill and many people will like it just for all its tiny details and interesting characters. You will have to decide for yourself if The Throne of the Five Winds calls to your inner reader.
Rating: The Throne of the Five Winds – 6.5/10