In S. C. Emmett’s entry to a new fantasy epic, The Throne of the Five Winds, a lady-in-waiting to the princess of a vanquished land plays a dangerous game of political intrigue.
When the Empire of Zhaon conquers Khir, Princess Mahara is betrothed to the crown prince of Zhaon. Yala, a lady-in-waiting must leave her home alongside Mahara and journey to the center of the rival country, where all six of the aging ruler’s sons are ruthlessly plotting to claim the throne. Emmett’s book requires incredible attention to every word on the page as both Yala and the reader are thrust into a foreign political battle of assassins, careful messages and strategically offered cups of tea. Conversations between characters stretch across pages; each interaction is spiked with schmoozing, scheming and scowling. Emmett even lingers over his characters’ accents—rather than forgetting them or breezing over them, Emmett describes their differences in syllabic detail. In The Throne of the Five Winds, characters’ reactions and facial tells are artfully crafted, conveying each aspect of social interaction with incredible detail and precision.
The political plot moves slowly, but peeling each layer of conversational detail will keep readers consistently interested. The sheer number of players on the board (two queens, six princes, a Khir princess, our main character Yala, a warlord-king, his primary attendant and a seemingly infinite number of political secondaries) results in a near-endless web of relationships. Each primary character has two or three relevant titles and politically important traits that influence the style of their interactions. (This meant I had a ridiculous amount of sticky notes exploding from my book, like a colorful papier-mâché hedgehog). The grand prize of becoming Emperor is a relatively simple goal, which at least made sorting through motivations a bit easier.
There is a serious learning curve through the first 100 pages (you really should see how many sticky notes I used), but the Zhaon empire and the kingdom of Khir are well worth exploring, despite the time investment required. The world is constructed well: Color is added to the world for context, never dumped on readers like an unfriendly reminder of history class from high school. Inserting colloquial names for plants, creatures and roles is a favorite trope of mine, and Emmett employs it liberally, if a mite too much (for example, a “dragonwing” is just a big dragonfly). The world feels real and expansive, complete with implied trade relations, a rich diversity of culture and five languages.
The Throne of the Five Winds will appeal to patient readers; the quick-witted banter of modern superhero movies is nowhere to be found within its pages. Instead of fencing with quick verbal stabs and sardonic ripostes, Yala and crew are brutally sharp social gunfighters, holding their draws, each of their statements spoken with lethal concision. Those without such patience are almost always vulnerable and open to attack from more skilled fighters. Moving through Emmett’s socio-political fantasy drama is quite an undertaking, but definitely one worth attempting.