Review: The Ember Blade

Posted: December 27, 2018 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: Chris Wooding, Epic Fantasy, Audible

This book was on my radar for a while, but I didn’t think that I’d be able to get to it. Then, I forgot to cancel my Audible membership after going through that mess with THE SIGNAL, and suddenly I found myself with another book credit and no direction to run with it. After a quick perusal of my options, I found that the audiobook for Chris Wooding’s next book was only 10 days away from publication. Trust me, with our history of loving the books lobbed at us by him (EBR Archive), I quickly made my decision and started into it.

THE EMBER BLADE (Amazon) is the first in a new epic fantasy series from one of our favorite authors here at EBR. The Tales of the Ketty Jay (EBR Archive) are some fantastically fun books to read. If you haven’t read those, you should put them into your reading queue to be sure. This new series from Mr. Wooding, The Darkwater Legacy, is pretty instantly recognizable as belonging to the epic fantasy genre. The first chapter quickly builds up a world of struggle. The Krodan Empire has conquered the lands of Ossia and there are those that are fighting to win back their freedom. Then some creepy dark characters come into the scene and show us something fantastical, and we’re off and running.

The story really “starts” with Aren, a young Ossian that is neither low- nor high-born, has a good life, and is trying to woo a local Krodan girl. His buddy, Cade, who also happens to be a POV character early on, is chumming around as well. If you know something about my tastes, the fact that we get two POV characters that are proximally close to each other was immediately concerning. The fact that the POV jumped heads so often was even more so. But I kept at my reading with a valiant effort. The beginning was slow, yes, what with scenes of wooing the girl and then building the world and its history, but I expected that more was to come. More goodness, that is.

But after about the 20% mark (175 pages?), I’d pretty much given up hope that this story was going to be anything even close to amazing. After 450 pages, I found I was actively disliking it. The story was moving way too slowly, and it seemed like the author was taking every opportunity — no, likely more than every opportunity — to tell something else about the world and it’s history. I came to realize that the entire story was going to be about the worldbuilding. There’s history, and explanation, and stories of old, and descriptions of the different nations of peoples involved in everything. The worst part was that so little of it actually applied to the main storyline… which was pretty sparse at best. So much time is spent with the two boys in the first third of so of the book, and after some horrible things happen to them, and way too much time is spent detailing their months of slave labor in a jail, some adults come into play and the story took a turn.

It was a this point that I realized this story was being told from the wrong perspective character. But “epic fantasy” stories always start with young boys, right? Well, this one shouldn’t have. Not as it was told, anyhow. It takes a while for the details to come to light, but once they do it becomes immediately apparently that this is the case when one of the new adult POV characters is directly connected to… wait for it… the land of Darkwater. This is “The Darkwater Legacy” after all. The main issue with this is that neither of the boys is now central to the story.

The main plot of the story can actually be simplified down to very little, and it has almost nothing to do with the boys directly at all.

Book synopsis: There is a blade, the Ember Blade, that is a figurepiece of the old Ossian kingdom. There are those that believe that it could be a rallying symbol for the people of Ossia to fight back against their oppressors. But the Krodan’s stole it when they conquered the Ossian people. Someone needs to get the sword back from them.

The writing is definitely decent. I never had any issues with understanding what was going on. It all just took so freaking long to come out. There’s a fair bit of worldbuilding in this book. Okay, more than a fair bit. There’s a lot. And a lot of characters get POV time. I never did understand why that was. It tried to be a story for everyone, and because of that it ended up being about no one. There was no focus to it. First it was about youthful abandon. Then about unfair oppressors and the loss of someone you love. Then about trusting people you don’t know, and sticking to promises that you’ve made. Then about fighting back against your oppressors because Ossia is awesome and Krodans suck. It was just a mix and jumble of so many ideas and concepts that it mostly left me feeling confused as to why so much of what took up all of those 800+ pages was of any import at all.

My conclusion is that this story is probably “the prologue” to the real story, and that it should never have been written. Instead, everything in this book should have been implied and/or woven into the actual story, which is going to start much later. There is some very direct foreshadowing by a druidess about “something dark that is coming” that felt akin to the phenomenally poor foreshadowing that we’ve seen in the Justice League movies referencing the character of Darkseid. This is likely where the story is headed from here. It’s possible that the next part of the story is going to be incredibly awesome and actually epic, instead of whatever this was. A beginning like this has seriously scared me off though.

The beginning of a new epic fantasy series that is heavy on world building and light on its focus that ultimately left me wanting on so many levels.

I think it entirely possible that there will be people that enjoy this book. They’ll be those that are able to put up with the constant head jumping, the plethora of characters, the slow pacing, and the overwhelmingly large emphasis on the building of this new world. But there are stories out there that are a LOT better. The large majority of this book is completely mediocre in every way, but the additional poorly executed aspects of the storytelling, and the fact that it was so many pages of mediocrity and poorness, that I couldn’t help but give this book the rating that I did.

Much as it hurts me to say so, Chris Wooding just didn’t deliver for me this time around.

  • Recommended Age: 14+ for violence
  • Language: Extremely mild and infrequent
  • Violence: Relatively detailed violence and blood, mostly of the sword-letting variety, but VERY infrequently
  • Sex: One undetailed scene of a married couple, but otherwise only mild innuendo


  • ABDUL AKANNI says:

    A great review. I found the book pretty atrocious. I’m listening to it on Audible and only half-way through, and for the majority of the time its been a slog. I can’t understand the great reviews its been getting!

    I love the Ketty Jay books and the Fade. I’m all for worldbuilding but the characters in the world have to be interesting. As you say, there are better books out there to read. Waiting for the “decent” ending is like sticking with a Nexflix series for too long – why waste the time?

    Thanks for your honest review – made my mind up for me – I’m going to bail out now.

  • Todd says:

    We are all different, which is good, so I thought I would offer a different perspective. I actually enjoyed the book tremendously because it was not about ONE specific, focused theme. I have not found much in my life that is that focused, so I do not expect it in all of my reads, etc. i enjoyed the lack of platitudes and realistic characters – no one is all good or all bad, etc. It seemed clear to me that this was an epic story, so the broader dimensions and world building were appropriate. I sincerely enjoyed the ride, just taking it all in and not expecting or requiring certain directions or patterns.

    • Writer Dan says:

      Hey, sounds good. Glad to see that there are those out there that did enjoy this one. In the past, Chris has put out some really good stuff that we’ve uber-enjoyed. Thanks for the comment!

  • Troy says:

    I’m half way through this book. It’s horribly boring. I’ve been a reader all my life and so I understand plot and character development are important, if at times tedious. But you expect a story to take off and fly by a third of the way in. This just doesn’t.
    With the exceptions of Cade and Aaron, the other characters are just faceless people that I don’t care about. I am also not a fan of third person narrative. Take a chance. BE the character. Don’t just watch him from above. It’s not in any way great writing.
    There is nothing here that makes me excited to see what happens. If I stopped reading now I wouldn’t miss it. Good writing is when you can’t stop turning the pages and when the book is over you can’t stop thinking about it and can’t wait for the next installment.

    I give this book a 3 out of ten. And that’s generous.

  • Kelley Scott says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Ember Blade and can’t wait for the Sequel. Yes, this appears to be a Prelude to the Darkwater Series, but I am very satisfied with that. I loved watching the characters grow into people I would want fighting by my side. I visualized everything with the help of Chris Woodings writing. Grub had me laughing at most unexpected moments and is one of my favorites in this novel. I am very pleased that this novel did such a great job with laying the groundwork to the next. Thank you Chris Wooding! I will be reading your other novels now.

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