At first glance, The Empress Sword may appear to be a fairly run-of-the-mill adventure story. The premise is familiar enough: A brave young prince strikes out on a quest for a magic sword to defeat a menacing dragon. Old hat, right? Well, not so fast.
If you dive into this novel expecting the cliché, you'll likely be disappointed...at first. The early story moves at a pace that somehow feels a little off-kilter for the genre; your first clue something is different. And in spite of a couple early setbacks (one surprisingly tragic)...the initial quest seems almost too easy...until everything suddenly changes. Then the adventure begins in earnest.
Although this might arguably be considered "light fare", it is filled with an underlying complexity that hints at the thoughtful intelligence of the author. The challenges of the lead character, Prince Aster, are not the ones you might expect, yet no less intriguing. Most impressive is the human and realistic way the characters explore and respond to extraordinary circumstances. The author never forces any particular judgment or conclusion upon the reader, but rather lets the honest, heartfelt reactions of the characters do all the work. The story is masterfully told through the characters, with the author skillfully disappearing into the background.
What really stands out, for me, is how Jaxton treats an issue that is traditionally uncomfortable with such charming innocence and grace. The supporting characters could not be more perfect in this regard. And as the story evolves, Prince Aster proves to be quite remarkable in many ways, in spite of the forces working against him. By the end, you can't help but feel a connection to the characters, and truly care what happens to them.
The Empress Sword is an engaging adventure with a lot of heart and charm, not to mention a few wicked twists. It's richly satisfying and doesn't disappoint, yet leaves you eager for more. This is a brilliant first novel and I can't wait for the sequel.