In the course of introducing each of the stories in his classic Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, Bruce Sterling laments the death of cyberpunk. Published at what would be considered the middle of the cyberpunk wave (looking strictly in terms of what was published when), Sterling’s words may seem misguided. But that would be to miss the point: Sterling was referring to the artistic death of the subgenre. Any wave needing to recede into the ocean before it can officially be considered over, the latter half of cyberpunk is indeed more imitation than cutting edge. Sure, slight adjustments, changes of angle, and fuzzy connections to other sub-genres were introduced. But as a whole, the most unique ideas of cyberpunk came about when the wave was moving toward the shore—a moment Sterling seems to capture in Mirrorshades. Epic grimdark another such wave of genre, Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades, given its unoriginal outlay, must be considered as washing back into the ocean.*
“On the coattails of a dead man, she’ll ride, she’ll ride… On the coattails of a deadman…” So run the lyrics of a Primus song. With Tom Waits’ baritone haunting the background, it’s a dirge that echoes The Emperor’s Blades epic grimdark re-re-rehash. If you’ve read George R.R.Martin, R. Scott Bakker, Ken Follett, Joe Abercrombie, etc., etc., then you’ve read The Emperor’s Blades. Staveley brings some writing chops to the table (more later), but the offering is threadbare in terms of singularity. Even the series’ title hints at the passing: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Having to resort to a negative adjective, you can almost hear the kettle drums booming in the distance.