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Book Review: Five Broken Blades by Mai Corland

Book Review: Five Broken Blades by Mai Corland

The five most dangerous liars in the land have been mysteriously summoned to work together for a single objective: to kill the king of Yusan. They all have their own reasons for contemplating regicide, each of them fuelled by either love or loyalty or vengeance. There’s the hired hitman seeking atonement, the beautiful poison maiden desperate for freedom, the prince banished for his cruel crimes, the chipper thief who’s more than she seems, and finally the royal spymaster who brought them all together to end the God King Joon’s reign. Nobles thrive under Joon’s regime, whilst the poor and innocent suffer. Now the five blades are coming for him but first they need to get close enough to take the crown that gives him immortality.

It’s not enough for the disparate group of characters to simply forge an alliance for a common purpose. To murder the king and live to tell the tale, they must find a way to trust each other. But when they’ve all survived this far by deceiving and betraying those around them, it’s not so easy to put your faith in strangers – least of all when those strangers have their own damning secrets to protect. And when all is said and done, they can murder the king as a team but only one of them can take the crown.

You only become a sharpened blade by having the soft parts of you stripped away.

Full disclosure, I didn’t start Five Broken Blades thinking I was going to enjoy it. I thought it had too many ‘bad-but-good’ characters, certainly too many perspectives, and I worried that there wouldn’t be enough to differentiate the six narrators’ voices. But oh how I love to be wrong when it comes to books and this is certainly one fantasy that revels in twisting readers’ expectations. Mai Corland delivers a motley crew of broken souls who are desperately clinging to what’s left of their shattered lives, whether it’s the lovely assassin who’ll do anything to save her beloved sister, or the humbled prince who fears he’s no better than his brutal brother. These characters are all traumatised by their respective pasts, yet Corland never lets the story get too dark or depressing. She infuses each step of the quest with lively banter and intriguing Korean inspired world building, making the characters care for each other whilst simultaneously suspecting one another.

It’s this constant uncertainty of the blades’ motives, the knowledge that they’re all ultimately out for themselves – even as they form a genuine, heart-warming comradeship – that keeps both the characters and readers on their toes throughout the whole book. The killers can’t afford to become complacent and that bleeds off the pages, giving the story a heightened sense of suspense. This is every bit a justice fuelled heist novel but it’s also a story about family – blood and found – and the things people will do to avenge and defend the ones they love. Through all the scheming and bloodshed, there’s never a moment when you can’t empathise with the driving force behind the characters’ actions.

Ultimately, the main thing I wasn’t sure about at the start of the book – the six perspectives – ended up being its greatest strength. Readers are in a position of power; we’re privy to each character’s innermost thoughts. We get to understand them in ways the other characters in the book can’t. It gives the story an intimate and immediate feel, setting a fast pace that never lets up for a second. As the novel flew towards its explosive end, I had a genuine fear for the six central characters survival, which is always my benchmark for a great fantasy book. And with this being the first instalment in a trilogy, Five Broken Blades has set the bar high for a great sequel too.


Five Broken Blades was published by Zaffre on 7 May 2024

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