The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier

Book 1 of The Throne of Amenkor
Published by DAW
ISBN 978-0-7564-0382-9
November 2006, 371 Pages
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Sample Excerpt from The Skewed Throne:

The Skewed Throne is Joshua Palmatier’s debut novel and the first installment in his Throne of Amenkor trilogy. He takes a familiar skeleton, the downtrodden (to be generous) plucky heroine who rises above her station into a position of great power. The question is; however, does Palmatier bring anything to the table to set his work apart from the many other fantasy writers who tackle this theme? To put it succinctly: yes. To put it more descriptively, he does so with an engaging narrative voice and a great hook at the end to make this novel a recent slightly overlooked gem in the genre.

The story is told through the eyes and voice of Varis, a young street urchin living in the Dredge – the down and dingy slum of Palmatier’s secondary world. Think Lankhmar but not as clean or Crime Alley from Batman’s Gotham City with a subtle hint of magic. Palmatier’s use of the first person narrative is engaging and utilizes a spare sensibility; no overly descriptive passages just a blunt yet evocative relaying of information directly from Varis. This combined with Varis’s overall believability, honesty, and sympathetic aura make for an engaging read throughout.

At the age of eleven, after spending five years in the Dredge, Varis’s talents bring the attention of The Skewed Throne and one of its Guardsmen, Erick, who recruits her as an assistant assassin/knife for hire. As a guardsman, Erick is tasked with dispensing the Mistress’s justice; in other words, killing those who the Mistress of Amenkor deems unfit to continue living. Varis’s years on the street and her ability to see the “grey” (innocent) and “red” (guilty) aspects of people make her eminently suitable as Erick’s assistant. Varis realizes those she is told to kill aren’t “red” and she begins to question Erick and the Mistress. Her disillusionment leads her to Borund, a wealthy merchant who hires her as his personal bodyguard.

Palmatier keeps the reader guessing by switching up the flow events in the novel. The story opens with a scene that takes place in the “present” of the novel and soon shifts to Varis’s earlier life. Her self-chronicling is uncompromising as it brings the reader up to the “present” over the majority of the novel.

The Skewed Throne is a first novel and it does have some of the expected kinks. It takes a bit for Palmatier’s voice to really shine through, as the narrative itself is a bit loose in the early portion of the novel. Once the novel picks up steam; however, it was difficult for me to set it aside. I also thought the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger; Varis arrived at a logical conclusion in her character arc, but a lot of the details were left unresolved. Of course, this being the first of a trilogy, Palmatier could be commended for leaving elements unresolved which encouraged me to jump into The Cracked Throne immediately. Palmatier was working with a very standard, one might say clichéd, storyline with the novel so figuring out just where Varis would end up at the conclusion wasn’t difficult. However, that is what makes the novel so compelling, even having a pretty good idea of where Varis’s story would conclude at the end of The Skewed Throne didn’t deter the narrative pull and overall engaging quality of Palmatier’s storytelling.

The Skewed Throne itself is an interesting plot device. It sits in the background and drives the plot and narrative, but only towards the end does its presence come fully “on screen.” At that point, the Throne becomes more than a simply plot device and almost a character in and of itself. One way to look at the plot device of the novel is as a symbolic embodiment of power corrupts.

Though the negatives I raised above are present, they are at a minimum and were outweighed by Palmatier’s sheer ability to keep me engaged over the course of the novel through Varis’s voice. With all the bluster showered on other debut novels when The Skewed Throne appeared (The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Name of the Wind to name just two), Palmatier really should have received more attention for this solid debut effort. I suppose it’s both a blessing and a curse to call a novel this, but in my estimation, The Skewed Throne was and is an overlooked gem (at least on the world wide intarwebs) in the genre. Solid characterization, subtle yet ever present magic, and a vibrant and evocative world make The Skewed Throne the readable and recommendable novel it is. While Rothfuss and Lynch are still working to complete their multivolume sagas, Palmatier managed to publish three books in three years. No small feat; if anything, a laudable achievement which is made even more so by the quality of Palmatier’s efforts. He’s set up a very promising trilogy with this novel, a trilogy I’m eager to get continue reading with The Cracked Throne.

© 2008 Rob H. Bedford

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