As epic fantasies go, Reawakening is one of the more original (and enjoyable) tales I've come across in some time. Alternately dark and light, violentAs epic fantasies go, Reawakening is one of the more original (and enjoyable) tales I've come across in some time. Alternately dark and light, violent and erotic, Amy Rae Durreson manages to cram a lot into its pages, and all without having the story feel bloated or rushed.
It's been a thousand years since dragons last roamed the land, a millennium in which their heroic defeat of the Shadow has become a thing of myth and legend. As the first dragon to awaken from his long slumber, Tarnamell is devastated to find his hoard cold and empty, absent of the love and laughter that once filled its halls. When his curious search of this new age reveals an upstart desert spirit where once there was an ocean, he decides to return in human form and claim the spirit and his desert for his new hoard. Along the way he joins a caravan of 'sparkly' traders, adding them to his hoard as well, and journeying with them in search of Alagard.
For an epic fantasy complete with dragons, upstart empires, dark forces, and hordes of the undead, love is the predominant theme here. A dragon's hoard is not an assembly of trinkets and trophies gathered out of greed, but of the emotions and memories attached to them. Tarn doesn't seek out Gard to dominate or control him, but to love him, protect him, and add the people he protects to his hoard. Love is a predominant theme among the caravan as well, despite (or perhaps because of) their 'sparkly' romances being of the same-sex variety. On that note, Durreson certainly doesn't hold back on exploring those relationships, with some rather explicit passages scattered throughout, but they do serve to further develop the characters while propelling the story forward.
The pacing here is a bit uneven, with an extended lull for character building at the heart of it, but that's really my only complaint. The world building is very well done, and the mythology (or, from Tarn's perspective, history) nicely layered. There are numerous races and cultures at play here, and if our exploration of politics is a bit weak, it does seem to be more of a focus in the sequel, Resistance. The Shadow itself is a fearsome force, wisely kept shadowy and vague. The armies of undead he throws at the caravan are legitimately terrifying, and his control of the sands is a serious threat. Fortunately, the caravan has a dragon on its side, who isn't shy about shifting back to his true form and taking them under his wing (literally) as he burns down their foes.
Most importantly, Durreson knows how to spin a tale, with a narrative style that flows naturally, and dialogue that is sharp and witty. Her characters come alive, allowing us to easily become wrapped up in their fates. Reawakening is definitely for mature readers, but it still retains that wondrous feel of a classic fantasy.
Equal parts historical fiction, epic fantasy, and philosophical discourse, The Shards of Heaven is an altogether fascinating read. Opening with the asEqual parts historical fiction, epic fantasy, and philosophical discourse, The Shards of Heaven is an altogether fascinating read. Opening with the assassination of Julius Caesar, the story details the war that took place between his heirs and allies, with Cleopatra, Marc Antony, and Caesarion (Caesar's son) on the side of Egypt, and Octavian (Caesar's great-nephew) and Juba (Caesar's adopted son) on the side of Rome.
It's with the role of Juba, however, that fiction begins to deviate from fact. Michael Livingston portrays Juba as a vengeful son, secretly plotting revenge against the world for his real father's defeat at the hands of Caesar. Further deviating from fact into fantasy, Juba has discovered the mythological trident of Poseidon, which also happens to be the equally mythological staff of Moses.
That, right there, is where the story really pulled me in. Anybody who has studied mythology knows that there are themes and stories that are common to faiths across the world. Livingston looks at the various mythologies of the ancient world - most notably those of Greek, Roman, and Jewish origin - and asks whether it is "possible that all the deities of the world were reflections of the same, single, united god?" Furthermore, in questioning why such a god allows bad things to happen, he suggests that god may actually be dead - an event that allowed The Shards of Heaven to fall to Earth, where they were harvested as magical talismans.
If that sounds a bit too cerebral, just wait until you see Poseidon's trident being used to raise up the seas and smash a ship to pieces with a massive watery fist. The power of the trident/staff terrifies Juba, and exhausts him in his attempts to control it, but it provides Octavian with the power to change the world. As terrifying as it is, however, the shard that became the Ark of the Covenant are speculated to be ever more incredible, with the power to destroy world. So, what we end up with here is a dual fantasy. On the one had we have a rather traditional bit of historical fiction that acknowledges the true powers of the ancient world, but which allows a cast of minor characters - historical footnotes, if you will - to drive the narrative forward. On the other hand, you have an epic fantasy that takes the seeds of faith and creates its own mythology. Everybody wants a shard of their own, as much for the mythological significance as the magical powers they contain, leading to a dual race against time as historians search and armies clash.
Definitely one of the most original fantasies I've read this year, The Shards of Heaven really does work on multiple levels. It's the mythology of the shards that intrigued me the most, and Juba who made me a fan of the story, but those looking for a solid historical tale of Egypt versus Rome will be equally satisfied.
With a promise of fantasy con artists, a desert oasis, an exiled commodore, a murderous doppel, and a stolen airship, I knew I had to give Steal the SWith a promise of fantasy con artists, a desert oasis, an exiled commodore, a murderous doppel, and a stolen airship, I knew I had to give Steal the Sky a read. It sounded like a lot of fun, and that was exactly what I wanted to kick off the new year. I am pleased to say that Megan E. O'Keefe delivers on that fun, and does so with a great degree of characterization and world building than I expected.
The city of Asana, it is one of the more imaginative places I've come across in fantasy. Here is a port town situated in the middle of an inhospitable, inaccessible desert oasis. Cut off from the rest of the world by the sands of the Scorched Earth, it's also separated from the selium mines by the volcanic glass of the Black Wash. It's a place ripe for intrigue, and its role in the politics of the world is almost diametrically opposed to its role in the economy. What's more, O'Keefe makes smart use of it, especially in exploring how people wrest luxury from barren despair.
At the core of the story is a mysterious element known as selium, around which the entire novel revolves. It's an ambitious MacGuffin, and I worried at times that O'Keefe was spreading it too thin, but it works. Dangerously volatile, magical, and lighter-than-air, selium is mined from the volcanic caves and caverns around the desert oasis of Aransa. It's the commerce around which the city runs; it fuels the steampunk airships; it drives the scandalous life of Detan Honding; and it forms the basis of magic (with doppels using it to reshape their faces and cast illusions).
Unfortunately, as cool as that magic is, it's also the weakest part of the plot. I liked Pelkaia, and appreciated the way her revenge schemes wove themselves into the story, but there was no real suspense to her illusions. Time and time again a character would step into a scene, do something completely against their nature, and instead of making you wonder what was going on, I just shrugged it off as another of her impersonations. There was potential there, to be sure, but it felt like O'Keefe wasn't quite sure how to play her.
That issue aside, the other characters are fantastic. Detan and Tibs are a fun pair of crooks to follow, more good-natured scoundrels than villains. In fact, it is Detan's sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek narration that makes the story to entertaining. Watch Captain Ripka Leshe was a more than worthy foil (and reluctant accomplice) to their schemes, ex-Commodore Thratia Ganal is the kind of villain who just seems to get a little darker and a little more violent with each new revelation. Even the secondary characters are memorable, so much so that you start looking forward to how and where they'll slip back into the tale.
If you're a fan of old-school sword-and-sorcery, enjoy rooting for the Han Solos and Malcolm Reynolds of the world, and appreciate the mix of witty dialogue and slow-burning adventure, Steal the Sky is well worth a read.
Stephen R. Donaldson is an author who (for better or worse, depending on how you feel about its deliberately unlikable protagonist) is largely identifStephen R. Donaldson is an author who (for better or worse, depending on how you feel about its deliberately unlikable protagonist) is largely identified by his three Thomas Covenant trilogies. It’s such a massive epic, and such a defining force in the fantasy genre, that it’s easy to forget he’s also written a pair of lighter portal fantasies (Mordant’s Need), an even darker science fiction saga (The Gap Cycle), a contemporary mystery series (The Man Who), and multiple short stories and novellas.
The King’s Justice is his latest collection, pairing two wildly different novellas in a surprisingly slender volume. Together, they make for an interesting read, showcasing two sides of his narrative talent.
First up we have the title story, The King’s Justice, which actually has something of an Old West feel to its flavor of traditional fantasy. Here we encounter a mysterious figure in black, known only as Black, who arrives in the village of Settle’s Crossways on the trail of murder. This was a dark, violent sort of tale, complete with magical compulsions and abhorrent sacrifices, that walks the sword’s edge between justice and vengeance. For such a short novella, there’s actually a lot of history and mythology hinted at in its pages, making it feel bigger than its page count. The narrative here is simple, without unnecessary flairs or flourishes, but it fits the rather sad and angry events that drive it.
The Augur’s Gambit, meanwhile, is an almost gothic fantasy tale of politics and prophecies. Mayhew Gordian is hieronomer to the Queen, reading her fate in the bloody entrails of beasts and (in one dark case) stillborn babes. Queen Inimica, meanwhile, is a woman desperately seeking to preserve her doomed kingdom through a complex (and somewhat comic) plot of marriages. In between them is the Queen’s plain-faced daughter, who serves to breathe some life into the rather dour, sterile narrative of Mayhew. It’s an interesting story, but slowly paced, and held back by the weakness of its narrator. While I wouldn’t mind revisiting the lush world of Indemnie, it would have to be with a more engaging guide, and there would have to be more going on to move the story forward.
While not nearly as bleak as the Thomas Covenant stories, these are still dark tales with a lot of edge. Fortunately, they’re also imaginative and well-crafted, making them solid additions to Donaldson’s shelf.
Every great fairy tale has layers of meaning behind it. Beneath all of the magic and the mystery is a message, designed to teach the reader a valuableEvery great fairy tale has layers of meaning behind it. Beneath all of the magic and the mystery is a message, designed to teach the reader a valuable lesson about morality. While fairy tales often work best when that message is subtle, there's something to be said for wearing your heart on your sleeve and proclaiming it proudly from the rooftops.
With Dragonborn, Maeghan Friday definitely takes the latter approach, but she so slowly and carefully weaves those multiple layers into the story that it works. By the time you realize there's more than one message to be proclaimed, you're already enthralled by the world she's created, and completely invested in Ben and Cecily's plight.
Ben and Cecily are two souls trapped in a body that shape-shifts between male and female each sunset. Since they were born in male form, only Ben is accepted by their parents, who see Cecily as an intruder to be discarded. While their unique bond would likely be celebrated elsewhere in the world, Aethier is a small-minded, isolationist kingdom that rejects the social progress of the rest of the world.
At its heart, this is a fairy tale about love and acceptance. In addition to Ben and Cecily's interesting gender situation, their best friend is more traditionally transgender, while one of the tutors brought in to end their 'curse' is gender-fluid. Additionally, Cecily's bodyguard is a young woman with romantic feelings for her charge, while Ben himself develops romantic feelings for the both their gender fluid tutor and jeir male partner. On top of that, the young Princess brought in by the King and Queen to marry Ben and free him from the dragon's promise is an asexual young woman who is keen to bond with everyone in a romantic polyamorous fashion. It does get a bit confusing - and altogether comical at time - but it's all in the spirit of pursuing a happily-ever-after.
For a story that certainly didn't develop the way I anticipated, and which introduced far more layers than initially seemed wise, this was an altogether enjoyable fantasy that's entirely reminiscent of Mercedes Lackey or Robin McKinley. It's fast-paced, with strong characters, and well-written dialogue. The romantic elements work very well, and the looming sense of fairy tale tragedy drives the suspense effectively. So long as you're not rooting for the King and Queen, and can at least accept the right to a happily-ever-after, Dragonborn is a comfortable little fantasy that's well worth the read.
Shattered Sands distinguished itself for me from the first page. What could have been a fairly standard negotiation about slaves is turned into an intShattered Sands distinguished itself for me from the first page. What could have been a fairly standard negotiation about slaves is turned into an intriguing bit of character establishment with a clever young woman and the stuttering Vizier who owns her. There’s so much personality in the first few scenes, that the shock of discovering he is just 19 years old really works. Similarly, our back-alley introduction to Sabra, where roles are reversed and she must fend off the advances of a male prostitute with her hidden knife, is as intriguing as it is deliberately unsettling. Saraband immediately tops that, however, barely allowing her to find solace in her home full of “holes and fissures” before engulfing it in green flames and nailing her alchemist father to the wall in a pentagram position.
The world-building here is solid, especially in terms of establishing a culture, its traditions, and its rules. What we have here is a very Middle Eastern sort of world, complete with bazaars and brothels, as well as palaces and palanquins. It’s a cruel world, one where public appearances mean everything, and one where political posturing extends from the amphitheatre of College to the intimacy of the bedroom. The history of the world is revealed in dribs and drabs, through conversations and idle thoughts. It definitely has the feel of a desert culture, but that's where the comparisons to the Middle East end - the politics and religions here are Saraband's own.
There’s no info dumping here, just a lot of assumptions on the author's part that we’ll pay attention and learn as we go. For instance, it isn’t until we’re halfway through that we learn of the thousand-year-old Rattling War, so called because of the sound made by the skeletons marching, but it proves to be a pivotal revelation of magic’s true power. As such, when we witness Sabra’s momentous encounter with a Djinn, complete with deadly scorpions and murderous magic, it’s less of a shock and more of a welcome revelation. If there’s any drawback to Shattered Sands it’s that the story is so ugly, so violent, and so cruel. There’s not a lot of light or happiness to be found here, and very little humour to balance out the drama. It makes for rather heavy reading at times, and may challenge some readers, but the storytelling, the characters, and the imagination of it all kept me reading through to the end.
If you were a fan of When the Heavens Fall, then be prepared for an abrupt change with Dragon Hunters. For the second book of The Chronicle of the ExiIf you were a fan of When the Heavens Fall, then be prepared for an abrupt change with Dragon Hunters. For the second book of The Chronicle of the Exile, Marc Turner shifts location, characters, and story line. It’s still the same recognizable narrative voice, and the mythology ties the two books together, but it makes for a very different read . . . one that takes on a entirely new flavor. Having said that, if you’ve yet to encounter Turner’s work, then that same shift means this second book is just as accessible to new readers as the first.
Personally, I found this second volume a little more difficult to get into than the first. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my darkened alleys, haunted forests, and subterranean lairs. It’s classic (perhaps even clichéd) epic fantasy, but those elements were largely responsible for me celebrating the first as something of a throwback fantasy. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with this second volume, or that it doesn’t grow on you, it just the sunny seaside setting didn’t have the same initial impact - although it does prove to have some very cool, very dark, very underwater secrets.
Senar Sol, Guardian, is our first real POV character in the novel. He’s as much a challenge as he is a mystery, trapped far from home, with rather murky loyalties. In terms of narrative, he allows us to view the events surrounding the Storm Lords with a critical eye, and in terms of character, he slowly emerges to reveal himself as a hero of note. Karmel Flood, Chameleon, is probably the most intriguing character in the novel, a woman who is both a thief and an assassin, with her loyalties divided rather than murky. She has a magical ninja-like quality to her, but she’s also intelligent and witty. Agenta Webb, Gilgamarian sailor, is a bit more of a mystery, but she’s strong-willed, independent, and more powerful than appearances would suggest.
Kempis Parr, Watchman, serves as the moral center of the novel, a good man who is perhaps too aware of his place in the world. He’s self-assured and sarcastic, but he’s also a good leader and an even better investigator. I’m not sure what it is about the kinds of city guards, but they often make for the best, most reliable, most admirable characters. Mazana Creed, Storm Lord, is the exact opposite, but far-and-away the most entertaining character in the book. She struck a chord in me from her first verbal sparring with Imerle Polivar, and I found myself hoping she’d have a significant role to play as the story progressed. She’s also the character who grows and evolves the most, although there were moments I doubted her motives (as I suspect we’re meant to). As was the case in the first novel, it takes a while for their individual stories to merge, but that's part of the charm.
The sea dragons are, of course, the main attraction here, and it’s well worth the wait for them to appear on the scene. They’re brutal killing machines, water-borne monsters who are fully prepared to amass a massive body count. Turner crafts the geography almost as carefully as he does the plot, ensuring that the dragons aren’t just something on which to hinge the story, but a legitimate part of a very water-borne story. Their presence has mythological as well as political implications, and in a book where political schemes are almost as serpentine as the dragons themselves, that leaves them a large role to play.
All in all, Dragon Hunters feels a bit more grounded than the first book, and swaps some of its almost-Gothic horror for pulp-adventure, but it still maintains the same dark sense of humor and epic scope of imagination that made it so enjoyable.
While I enjoyed Scourge of the Betrayer, the first book of Bloodsounder's Arc, it was Veil of the Deserters that really opened my eyes to what Jeff SaWhile I enjoyed Scourge of the Betrayer, the first book of Bloodsounder's Arc, it was Veil of the Deserters that really opened my eyes to what Jeff Salyards was capable of. Not only did it overcome the dreaded middle-book curse, it actually proved to be one of those rare sequels that completely surpass the first. I came away from it thoroughly satisfied, but also hungry for more.
That brings us to Chains of the Heretic, the third and final book of Bloodsounder's Arc. Where that second volume expanded upon the world and the story of the first, this one rips that world wide open and shoves us headlong into a whole new heap of betrayals. More importantly, where that second book was a textbook example of how you build to a climax, Chains of the Heretic schools the genre on how you successfully deliver it.
Seriously, it is that good.
As much as I'd love to gush about what Salyards did with the larger storyline and the overall mythology, just about anything I could say here would constitute a spoiler. What I will say is that a lot happens in this book, and it all has significant consequences for our band of Jackals. Everything that was set up in the first two books comes to a head here, with all the dangling plot threads getting tied off - even if some of those knots are deliberately ragged and loose. This is not one of those perfectly tidy, happily-ever-after finales, and anybody who was expecting different clearly hasn't been paying attention. Bloodsounder's Arc was never about completing a quest, saving the world, or succeeding on some epic scale. It was always the story of one man, Captain Braylar Killcoin, as seen through the eyes of his company scribe, Arki (Arkamandos).
I'm not sure I've encountered any character in the last decade or so who grows and evolves as much as Arki. As character arcs go, his is so steady, so consistent, and so entirely grounded that you don't really appreciate how far he's come until you look back on the saga as a whole. Arki is the epitome of the average man. There are no hidden secrets or revelations behind him, and no cumbersome prophecies or destinies hanging over him. He's just a lowly scribe, trying to fit in, and working hard to be accepted by a band of rugged Syldoon warriors. Don't get me wrong, he has some significant moments in this final chapter - some worth cheering about, and others cringe worthy - but Salyards never tries to break him or to make him more than he was ever meant to be.
As for Braylar, his character arc was always set up to be that of the tragic hero, and he never shies away from what needs to be done. At the end of the day, even if he has some uncomfortable family issues, and even if he does wield a cursed flail, he is just another soldier. He's not out for gold or glory, and he's not looking to claim a throne or save a world. Braylar is there to do his job, and help return his deposed emperor to power. As we discover here, he doesn't necessarily have to like the man or agree with his methods to do the job. His is not a story about ideals, but one of duty. There's a lot in this final chapter than challenges our sense of wrong and right, and much that makes us question whether the end can ever justify the means, but Braylar remains the heroic figure around which the story turns.
Chains of the Heretic takes us beyond the shimmering Godveil (and back); reveals the origins of the cursed Bloodsounder; damages some characters horrifically; delves deep into the treacheries of the Syldoon Empire; exposes the roots of Sofjian's loathing for her brother; kills other characters (some of them surprising); and makes us question every motive. It has its moments of black humor, and even a few fleeting moments of happiness, but by and large it is a dark and tragic tale. The action reaches a crescendo here, with some of the biggest battles (and biggest foes) we've seen yet. Salyards takes us across the world, and even if he leaves us cold and weary amid the carnage, we're still anxious for the next campaign . . . should we be so lucky to return to his world.
As much as I came to see City of Stairs, the first book of The Divine Cities, as a remarkable multi-genre crossover success, it took me a while to warAs much as I came to see City of Stairs, the first book of The Divine Cities, as a remarkable multi-genre crossover success, it took me a while to warm up to it. In fact, at one point I put the book down with little intention of finishing it. What a mistake that would have been. I’m glad I decided to give it one more chance, because something just ‘clicked’ for me, bringing the whole jumbled mythological tapestry together. In the end, it turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year.
Fortunately, there was no such hesitation or doubt involved with City of Blades. This is a book that hooked me from the first chapter and kept me reading at a frantic pace. I devoured the first 180 pages on a Friday night, and then binged my way through the rest over the weekend. While I’m sure familiarity with the world and the mythology helped (there was a steep learning curve with the first book), it was the shift in point-of-view that really made this second book so immediately accessible. Shara Thivani is kept largely off the page here, appearing only in a few scattered scenes, leaving General Turyin Mulaghesh to carry the tale.
Mulaghesh was definitely a secondary character in the first book, but one of significance. Giving her role in the Battle of Bulikov, I wasn’t sure we’d see her again in the series, but I’m glad Robert Jackson Bennett chose to put her at the forefront. Her angry sarcasm serves the story well, and it’s refreshing to have a non-traditional hero leading the tale. Leading with her allows Bennett to explore more of Bulikov’s history, which helps add new layers to the world building, and also reveals some surprisingly dark secrets in Mulaghesh’s past that explain her character and her return to action. She's a darker, more tragic hero than we knew, but she's also harder than we ever suspected. Retired she may be, forced into one last retirement tour, but she's still a soldier at heart.
We heard a lot about Voortyashtan in the first book, but actually seeing it for ourselves is something of a shock. This is not the civilized, progressive, urban fantasy setting of Bulikov. This is much more of a traditional rural fantasy setting, but one with layers and secrets of its own. Beneath the broken harbor town is a submerged city that must be dredged to reopen the canal; beneath the feudal conflicts of the river tribes and hill tribes is a dangerous political situation; and beneath the military presence on the frontier of civilization is . . . well, I won’t spoil the revelation of those layers. There's an entire other story under water and underground here, and it's the best part of the book.
Once again we have a traditional sort of mystery to launch the story, a murder mystery that brings Mulaghesh out of retirement, and a question of Divinity to add a frightening edge to things. This time, however, the threat of the divine is very much at the forefront of the tale, even if it does call into question one of the most well-known stories of the Blink. I loved the way Bennett explored that aspect here, and even if I guessed at the connection between the mines and the City of Blades itself, I have nothing but positive things to say about how it was all revealed. It’s a much faster paced story than the first one, with multiple conflicts to keep the reader on edge, and the epic finale is suitably HUGE for a book about the nature of Divinities and the question of an Afterlife.
City of Blades does have a lot in common with the first book, dealing with a lot of the same themes and ideas, but the new setting and change in POV make it a completely different book. I can honestly say I enjoyed it more than the first, and am anxious to see where Bennett takes us next.
Last year’s The Mirror Empire was one of the most exciting (and sometimes divisive) entries in an already stellar year of fantasy fiction. Kameron HurLast year’s The Mirror Empire was one of the most exciting (and sometimes divisive) entries in an already stellar year of fantasy fiction. Kameron Hurley crafted a book that was daring, original, and even challenging. While putting her own spin on the idea of parallel worlds in a post-apocalyptic sort of portal fantasy, she turned gender roles and relationships on their head. It was the most brutally violent female-led fantasy I had ever encountered. It was ambitious, awesome, imaginative, and exhausting in equal measure . . . and I had serious concerns as to how a sequel would fare. Fortunately, the depth she established there proves to have even more layers than we thought, making Empire Ascendant a more than worthy follow-up.
Having brought the two pivotal universes together at the end of the first book, Hurley continues to develop her worlds here. We already had a pretty good idea of the geographies and societies, but this time around we get a much deeper understanding of the politics involved. What impressed me most was the fact that she let both sides have their moments in the spotlight, questioning the means and motives of each. Conflicts both personal and political are dealt with here, and they are as complicated and confusing as you might expect when mirror universes and doppelgangers are involved. There’s no question that the Dhai are the victims here, but beyond that, there are no clear moral or ethical lines. As much as I thought I knew who to root for going in, I came out of the book feeling dirty for rooting quite so hard.
Readers who were concerned that the first book had too many characters and too many points-of-view will find no respite here. Hurley throws even more into the mix, and elevates secondary characters from the first book to positions of significance here. Fortunately, what’s a challenge for some is a reward for others. Even though it’s been a year between books, I immediately reconnected with the characters and was pleased to see them grow and develop even more. Zezili was a dark, deplorable highlight of the first book, but she takes on even more of an edge here. Lilia started to grow stale for me in the first book, serving more as a POV than a character, but we see new life in her here that adds to the overall drama of the tale. In a book defined by its damaged characters, Anavha probably surprised me the most, rising above his victim status in the first book to begin his own significant arc here.
Although this is a second (or middle) book, things actually happen here. With the world, the scenario, and the characters already established, Hurley is free to focus on the action – and she delivers that in spades. This is a fast-paced tale that carries a sense of urgency from page one. You can feel the tension oozing off the page as the characters clash, cultures collide, and worlds approach an end. The plot develops as much, if not more so, than in the first book – and not always in ways you’d expect. There are twists and turns to the tale that even the most jaded readers won’t see coming, as the story careens downhill towards an uncomfortable precipice. Not all of the characters will make it through to to end, and those that do will be irrevocably changed.
While Empire Ascendant won’t win back any fans who were turned off by the violent, reverse sort of sexism and gender-bent sadism of the first book, those who enjoyed The Mirror Empire will come away entirely satisfied.