Hardcover, 480 pages
Published August 9th 2016 by Roc
I have this issue, wherein I read the first book in a series, love it, and then kind of…don’t go back to the second book. I’ve done this over and over again, with many series, some of which are still in that status – Malazan, The Unhewn Throne, Raven’s Shadow, etc. Some series, however, I stick with, and see through, and read each book when it comes out.
However, the issue I’ve had with Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series is that I love the books, but I put off and put off reading each new book for at least a year, for no reason. I always seem to skip over them when I’m picking my next book – often due to length, I think, as I seem to hover towards shorter books these days – and then finally go “oh geez, I should actually read this”, and then, naturally, love that book. Only to have the next one come out, and wait a year, etc.
So, a year and change after reading The Price of Valour, I began again on the series with The Guns of Empire. I’ve been reading the series long enough that these familiar characters are like a warm sweater, one of those “ahh, finally back in this world” feelings, and it’s one I appreciate. The novel starts after general Janus bet Vhalnich’s victories in The Price of Valour, and the opposing forces have arranged a largescale gathering of the various generals and leaders to try and broker peace. Vordan has a carefully planned peace negotiation, and Queen Raesinia is prepared to give it, when Janus blindsides all in attendance by declaring off-cuff that there will be no possible peace without the Church of Elysium disbanding and surrendering control to Vordon – a move that will clearly never happen, and essentially a further declaration of war.
Return protagonists Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass are stuck between their queen and their general, leaning towards Raesinia’s desire for peace and making a deal, however still owing allegiance to Janus after years of working alongside him. As things progress, however, the situation becomes more and more complicated, and the movements of the Church of the Elysium and the Pontifex of the Black force their collective hands.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Guns of Empire. It was a bit of a slow starter, with plenty of things happening, however a tad on the dry side as far as the actual movement and execution. However, as the action went back to the field, things really pick up, both with the interpersonal relationships, as well as the overall story. There are some truly gut-wrenching moments, especially towards the end, and some of the action is extremely heavy and exciting. As Wexler explores the range of his magic system, without ever letting it become overly powerful or intrusive, more and more interesting equations are possible, and new characters with unique(ish) abilities or powers are enabled. He takes a very skilled approach, not inundating the world with magic and making the magic itself the focal point, like a Brandon Sanderson book, but rather using it as an augment to the true driving force of his work – the wonderful characters and worldbuilding.
The build of the novel is actually rather satisfying, feeling as though it rose and rose in tempo as the pages passed, leading to a huge crescendo at the end. I couldn’t put it down for the final 1/2 of the novel, and went out of my way to stay up late to finish it, as I just couldn’t fathom walking away before finding out what happens. The setup for the 5th in the series is deft and fluid, not leaving a cliffhanger but rather introducing the beginning premise of the followup in a natural manner, letting us know what would be coming without making a big dramatic DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN style revelation. I quite loved the ending.
Overall, I regret, as always, not reading this book sooner. It’s sat on my shelf since it was released, looking at me, judging me for ignoring it, and I’m thrilled with the end product. I rather wish I’d waited longer, so I could have begun the 5th book immediately, but alas, I’ve got to wait until January, when I will – hopefully – not put it off for another year.
Rating: 4.5 / 5