Book Review: The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 4 of The Shadow Campaigns
Publisher: Roc (August 9, 2016)
Website: 464 pages
With apologies to Django Wexler and Roc, this review is long overdue I think, but better late than never! With The Guns of Empire we’ve reached the penultimate novel in the The Shadow Campaigns and I just want to echo every positive sentiment and praise that has already been made about this book. It is a stellar sequel which succeeds in getting readers fired up for the coming finale.
As this is the fourth installment of the series, please beware this review may contain spoilers for the previous books. The Price of Valor saw the enemies of Vordan defeated at the hands of General Janus bet Vhalnich, leading to possible peace talks at the negotiating table. Janus, however, is unappeased. Against the wishes of his sovereign leader Queen Raesinia, he begins to rally his troops in preparation to march upon the fortress-city of Elysium, stronghold of the Sworn Church. The general is unwavering in his belief that the Priests of the Black will not back down; their followers are too diehard in their beliefs that all demons should be destroyed, and their unwillingness to work with those they consider heretics will make certain any negotiations will be met with failure.
The dissent among their leadership can be felt keenly by Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass, officers who are now torn between their loyalties to their general and to their queen. Brilliant and charismatic, Janus is a well-respected commander—even outright worshipped by some—but those closest to him can see there is more to this campaign than meets the eye. The general appears almost fanatical in his determination to take Elysium, which would not be an easy feat. The Priests of the Black have many weapons at their disposal, both of the mundane and supernatural flavor, and they will do anything to try and stop the Vordanai army. But seeing how Janus’ genius has always never steered them wrong before, Raesinia and Marcus and Winter have no choice but to follow along and hope that their general will lead them to victory once again.
One thing I first noted in my review of The Price of Valor, but I think bears mentioning again here, is the fact that every installment in this series seems to introduce a different theme or underlying conflict that pulls that particular novel’s story together. Between The Thousand Names and The Shadow Throne, we witnessed the transition from large-scale battles to more strategic and localized political plotting. The third book, on the other hand, was a more of a combination. Now with this fourth book, while we’re still seeing a lot of military action and politics, Wexler seems to have also adopted a new approach which would allow him to shine a stronger light on his characters, with the focus shifting to their emotions, vulnerabilities, and personal relationships.
There’s something to be said about the epic battles sequences we’ve seen thus far in The Shadow Campaigns, the way they make your heart race and skin prickle. That said though, when The Guns of Empire decided to slow things down to get more up-close-and-personal with character-driven narratives, I didn’t mind at all. In many ways, I might even prefer this change of pace. Sweeping battle scenes are great and all, but then so is reading about the more intimate and subtle interactions between the different characters. I for one am digging the Marcus and Raesinia pairing so hard; their mutual obliviousness to each other’s feelings is just so adorable it makes me want melt. I am of course also heartbroken over Winter and Jane, whose relationship I wish I could elaborate on, but alas, spoilers. Fortunately, I’ve been reading these books enough to know that Winter can take care of herself; she’s hands down the strongest character in this series—both in personality and the way she is written. I love how far she has come, and how she has been able to forge new bonds. And finally, there’s Janus, who has always proven to be unstoppable, indefatigable, invincible…until now, perhaps?
This book also introduces a whole host of new characters, adding more diversity and fantastic personalities to the cast. Among them are a couple figures we’ve met before, if you’ve read the Shadow Campaigns novellas. Alex, who stars in The Penitent Damned, and Abraham, her co-star in The Shadow of Elysium, both finally make their breakout appearances in The Guns of Empire, making me glad that I’ve read the novellas since the two of them are really great characters. You don’t have to have read them to follow along with the story, but I highly recommend them all the same.
From my personal perspective, I think this is one of the stronger sequels in terms of content, though probably more sporadic in pacing. A lot happens within these pages, and sometimes everything hits the fan all at once, while here and there we experience several lulls. There’s a strong sense too that The Guns of Empire is a “middle book”, and not only that, there’s reason to suspect everything had been planned this way because this is also the set-up novel for the big finale. While there’s nothing inherently negative about that, I do think there’s some biding of time here, saving the actual “big guns” for the concluding volume.
Still, despite this restraint, I thought The Guns of Empire was an excellent read. The Shadow Campaigns remains one of my favorite fantasy series, and you can bet your boots and cannons that I won’t wait as long to review the final book once I get my hands on it. I’m very excited to see how it’ll all come together, and if the pattern continues, it’s going to be truly epic.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Thousand Names (Book 1)
Review of The Shadow Throne (Book 2)
Review of The Shadow of Elysium (Book 2.5)
Review of The Price of Valor (Book 3)
Guest Post by Django Wexler