A turn to classic fantasy for author GR Matthews results in a simply superb story. Intricately layered, and beautifully executed.
The Emperor is dead. Long live the Empire.
General Bordan has a lifetime of duty and sacrifice behind him in the service of the Empire. But with rebellion brewing in the countryside, and assassins, thieves and politicians vying for power in the city, it is all Bordan can do to protect the heir to the throne.
Apprentice Magician Kyron is assigned to the late Emperor’s honour guard escorting his body on the long road back to the capital. Mistrusted and feared by his own people, even a magician’s power may fail when enemies emerge from the forests, for whoever is in control of the Emperor’s body, controls the succession.
Seven lives and seven deaths to seal the fate of the Empire.
The plot found in Seven Deaths of an Empire is very well crafted and compelling. From the start, the need to know what happens next may outweigh your emotional investment. A hefty investment that sneaks up on you one chapter at a time. Seven Deaths of an Empire is told in POV chapters between The Magician and The General. Each chapter starts with an epitaph which relates the time in history and a gives a piece of absolutely brilliant clues. Clues which become a narrative that contribute to the world building and the characterizations. Both of which are outstanding. There’s a large cast of characters which are key players and GR Matthews makes each one memorable and unpredictable, deftly handling surprising twists as the plot unfolds. The writing is excellent. The phrasing is evocative and the entire book is a pleasure read.
The letter, with its broken wax seal, lay folded inside his tunic: a weight upon his heart, colder than the glass of wine in his hand or the deep snows of the winters in the far north. The creases in the parchment were sharp edged, as were the words written upon it in a precise, careful hand; and on each breath, he felt them slice into the barricades he had erected around his emotions.
The General is a powerful character that immediately has you sympathizing with the impossible situation he is trying to control. The unrest in the court of the Emperor, as his death opens an opportunity for a power grab, and is full of political machinations, and no small amount of danger to the remaining royals. Until the Emperor’s body is returned and his amulet is passed to the heir, there will be those on the council who will plot to take power.
The Magician is a two-fold point of view. The Master Pardan and his apprentice, the young Kyron. They’ve accompanied the Emperor and his army expanding their conquered lands through the forested lands inhabited by native tribes. When the Emperor dies, the two magicians are assigned to the task of preserving his body with preservation wards while the army’s contingent of troops and cohorts return him with all speed to the capital.
A special character central to the entire tale is Emlyn. A captured woman warrior of the tribes, her family is being held hostage to ensure her cooperation as a guide for the army returning the body of the Emperor. Her character growth and the slow burn reveal of her true motivations and her very nature made her one of my favorites in this cast. She is a mystery and her journey with Pardan and Kyron is highly entertaining and gripping. You always have a sense that she knows much more than it seems and her situation drew me like a moth to flame.
The military aspects of this large and conquering empire use the Romanesque style of warfare with highly disciplined troops in similar ranks with armor, pikes, sword, and archers. They are cutting a swath of conquest through ancient indigenous forest tribes that want no part of the Empire, their government or their cities. The details are very well done and the battles fought are tense enough to have you holding your breath.
The Church of the Holy Flame and the Gymnasium of Magicians have a delicately balanced peace with one another, but the magicians are dwindling as the church has those found with wild magic executed on discovery. Apprentices to the Guild of magicians are those fortunate enough to have escaped that fate. Kyron is one of those fortunate gifted that are delivered for training to the magicians.
The magic system is fascinating when placed in this setting. The advantages gained for the empire with a master magician, in both lives preserved and enemy lives lost, is formidable. His apprentice, our erstwhile MC, Kyron, is an inexperienced young man. His master, Pardan, doles out both patience and wisdom while pointing him down a path that will take the young man much farther than even his master would have imagined.
A book full of treachery and deceit that treads within the grey morality of the grimdark genre with a story that keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Highly recommended reading.
Geoff Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. His father, ever the pragmatist, declared, that they should, “throw the noisy bugger out of the window.” Happily this event never came to pass (or if it did Geoff bounced well). Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies with the self-same parent who had once wished to defenestrate him. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his home town, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he came across a book by David Eddings – and soon Sci-Fi gave way to Fantasy. Many years later, Geoff finally realised a dream and published his own fantasy novel, The Stone Road, in the hopes that other hungry wolves out there would find a hearty meal. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at www.grmatthews.com (less)
Seven Deaths of an Empire is set for release by Rebellion Publishing Ltd. on June 22, 2021. It’s now available for pre-order from your favorite bookseller now. Links below.