Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

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I tried reading Promise of Blood a few years ago, and although I finished, it didn’t leave any lasting impression on me and I didn’t continue on with the series. From what I remember, it had all the elements I’m usually intrigued by, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t land for me. So, when I heard that this series was better than the first I decided to pick it up, and I’m really happy I did. Giving a second chance to authors who didn’t suit you the first time around is a good habit to get into – I’ve found a lot of books I’ve loved by just trying again.

I listened to this on audiobook and the names are somewhat strange, so the spelling probably isn’t going to be correct. The audiobook is fantastic by the way, so any audiophiles out there should def check out the audio if the review sounds good to you.


 

The book starts out with a mysterious artefact being discovered, it’s a giant monolith that has been unearthed and the crew in charge of the dig called in the authorities to take a look at it. There’s a mysterious madness that’s dampening the excitement of finding this new archaeological treasure – the workers and anyone who spends an inordinate amount of time around this object loses their minds and goes insane. As such, only a skeleton crew of disposable people are working on uncovering the artefact, and the entire endeavour is being kept hush-hush. There’s an ancient language written on it that no one is familiar with, and it’s known to belong to a race of people who have retreated off the continent and are mostly an isolated race of people who no longer venture off of their lands.

Now, I thought at the beginning that the whole story was going to be about this mysterious object, what it does, where it came from, who built it, and all of that – but the object was barely mentioned after the first chapter until about 70-80% through the book when it came up as a major plot point in a looming war.

What the book was mostly about is reconstruction and tense interactions with different classes of citizens after a civil war. Since I didn’t read the first trilogy, I assume the war they’re referring to in this book was the war that took place in the last series. There’s talk about a man named Tanniel – which I do remember being a character from the first book. So, if you haven’t read the Promise of Blood and it’s sequels, and don’t like spoilers, I would recommend reading that series first. I didn’t mind learning about Tanniels success’s, defeats and ultimate fate because I don’t plan on reading the first series, but I undoubtedly would have known more about the world and it’s characters if I had.

There’s a lot of tension between the defeated Palo citizens and the upper-class Fadrastian class that won the last civil uprising. The Palo have been pushed down so far that they’re living in a giant crater and they’ve constructed a vertical city within the crater that was honestly my favorite part of the book. There’s a web of politics that all of the characters get caught up in. Pamphlets are being distributed all over the city and they contain inflammatory language about the ruling class, and it’s creating a fair amount of dissent in the general population. Mercenaries are called in by the ruling class to try and keep the peace, while also hired to track down Mama Palo, the supposed leader of this new rebellion. There are spies sent to spy on the spies, there’s underworld crime, magical items looming in the background, as well as disgraced and forgotten war heros trying to make a come back. There’s so much going on in this book it’s hard to summarize.

The characters were really endearing, I got attached to all of them which is a huge plus, and what I think was missing for me in Promise of Blood. Perhaps I read it in the wrong mood, and as I’m writing this review I’m beginning to change my mind on reading the first series haha.

Glora Flint is the leader of the mercenaries hired to come in and root out the leader of the Palo rebellion. She’s not a cutthroat despite being called Flint for her steely nature – she cares a lot about her men and wants to keep them safe and as happy as she can. She’s not pleased at all with the job she was hired to do, it keeps getting bigger and more dangerous as time ticks on. She regrets getting herself involved and is trying to find a peaceful resolution to everything and get her people out of there as quickly as possible. She commands her men to be honorable and keeps a rigid set of rules; absolutely no stealing (not even from corpses), no raiding citizens homes, no raping, no undue bloodshed. She takes a lot of pride in the fact that her men are disciplined, well trained, and for the most part well behaved for a group of mercenaries.

Mikel is a spy working for the government, he’s also been hired to try and root out who the dissenters are and keep them silent. He has a dual personality, he’s always talking to or arguing with himself over something. He has a strained relationship with his mom, she’s running herself poor buying too many penny novels and strongly disapproves of her son’s involvement with the government. She’s a tough character who isn’t afraid to give her son shit if she thinks he deserves it, but it could also ruin Mikel if she’s overheard saying some of the treasonous things she likes to rant about. He’s desperate to work his way to the top of the government, and will stop at almost nothing to do it – but his alternate persona comes into play later and mixes things up a bit.

Stykes is a forgotten war hero who’s lived in a slave labor camp for nearly a decade. He’s had a long record of good behavior, and is hoping that his parole hearing will turn out in his favor. However, the parole hearing goes very, very badly – but he still manages to get out with the help of a mysterious “lawyer” who pays for Stykes release. The lawyer comes into play with all of the characters, and it’s interesting to watch them try and figure out who he is and what he really wants. Stykes eventually ends up in the employ of Glora Flint and is trying to help her men navigate through the city without being killed, as well as help Glora flush out Mama Palo.

The worldbuilding was really fantastic, the highlight for me was the mega-slum that the Palo made for themselves. The Depths is a vertical city that’s an “ecosystem unto itself”, there are palaces as well as slums, doctors, weavers, soldiers – everything you can imagine is found in The Depths. It’s a winding city with so many narrow allies, zigzagging passages, and houses that all look similar that it’s easy to get lost. Once you’re far down in The Depths the sun doesn’t reach the bottom, and the only light is artificially produced, it makes for a very creepy atmosphere.

Knacks are different magical abilities that can range from not needing sleep, to really good hearing, to super speed/strength. Knacks aren’t uncommon, and the different knacks aren’t equal in power, some are rather mundane. There are also powder mages that can use gunpowder as a drug that enhances their abilities, a mage can snort some powder and be able to see the crew of a ship running around on the deck while standing on the shore.

The Dioneyes are the race of people that left the continent many centuries ago and haven’t come back, they’ve left behind a number of artefacts, and with each new artefact, the people of Fatrasta become more and more knowledgeable about magic and sorcery.

The writing really gets out of the way of the story, McClellan was a student of Brandon Sanderson and in some ways, it really shows. The prose is utilitarian more than flowery, but it really speeds up the storytelling, especially during action scenes. There are some curses that are used, but fuck has been substituted for “pit”. As always, this is grating to me but I liked the story and the characters enough to ignore it. Although he’s a student of Sanderson, I would describe McClellan as a better character writer. These characters were much less predictable because they were more grey than noble bright – although not the kind of grey Abercrombie writes. A light grey, if you will.

I crushed this book in 2 days despite it being a longer book, I think it’s somewhere in the 500 page range. I was just so fascinated by how everything was going down that I just kept listening 8 hours a day to the audio. I think the pacing is pretty well done, where there isn’t action to create a tense atmosphere, there are plot points that keep you interested – and vice versa.

As far as originality, I’ve seen a lot of flintlock military stuff before, but I really enjoyed that this was post-war not during it (at least for most of the book). I like when authors tackle the harder bits about what happens after that huge epic war that everyone likes reading about. It’s harder to pin down how a society will function during a reconstruction period and I consider it a big bite to chew if the author decides to try writing a story like that. As I’ve said before, I really liked The Depths, it was a very original take on a slum, and it really set the mood for the chapters where it was featured.

I really, really liked this book, and I’ve already read the sequel which I got through Netgalley – that review will be coming up soon!


Audience:

For people who like:

  • flintlock
  • military
  • multipov
  • female pov
  • low romance
  • post war reconstruction
  • spies
  • class warfare

Plot: 13.5/15

Characters: 13/15

World Building: 13.5/15

Writing: 12/15

Pacing: 12/15

Originality: 12/15

Personal Enjoyment: 9/10

Final Score: 85/100

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