I loved Sins of Empire, if you haven’t read that one yet I would read that review/book first before reading this review as there will be spoilers for Sins of Empire. I listened to this via audiobook and received it via NetGalley/Orbit – thank you! Spelling goes out the window with audiobooks, so, keep that in mind.
This book picks up where the last one left off – the Dioneyes are invading Fatrasta with a mind to take back their old city, and find their lost artefacts – the most important being the God Stones. They are landing all around the coast and seem to come in waves that don’t end and things are getting very tense.
Tanniel and Karpole are still calling the shots and putting their pieces in their places without the pieces knowing what the end game is. Despite being a very old friend and ex-fiance, even Vlora doesn’t know what Tanniel’s core motives are and what his end plans may be… or if she can even trust him not to get her killed. Tanniel’s determined to get to the God Stones before the Dioneyes, and part of making that happen is keeping his undercover contacts safe. He wants Mikel to find his Dioneyes informant and get her out of the city before she’s found out and killed. The problem is that Tanniel doesn’t even know what this woman looks like, all the info he gives to Mikel is that her name is Mara. Mikel is trying to find this woman while the Black Hats are hunting him, he’s been caught meeting with Tanniel and therefore outed as a spy. All of his safe houses and resources are lost when his cover is blown, forcing him to make unlikely allies to survive long enough to complete his mission. He has a sneaking suspicion that Tanniel knows that this is a near suicide mission. I thought it was interesting that despite his cover being blown, Mikel continues to talk and argue with himself, I found his dual personality fascinating in the first book so it was funny to see this tick continue.
Meanwhile, Styke is working for Vlora taking over her cavalry unit, commanding them in the field against the Dioneyes. What Stykes doesn’t know is that he’s being hunted down by 6 Dragonmen who were recently freed from prison, with the promise that if they bring their master the head of Styke that they will be set free. Ben is busy hunting down the men who betrayed him which lead to him being forced into a slave labor camp and trying to keep Vlora’s men together. Styke is also paired up with Karpole for a while, and their two strong-willed but polar opposite personalities make for some entertaining scenes.
Vlora is being squeezed from all sides, the Fatrastans are angry with her, the Dioneyes have a debt to settle with her, and she’s trying to escort hundreds of thousands of citizens fleeing the cities to safety. She’s overwhelmed and overworked with no money to pay her army, she’s working off promissory notes against her personal account and things are wearing thin. Tanniel is insisting that she help him find the God Stones which is a dangerous task in itself, let alone everything else she has going on.
The main POV’s from the last book are the same for this book, which lent itself to the faster pace of the book, there’s no slowing down to learn a bunch of new people. The relationship between Styke and Selina continued to be a highlight of his chapters for me, it creates such a stark contrast to the rest of his persona and rounds him out so nicely. It’s also interesting watching a young girl growing up in a labor camp where people kill each other regularly right in front of her, over something as trivial as bread. And now she’s watching Ben take vengeance on people who have wronged him in the past, she takes a neutral almost academic like stance on Ben’s killing, wondering why he kills some and spares others. The fact that Ben does show mercy at points helps make him a character you can continue to root for, I prefer when characters are less bloodthirsty.
In my opinion, this book was faster paced than the first one. Sins of Empire was all leading up to the events of this book, it was a slower burn up until the Dioneyes arrived and laid siege to the city, which is right where this book picks up. Everything is coming together and I absolutely blew through this book, I couldn’t stop listening to it. The audiobook remains fantastic, I’m probably going to seek out other SFF by this narrator.
The writing continues to be great, but it also continues to use that fake curse word “pit” which always rubs me wrong when I hear it. I think it especially stands out in the audiobook since he sort of spits the word out.
The tone was very tense through all of the POV’s, the stakes are higher than the first and every one of the characters is in a fair bit of danger. There’s war, there are assassins, there are spies and counterspies all of which created an atmosphere bordering on anxiety.
The world building shifted away from The Depths which was a little disappointing, but also totally understandable given that city is under siege and Vlora is no longer stationed outside of it. I miss that place because it was so creepy, but we do get introduced to more of the world since the armies are marching.
Overall, I think Mr. McClellan hurdled himself over the “second book syndrome” where things can drag on and on in the second book only to pick up again in the third installment. Wrath of Empire was highly engaging and just as great as the first one.