Hollow Empire (Poison Wars #2) by Sam Hawke

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The first book was so excitingly different from the bulk of what I read. Sure, poisons make a fair number of appearances in many different genres of fantasy, but I’ve never seen it feature predominately as a central theme to the book. I have been meaning to get around to this for ages and finally got the chance!

Jovan and Kalina are back in a dual POV sequel, and I was so excited to dive back into their arcs and I was not disappointed in the least by the results – what a ride.

There’s a pretty raunchy festival at the beginning-ish of the book; after it gets dark, people are group fucking in random circles with masks on resembling animals, entities, historical figures etc. It’s a very New Orleans on steroids kind of feeling and it was quite something to read about, lol. Well, Jovan gets framed for murder during this little festival… and it wasn’t just any poor sod who was murdered for this ploy – it was a soldier from a foreign diplomat which could cause an international incident.

I enjoy both Jovan and Kalina as characters, and I feel like they had more distinct voices and motivations in this sequel. Not that I didn’t enjoy them in the first book, I did, but this book breathed a fourth dimension into each that just landed so well. Jovan and his new apprentice have a very endearing relationship that helped expand Jovan’s emotional capacity by quite a bit. Kalina has to work her way through some very difficult political problems and threats. I still find Tain to be a frustrating character, especially when he turns down very sound advice over and over. I sometimes understand his arguments, but most of the time I’m like “no dude, you should listen”.

The prose is just top notch. I could see, smell, and taste basically everything in this book. The descriptions created a complete sensory immersion into a living breathing world that felt like a movie in my head without any effort on my part. I thought the prose was good in the first book, but it was kicked up a notch in the sequel. This is not a book where you can kinda zone out and still understand what’s going on. There’s a lot of subtle context, layers of meaning behind the dialogue, clues or hints at certain mysteries and other things you’ll miss if you blink. This is something that has to command your attention when you’re reading it. Layers and layers of plots and subplots, from weird new drugs being passed around, people being killed, princes framed, potential mages coming back and setting things on fire, and spirits dying or going missing. To add to all that, the rebellion isn’t over by a long shot… and the pace and plot explode halfway through, there’s big crescendo and slows back down only to finish on another whirlwind.

If you enjoyed the first book, you will adore this second book – I highly recommend it.


  • Plot: 15/15
  • Characters: 14/15
  • World Building: 14/15
  • Writing: 14/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 13/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 9/10

Final Score: 90/100