- The Guns of Empire (Book 4 of The Shadow Campaigns).
- Django Wexler.
- 464 pages.
- Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Military Fantasy.
- My rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
As the roar of the guns subsides and the smoke of battle clears, the country of Vordan is offered a fragile peace…
After their shattering defeats at the hands of brilliant general Janus bet Vhalnich, the opposing powers have called all sides to the negotiating table, in hopes of securing an end to the war. Queen Raesinia of Vordan is anxious to see the return of peace, but Janus insists that any peace with the implacable Sworn Church of Elysium is doomed to fail. For their Priests of the Black, there can be no truce with heretics and demons they seek to destroy, and the war is to the death.
Soldiers Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass find themselves caught between their general and their queen. Now, each must decide which leader truly commands their loyalty—and what price they might pay for final victory.
And in the depths of Elysium, a malign force is rising—and defeating it might mean making sacrifices beyond anything they have ever imagined.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Guns of Empire is the fourth and penultimate installment in Wexler’s The Shadow Campaigns fantasy series with The Thousand Names, The Shadow Throne and The Price of Valour being the previous three books in the series.
Now, how do I go about telling you the story in The Guns of Empire without spoiling the story that has been shaping up in the prior three books?? That my friends is the question, especially when I try my best to avoid spoilers.
I’m a staunch believer in that one of the biggest enjoyments in reading is the journey that you take with books and the characters involved, and I feel that this is especially true for fantasy series. If you keep with a series from the beginning you follow the cast of characters through ups and downs, highs and lows, plot twists, betrayals, deaths, meet new characters along the way, and it’s a journey that you are choosing to take. Most readers wouldn’t start a series four books in, they would start from the first book and either stick with the series or find it isn’t to their liking and move onto another. While you could get away with missing books in certain other series for The Shadow Campaigns I highly recommend that you read all three of the previous books.
After the conclusion of the last book, The Guns of Empire sees The Great Army of Vordan led by the incomparable Janus bet Vhalnich along with the series other main characters in Winter Ihernglass and Marcus d’Ivoire alongside Raesinia the Queen of Vordan who tags along, as the army marching towards The Pontifax of the Black and The Sworn Church of Elysium in full force. The route taking them right through Vordan’s powerful neighbours as the invading force. The aim of the invasion being to bring Vhalnich’s plan to destroy the church to fruition and in doing so bring a permanent and lasting peace to Vordan.
While the overarching story is the same throughout the series, one of the things that Wexler has always done well with each book is make them seem different to each other, the story and characters remain the same but he always seems to add something new to each book or shift the main focus. This time the focus is more on the religious aspects than in the previous two books (the first book was set in Khandar and had a different feel to it to) and as such there isn’t as much political intrigue, machinations or scheming this time around and we finally get to see and learn more about the Sworn Church and the Pontifax.
This on the whole works well but, I for one enjoy the political aspects of the books and was slightly disappointed that they were moved to the background for most of the book and just skirted over. Though the military action that we have seen throughout the entire series remains with the invasion and it is just as good as in the previous books. While it’s very heavy in detail, you’re never over burdened with knowledge, Wexler knows his stuff and makes it interesting for you to read. – This is one of the things that sets The Shadow Campaigns apart from most of the other fantasy series currently out there, the military influence and how well it is incorporated into the world that Wexler has created.
Another one of Wexler’s strong points is his characterisation, both with the main protagonists and the smaller part and secondary characters, he manages to bring them to life and they continue to develop in ways you both expect and in some unexpected ways to. With his writing Wexler makes them feel like real people.Winter isn’t perfect and questions herself often, you could even class her as being slightly broken but she does her best and is one of the best and most endearing characters in the entire series, while she isn’t the titular “underdog” of the series, she’s the character that you continually root for. Marcus is a great character to, no matter the promotions he receives or the plaudits he is given at the heart of it, he is just honest and straightforward, simply put he is a brave and steadfast solider. He’s a character that I have always liked but sometimes compared to others he seems to lack in development, we see the others grow and yet Marcus and his views while they have slightly altered over the course of the series, have also predominantly stayed the same. But,we see more from him in The Guns of Empire and the developing relationship and fledgling feelings between himself and Raesina that have been hinted at in previous books is given more page time to grow, and in Marcus’s awkward way flourish.
Onto Janus, Janus is clever, intelligent and brilliant with an abundance of eccentricity thrown in to the mix to. He is a tactical and military genius but in The Guns of Empire his contribution is diminished, for one of the focal points of the series he is absent for parts of the book and isn’t even a PoV character. We do finally get to see some flaws and cracks in his facade though making him seem more human than the godlike person he has been, everyone makes mistakes and it’s nice to finally see that Janus isn’t entirely infallible. There are also some fissures in the relationship between Janus and Marcus shown in the book, whereas before Marcus would have blindly obeyed Janus’s commands, now with his growing mania that Elysium and The Sworn Church must be destroyed at any cost, we see Marcus begin to question Janus, and consider if his quest is worth the risk of forever denying peace to the lands of Vordan.
The world building in the series has always been top quality, this time around most of the book takes place in Mursk, a snowy, cold and at times desolate area, again adding a different element and also the troubles such a climate will have on an invading force. We also get a far larger look at Elysium, The Sworn Church and the Pontifax of the Black delving into previously unexplored aspects.
The magic system also works really well, the amalgamation of combining both military, magic and Naath (demons) gives you plenty of different action sequences throughout the book and the effects feel significant, whether the fighting taking place is magical or military you are drawn in as you read about the scenes playing out on the pages you are reading.
Quick mention for the writing of The Guns of Empire, Wexler’s prose is again bang on just like in the previous books, he has a great eye for pacing and detail and can sure tell a good story.
I enjoyed The Guns of Empire but I also had a few issues with it compared to the previous three books, and I’m at a loss as to why I didn’t enjoy it as much as them. I know that sounds weird but the book just left me feeling a bit “empty and meh” unlike the previous books that had me thinking “this was great, next one please” and it seemed to be missing something, it didn’t draw me in, and while I cared about the characters fates, part of me knew that with it being the penultimate book in the series, that Wexler was building towards that final book, and what I hope isn’t going to turn into a convoluted showdown between good vs evil. Overall, it just seemed to be lacking the magic of the previous books.
The only things I can put my issues down to are the lack of Janus throughout the course of the book. With events that happen, the chance that the series is going to turn into a generic and formulaic good vs evil battle between two fairly obvious characters. And, the damn ending, talk about a cliffhanger Wexler, gggrrrr!!!!!
While I have just bemoaned The Guns of Empire, I would still highly recommend the series on a whole, it is great modern fantasy. Yes, the book failed, at least for me to live up to the lofty heights set by it’s predecessors, but it’s still damn good and even with my issues I would recommend both it and the series to you. And, I’m still looking forward to what should prove to be an epic final instalment in The Shadow Campaigns with the last book.
The series so far:
- The Thousand Names.
- The Shadow Throne.
- The Price of Valour.
- The Guns of Empire.
And as a bonus for you all here’s an old review I wrote (it might make you smile at it’s awfulness) for the first book in the series The Thousand Names:
In the desert colony of Khandar, a dark and mysterious magic, hidden for centuries, is about to emerge from darkness.
Marcus d’Ivoire, senior captain of the Vordanai Colonials, is resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost, when a rebellion leaves him in charge of a demoralised force in a broken down fortress.
Winter Ihernglass, fleeing her past and masquerading as a man, just wants to go unnoticed. Finding herself promoted to a command, she must rise to the challenge and fight impossible odds to survive.
Their fates rest in the hands of an enigmatic new Colonel, sent to restore order while following his own mysterious agenda into the realm of the supernatural.
The Thousand Names is a Flintlock fantasy novel and the first book in a new series. For those who maybe unfamiliar with the term Flintlock fantasy means that along with the usual fantasy elements of magic and swords there are muskets and artillery added to the mix.
This is the first book that I read in this sub genre of fantasy, I wasn’t sure what to expect but found I enjoyed the book and the addition of muskets and artillery made for a refreshing change from the standard weaponry and magic in most fantasy books.
A very brief overview of the story in The Thousand Names is that it takes place in the land of Khandar, a desert country where the Vordanai Colonial regiment are waiting to leave a remote outpost, only for a new Colonel and recruits to arrive aboard the ships that were to take them away and instead of leaving they find themselves with new orders and Colonel to follow and attempt to reclaim the city of Ashe-Katarion from a horde of religious fanatics and rebels who vastly out number them.
The characters are a nice mixture who are all different enough that they never get boring or to similar to each other. The main characters amongst the Vordanai are Winter Ihernglass, Captain Marcus D’Ivoire and Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, without going into detail, the story is a good one, Marcus is a normal type of soldier, obeys orders and tries his best and you as a reader can’t help but like. Winter is also a likeable character, there’s a twist to Winters tale that while not groundbreaking to the plot does add extra dimension and depth to the character. However, the author uses the exact same twist later in the book for another character and it doesn’t have the same effect, being the second time you read about it the effect is muted and unfortunately you can’t help but think “oh, this again” but I can see why Wexler did it and the reasons and resolution will hopefully be expanded upon on in the future books.
Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich is a very different character, he is a noble born and well-educated with a high intellect who brought his military rank, he often gets easily distracted and at times is rather eccentric. He has alot in common with Sherlock Holmes and I can see more than a few similarities between the two, namely that he is a strategist, a thinking man who often uses his intellect to gain the upper hand in situations and come up with plans/ideas that most wouldn’t think of. Quite a few times while reading about Janus I would think “Sherlock Holmes”. The additional supporting characters are all good to and in their own way all add something to the story or the main character with which they are associated.
It takes a while for the action to get going and so the book does have a fairly slow start but while slow it’s still interesting and Wexler easily pulls you into his story. When the action does start it is well thought out and written, the military tactics never get boring and are a pleasure to read as the carnage and mayhem begin.
The differences between the two main sets of characters the Vordanai and the Khandar natives make for an interesting read, you get two distinct and separate culture’s clashing.
At the start of the book there isn’t much use of magic, it’s briefly used and explained. But it’s only when you get near the end of the book that magic comes to the forefront, this works really well as I personally don’t think that magic was needed any earlier in the book and when the Wexler chooses to use it, it is very violent, impressive, shocking and unpredictable, it changes the dimensions of the story adding far more depth to the world and the events in the book.
The actual world in the book is small, focusing only on Khandar, the city of Ashe-Katarion and the surrounding desert. We know that there is an empire involved and it seems that there is also a vast history and a far bigger world and picture out there that the author will hopefully show more of in the sequel hopefully taking the story back to the Empire.
Overall The Thousand Names is an enjoyable and well written read, a good book with a conclusion that will make you want to see what happens next and where the story goes.
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