Guest Review: The Garden of Stones (Echoes of Empire #1) by Mark T. Barnes

We at FanFiAddict want to thank Steve Caldwell (aka The Bookwyrm Speaks) for his review of The Garden of Stones.

Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter, @Sandman_Slim101, or on his blog, The Bookwyrm Speaks.

Rating: 9.75/10


An uneasy peace has existed since the fall of the Awakened Empire centuries ago. Now the hybrid Avān share the land with the people they once conquered: the star-born humans; the spectral, undead Nomads; and what remains of the Elemental Masters.

With the Empress-in-Shadows an estranged ghost, it is the ancient dynasties of the Great Houses and the Hundred Families that rule. But now civil war threatens to draw all of Shrīan into a vicious struggle sparked by one man’s lust for power, and his drive to cheat death.

Visions have foretold that Corajidin, dying ruler of House Erebus, will not only survive, but rise to rule his people. The wily nobleman seeks to make his destiny certain—by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the arcane science needed to ensure his survival, and by mercilessly eliminating his rivals. But mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Näsarat, stands most powerfully in the usurper’s bloody path. For it is Indris who reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace.


This is a review that has been long in coming, since, to be perfectly honest, this is literally my favorite fantasy series of all time. I have read a few series that come close to this in my mind, such as ML Spencer’s Rhenwars series, CT Phipps Wraith Knight series and David Oliver’s Great Hearts series, but for my money, this is as good as epic fantasy gets.

There is so much to love about this book, and series as a whole. The world building is fantastic, with a wide range of locations throughout, all lovingly described in such a way that you feel you are there personally, all without feeling like filler. The plot is intricate and fast paced, never leaving you feeling it drags along, but moving you from one scene to the next seamlessly. The real strength of this book, though, is the characters. From the main characters to the faceless masses, the author manages to inject life and personality into them all. Indris is my personal favorite. A powerful mage, he struggles against the destiny others planned for him, and charts his own course, regardless of the personal cost. Intensely loyal, he will do anything, risk anything, for those he loves. Mari, Corajadin’s daughter, and the black sheep of the family, is also a favorite. a fantastic warrior, she is conflicted over loyalty to her family’s machinations and her oaths to the Federation. She also struggles against the destiny planned for her, refusing to be a family brood mare. All the other various characters are well drawn out, never feeling two dimensional. they have realistic motives and ambitions, even the villains. In fact, the villains in this series are some of the best you will find in fantasy. They are that well written.

Nick Podehl handles the narrative work, and is he fantastic! He brings all the various characters to life, imbuing each with their own voice and personality through a variety of accents, tones and pace. His narrative pacing is some of the best in the business, and there is a reason he gets so much work. Just another reason to check this series out.

Is the series perfect? No, but in my mind, its not far from it. The author does go the route of complicated and unusual character, nation and location names, which is not for every reader. I don’t mind it, but when I recommend it to my friends that do mind that, I recommend they try the audio version. It really does solve the issue for a lot of people. That’s about all I can see that fantasy fans might take issue with. The backstory is as deep as it gets, and the politics, actions and magic are top rate. I wholeheartedly recommend this series for fans of epic fantasy, be it Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time or even lesser known titles. This series matches up well with any of them. It is also a completed trilogy, so don’t go in thinking you have to wait ten years for the next book. I do hope to see more of Indris’s adventures one day though.

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