In a brutal desert empire, Jael Crowfeeder survives as a Beast Hunter. Last of his kind and despised by society, he’s betrayed and thrown in prison just as a legion of man and monster storm the border. Forcibly conscripted, Jael will soon wet his sword in the front lines.
Standing against the invaders is General Larika, warrior princess and heir to the throne. As monsters of legend tear a bloody rent through her soldiers, a treasonous knife readies to strike.
Defeat is a breath away. The enemy have harnessed an ancient magic that turns the order of man and beast on its head, a magic created by Jael’s ancestors that only he might break.
Jael is torn. Larika may become a worthy Queen but can he fight for an empire that slaughtered his people?
I love when authors reach out to me to review their books, and I have a problem because I say yes to nearly all of them, sadly this overstretches me a bit and I feel guilty to those books I miss, my TBR is enormous, and I really need to learn to be better with this. So those are maybe reading this that have sent me a book, I promise, one day I will read it and I will review it, just bear with me. However, Empire of Blood and Sad was one of those that I did read and how could it not be with the synopsis you just read…
After Alister Hodge emailed me as with any author I haven’t heard of I do a little googling, as far as I can tell Hodge is a very unknown author with a few books under his belt, all those books seem to have over 4/5 stars and a fairly large chunk of reviews showing that those scores seeming to be well earned but after being one of those people that got to read his book Ive decided he’s definitely an author that deserves more recognition. When you review smaller authors books whether that be just debut authors or smaller self-published authors there’s often those signs of inexperience or a lack of confidence from the author that disappears as they publish more books and get braver with their writing. Alister wasn’t one of those authors in my opinion. Empire of Blood and Sand struck me as a book from not only a noticeably confident and well-polished author but also something I would expect from a much bigger publisher. This was a well-crafted book that was an easy read, it was genuinely fast paced and entertaining with a level of polish that left me genuinely impressed.
Empire of Blood and Sand has all the bits needed to be very classic fantasy book, we have plenty of classic fantasy tropes, and this isn’t a complaint, those tropes are popular for a reason, because they work so well and are the building blocks of the books we love, and we will continue to reread them over and over, good versus evil, the reluctant hero, wars between the gods, my all-time favourite, coming of age stories. Hodge had some fantastic additions to these and built something that felt original while following these classic story arcs we all love.
A really big thing that really grabbed me for this book and something I really love in general, but as of recent years authors more and more seem to be going for impact right out of the gates, their first sentences, first paragraphs aiming to be a punch to the reader, putting you on the back foot from the get-go, a rock to the senses as you are introduced to this world born on to a battlefield.
“Blood ran hot over Jael’s fingers as he sawed at the sentry’s neck. The man convulsed with agony, bladder voiding in an acrid-smelling flood as he hacked through muscle and vasculature, opening a hideous smile where there should be none.”
How can you not read further after a start like this? This is the sort of paragraph that instantly draws you in, you aren’t making a choice at that point, you need to read further. After reading this book I went straight into Anthony Ryan’s The Pariah and he did something similar, I love it, keep them coming please guys. I don’t want that slow burn, give me that dopamine hit straight away.
This book was a two person POV, our first character being Jael Crowfeeder, a grizzled veteran of the kings armies and part of the race known as the Scalzini, human in all ways but a magical people with an affinity for the beasts that roam from the chasms. A people that has been killed off for their differences from regular folk, hunted down because of peoples fears. Jael is one of the last Scalzini left and travels the lands as a Beast Hunter, killing monsters for a few pennies here and there. I’m not going to lie, a big reason I read this book was because the synopsis and Jaels character gave me massive Witcher vibes and I’m a massive fan of Geralt, with that in mind I never felt like I was reading a clone or a spinoff, Jaels character and the world we were in had its similarities but very much felt like its own thing. Jael is closely followed by Pyx, a young girl he has all but adopted and looks after, Pyx was the perfect accomplice to Jael, offering the springboard we needed for Jaels character to flow out that little more and was great supporting cast for Jael’s chapters.
Larika was our second character, Princess, and heir to the Empire, and a great second POV for this story. I loved that with Larika we got the opposite of the classic princess tropes that you come across, from the get-go Larika was strong and kicking ass, a soldier, and a leader of her men. We didn’t have to struggle through the typical gender issues to allow Larika to become the person she was or meant to be, Hodge from the get-go introduced us to a strong and powerful woman who was a fantastic arc of this story in whole and I can’t wait to see her continue to kick arse in the next book.
Hodge takes these two and builds up their own distinct and exciting storylines, he did a brilliant job of playing out those storylines, slowly intertwining these two together for an ending you knew was going to be exciting and exploded in a fantastic set piece. I mentioned how polished I thought this book was but again I just want to point out there wasn’t a part of this story that felt wrong or forced, Jael and Larika didn’t act out of character to fit the story and even though this isn’t something that’s commonplace, it happens enough that I really appreciate a story that flows well.
Finally, another thing I want to mention that really impressed me from Empire of Blood and Sand is Hodge’s worldbuilding. The setting and world he created had many of those common tropes I mentioned but he built something that differed enough that it felt unique, a fun spin on a classic idea. Hodge did a great job of painting this world very vividly and I had no issues imagining this apocalyptic desert setting, chasms running through it delivering both lush green lands and beautiful waters, gorgeous oases in the middle of this barren, dry world filled with plenty of terrifying monsters.
Empire of Blood and Sand is a brutal, nonstop rollercoaster that keeps you fully entertained and wanting to blitz through to the end, if you love the Witcher series and books like the recent Seven Deaths of an Empire, this is for you. Ive already bought myself a physical copy of Hodges book as this was one was I needed to add to my bookshelf, I genuinely can’t wait for Hodge to carry on this story and see this world explored more. Go read this.
If you dont trust me, trust the fact Devin Madson loved this and that should be enough…