The Emperor is dead. Long live the Empire.
General Bordan has a lifetime of duty and sacrifice behind him in the service of the Empire. But with rebellion brewing in the countryside, and assassins, thieves and politicians vying for power in the city, it is all Bordan can do to protect the heir to the throne.
Apprentice Magician Kyron is assigned to the late Emperor’s honour guard escorting his body on the long road back to the capital. Mistrusted and feared by his own people, even a magician’s power may fail when enemies emerge from the forests, for whoever is in control of the Emperor’s body, controls the succession.
Seven lives and seven deaths to seal the fate of the Empire.
Seven Deaths of an Empire is a new standalone fantasy novel from author G.R. Matthews. It is being billed as grimdark and comparable to George R.R. Martin; however, I would not make those comparisons, myself – at least not to Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. To me, this would closer to old-fashioned, classic fantasy.
A big reason why I say that is that I do not consider the story to be epic in scope. It follows two storylines – those of General Bordan and Apprentice Magician Kyron. General Bordan is doing his best to protect the royal family after a series of assassinations takes place. His history with the family and strategic mind come very much into play during this time, and his loyalty to the Empire create some conflicts of interest. Kyron is a young Magician’s apprentice who was with the Emperor’s retinue when he was killed. Their sole purpose is to get the Emperor’s body back to the capital so they can perform the rights of succession to the next in line for the throne. This trip is not as easy as it sounds due to the group having to pass through hostile tribal lands. That is the gist of the narrative, which I really liked in the beginning of the book. It is a great idea for a story, and definitely had some potential.
In my opinion, Seven Deaths of an Empire did not live up to that potential, though. In the end, the story was really basic. I spent the second half of the book looking for an aspect of the book that would take the story to the next level, but it never came. The suspense in the narrative consisted mostly of these two storylines that were on a collision course, and that was enough to keep my interest for a while. At some point, I was expecting it to elevate, though, but that just did not happen. I still enjoyed this book for what it is, but parts of it fell flat, seemed repetitive at times, and I was not a huge fan of the ending. It felt to me like the way things ended did not fit with the tone of the rest of the book.
There were a decent amount of characters, which was a real positive for the book. The character set was really diverse, with each one being very distinct. My favorite was Kyron. He is a young man trying to make it as a magician and find his place in the world when he gets thrust into this incredibly difficult situation. He makes mistakes, has many learning experiences, and grows as a character in a short amount of time. There was always a lot of drama surrounding Kyron, and it added some needed tension and depth to the narrative.
Overall, Seven Deaths of an Empire was an average book, which is not necessarily a bad thing to be. While I thought it could have been more, I did enjoy it for what it is: a standalone classic fantasy novel. In my opinion, it was not done any favors by being compared to Martin and labeled as grimdark. I recommend fans of fantasy check it out, but keep expectations at a reasonable level coming in.