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.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I completely adored this book, I normally don’t find fantasy books that fly by but this one absolutely did. It was one of those ones where you look up and you’ve read 100 pages without even realising. That’s how engaged I was.
I’m deviating a little bit here for some context. In G. R. Matthews’ bios it’s mentioned that he has read and loved Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings. Pawn of Prophecy is the start to a multi-series fantasy that was my intro to fantasy as a kid. I read and re-read these books more times than I can count, I challenged myself to read them in a day, I read them over and over again. Basically for a while my reading just consisted of David Eddings’ work. This might seem like a bit of an odd deviation but basically what I’m saying is that Seven Deaths of an Empire gave me serious Pawn of Prophecy vibes and I was here for it.
This book has all the makings of a great fantasy. Big battles, political intrigue and magic systems. But somehow it doesn’t get bogged down in all this. Matthews writes battle scenes with ease and with a grace that is hard to find elsewhere. I usually get a bit confused in battle scenes and just hope that at the end an overview is given of who beat who and who is still alive. However Matthews uses one of our characters to describe battles in a way that is easy to follow. You know what is happening, you can follow the beats and it just worked so well for me.
We follow two points of view, and they work in alternating chapters. You get General Bordan, who is all about duty and loyalty to the Empire, and is within the inner circle of the Emperor and his family. Then you get Apprentice Magician Kyron who is out in the war party, and is given the duty of escorting the Emperor’s body home. These two alternate within wonderfully short and snappy chapters. It means you’re never far away from one character’s journey and it makes it easy to keep up with the more complicated aspects of the plot. They also make great juxtapositions to each other, as Bordan is so loyal to the Empire while Kyron is learning about life outside the Empire and how it might not be all that it seems. I LOVED this. It felt pretty unusual for the ruling empire to be taken apart in this way. Rather than Kyron seeing it as this purely benevolent force he begins to learn about why the tribes don’t want to be conquered, and he begins to see the less-than-great elements of this Empire that he was raised to love. This is also something you experience in Bordan’s chapters, where he has access to the Emperor’s family, and more specifically his children. They act in ways that will shock you, and again, it’s refreshing to be given that insight into why the Empire isn’t quite all it’s made out to be.
Kyron is an Apprentice Magician and so he’s learning how to use and control his magic throughout the course of the book. It gives the reader a chance to learn how the magic system works without any long explanations. I hope the magic system is explored further as the series progresses because there’s definitely more to it than meets the eye! This portion of the books gave me some serious Garion/Belgarath vibes and it made me love the book even more than I already was. (See why I felt it necessary to rant about Pawn of Prophecy at the start?).
Political intrigue is usually something I shy away from a little bit in books, because I find remembering names and then attaching names to actions tough at times. However Matthews made it easy for me to keep up. Honestly for me this was a breath of fresh air and even with all the twists and turns I knew who and was who, and what they had been accused of. It meant that Bordan’s chapters were something I looked forward to as we unravelled the plot and learnt more about those who ruled the Empire.
The last 50 pages of this book are a ride. Usually books start winding down at this point and you start to maybe have some threads wrapped up. Instead Matthews takes his plot and runs full force towards the ending. I found myself completely caught up in the plot and I really didn’t want it to end. Now I have that wait for the sequel and to be honest it’s going to be a struggle.
If you want a fantasy you’ll devour in a matter of days, this one is for you. It’s somehow complicated but easy to follow. With some characters you’ll completely adore and some twists that you’ll never guess Matthews has written an absolute winner here.