Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review of "The Second Empire" by Paul Kearney

With Hawkwood, Bardolin, and Murad arriving back on Normandian shores in the epilogue of The Iron Wars, Kearney hinted the next book is ready to shift back into a continent-scope story.  Like Hawkwood’s Voyage and The Heretic Kings, The Second Empire does precisely that. With Abrusio still uncertain over the state of their king, the Merduks preparing for a final assault, matters in the West still unexplained, and Corfe’s newfound role anything but trusted by the nobility he usurped, the series is back in full swing. 
The Second Empire opens by going back in time to explain exactly how the trio of voyagers were able to get their way back to Hebrian shores—a tale that Gondolfin, Abeleyn, and Isolda scarcely believe as Abrusio starts to rebuild itself from the tatters of civil war.  Corfe, now general of the Torunnian armies, continues to face opposition from not only the Merduks, but also his own countrymen, in particular a nobility who hate to see non-blue blood take power.  And though the Sultan himself is softening with his Torunnian wife Heria, he continues to push military matters, commanding a direct and final assault be laid upon the capital, Torunn.  Events in the interior continue to develop as word reaches the provinces that Charibon is starting to prepare an army of its own.  And through it all, the mysterious Aruan, the shape-shifting mage, continues to ply for influence and collaboration from those he considers able—taking and giving as he sees fit.

To his credit, Kearney continues to show his master plan for the series, works.  Unlike many other writers of epic fantasy, the stage he set at the beginning continues to be the stage upon which the actors play.  Minor characters come and go, but focus remains on the main characters, locations, and scenarios readers are familiar with.  For those who hate to see epic fantasy wander (looking at you George R.R. Martin), Kearney sticks to his initial outline to the benefit of the series.

This is not to say some problems do not arise, however.  The plot running full speed ahead, straining at its lead, there are moments Kearney sacrifices character integrity for plot development.   And so while the story remains enjoyable for pace and action, there are a few “what the?” moments when characters act out of hand. 
In the end, The Second Empire is a consistent entry into the series that will have readers wondering: what could possibly happen next given the result of the climax? The kingdom changed forever, the realist aspects play well to the tragedy side, assuring Monarchies of God remains as unpredictable as it ever was.

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