Seven Deaths of an Empire by G. R. Matthews
DISCLAIMER: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review. My thanks to Rebellion Publishing for allowing me this opportunity.
The Emperor is dead, having died while on campaign in the Northern forests, and a new Emperor must be quickly proclaimed to ensure the smooth running of the Empire. The problem is, before that can happen, the former Emperor’s body has to be brought home, along with the sacred pendant that carries the souls of every previous holder of the title, and there’s a whole lot of hostile territory in the way.
Meanwhile, back in the capital, the former Emperor’s family and friends try to come to terms with their loss, even as the transition of power threatens to destabilise an Empire that’s existed unchallenged for centuries.
Seven Deaths of an Empire is a complex book, set in a world analogous with the expansionist period of the Roman Empire and the Gallic wars in North-Western Europe, and told through the eyes of two primary characters in alternating chapters.
The first of these protagonists is old General Bordan, commander in chief of the Empire’s military forces, and the former Emperor’s closest friend. Left to oversee the administration of the capital while the Emperor goes a-campaigning, it falls to Bordan to keep things running smoothly when the news of the Emperor’s death reaches the city, and to make sure the transition of power goes off without a hitch.
The other protagonist is young Kyron, apprentice to the magician Padarn, and part of the force tasked with returning the Emperor’s body to the capital. Initially unsure of his own abilities, Kyron is suddenly thrust into a role he feels unsuited for and has to quickly learn to master his powers and deal with the responsibility he has been given.
Each chapter also begins with mini-flashbacks that, taken together, build up the relationship between the two protagonists, and this helps define the narrative as a sort of coming-of-age novel, with Kyron as the focus of the growth and development. Certainly, the passing of the torch from one generation to the next is an important theme throughout the novel, with Bordan fighting to ensure the Imperial family holds on to its legacy despite the hurdles placed in their way.
This is a remarkably well written tale, and definitely feels like the first in a series. The main characters develop in definably different ways, with Bordan proving fatalistically immovable in his loyalty to the Empire, while Kyron gradually comes to question his views and beliefs of the society he has grown up in. Despite their obvious differences, both characters are presented sympathetically, and as a result are both highly relatable in their own ways.
That said, one of the things that really stands out is the way the narrative keeps the reader on their toes. Just when you think you know which way the tide is turning, a sizeable spanner gets thrown in the works, and you have to reassess everything you thought you knew. Every few chapters we’re given another twist, and every few chapters we’re made to question what we think is going on.
If you like fantasy with a vaguely historical flavour and characters who grow on you, then this is definitely one you want to read. Certainly a much better than average addition to the modern fantasy bookshelf.