The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler is the fourth of five books in his Shadows Campaigns series. This volume looks behind the magic and the wars and politics, exposing the hidden players that are at the heart of it all. Now in real life, I hate that sort of “secret elite” conspiracy theory. But in my fantasy? I enjoy it quite a lot. Wexler continues to demonstrate his strong characterization and action-packed plotting, but what I especially liked about this installment was how things went bad. Keystone characters are taken off the board and other characters struggle to avoid drowning in new power and responsibility. With The Guns of Empire, Wexler has once again written an exciting, unique fantasy that has me eagerly awaiting the finale.
Warning: mild spoilers ahead. But honestly, this is book four. I assume you’ve read books one through three. If not, I’ll be here when you get back.
The Guns of Empire picks up pretty much where the previous volume, The Price of Valor left off. After several victories, Vordan is hosting a peace conference. But when General Janus bet Vhalnich says that any peace must include the downfall of the Sworn Church of Elysium, the talks fail and war resumes. But when Janus aims the largest army the world has ever known at the heart of the church, many wonder if the brilliant general is a threat to the world. Does Queen Raesinia’s loyalty lie with the man who saved her kingdom or with the greater good? What about the loyalties of Generals Marcus d’Ivoire? Will they protect Janus, or will they work for peace? And how will the Black Priests respond to the threat the Vordani army presents? Is there more to Janus’s crusade against the Church?
What did I like/dislike?
Like the rest of his books, I thoroughly enjoy the characters Wexler presents. It’s not often I see as many unique, three-dimensional female characters or as many points along the sexuality spectrum as I do in his books. And he avoids the tropes about both “strong female” characters and non-hetero characters.
I also liked that Wexler turned Marcus–a knight errant born too late–not into a typical fantasy military hero, but a soldier who excels at logistics and one who might end up becoming something of a trophy husband. And just when Janus is at the point where he could become a walking deus ex machina, pulling genius trick after genius trick out of his bag, Wexler essentially takes him out of the picture, forcing those in his orbit to work hard to live up to the responsibilities he has placed on them (and making for some great internal and external conflicts).
This book also did a wonderful job of setting up the finale. When will we learn what has really been driving Janus? What will be the consequences of the evil the Black Priests have unleashed? What will it take for the Vordani Deputies to get their act together?
But the one thing that bothered me about this novel was the war itself. Janus leads the biggest army the world has ever seen against an alliance of nations, but in the end, the Church still stands and a status quo ante is restored. With the exception of the reintroduction of an old evil, I expected more out of this war. There is plenty of character development. But in comparison to the other books, I didn’t see as much plot development (other than that aforementioned evil). Perhaps Wexler did this intentionally though? To show war as somewhat futile or leading to unexpected consequences? Or to make his characters suffer, to force them to make difficult decisions, to come to know themselves better so they will be ready for the finale? Regardless, it’s a minor quibble.
The bottom line is that once again, Wexler has written a thoroughly enjoyable book, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. If you’re not reading this series, but want a bit of Napoleon plus magic, get cracking. Wexler is funny, surprising, and he weaves together threads of politics, military, economics, revolution, love, loss. And heck, I’m starting to sound like the grandfather in the The Princess Bride, so that’s probably a sign I should wrap this up. So thumbs up, job well done, definitely recommended.
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