The Guns of Empire, by Django Wexler, was one of my most anticipated books of 2016. The predecessor, The Price of Valour, was my #3 book from 2015 and pushed The Shadow Campaigns to one of my all time favorite series. With that in mind, Empire had big shoes to fill and I was concerned that it might not live up to its predecessor. Unfortunately, in some ways my worries were warranted, as The Guns of Empire is a weaker book than Valour. However, it certainly wasn’t a bad book and there is still a lot to like. As this is a review of the 4th book in a series of 5 there are some mild spoilers from book 3, so do not read on if you want to remain pure.
When we last left our intrepid cast at the end of book three, they had declared war on the church of Elysium and vowed to march to the church’s mountain fortress and make them pay for their sins. The book follows our group of three, Winter, Marcus, and Res as they lead and accompany the army north through treacherous woodland to wage war on a new set of foes. The real issue I had with The Guns of Empire is that it feels like a book entirely designed to set up the series finale. While I can forgive a certain amount of ramp up approaching the end of a larger series, a bridge book still needs to firmly stand on its own merits as it builds to the finale. The first half of Empire exists to drive home the idea that our protagonists are fallible. We see them make mistakes, regret their choices, and feel the first bits of doubt since the beginning of the series. Though I agree that they had too much hubris, the book spends a long time driving home a point I got in the first few pages. In addition, the second half of the book spends an inordinate amount of time setting up the final villain of the series. The villain is exciting and a great new direction for the series, but it still feels like too much time was spent introducing them.
On the other hand, Empire still follows through with many strengths of the earlier books such as: a truly one-of-a-kind group of protagonists, excellent setting, a creative magic system, and great writing quality. Res, the Vordan Queen, still continues to be one of my all time favorite characters. I wish I could read a book just from her POV, but Winter and Marcus are a blast as well. Wexler has a way with character development that feels organic. His protagonists evolve a great deal as people throughout the novel in ways that feel right for the events and settings. Character reactions to death, loss, and romantic difficulties feel refreshingly realistic and helped immerse me in the story more fully. However, while the character growth was great, Wexler’s expansion of his world had some bumps on its journey.
The fourth book continues to expand the ever growing world map of The Shadow Campaigns, and introduces us to multiple new countries. I felt some frustration with the book as the introduction of the novel led me to believe I would get to see new places and cultures that Wexler had dreamt up; and while we do get to explore some new cultures, it was not nearly to the extent I was expecting, or compared to what we saw in previous books. The magic system continued to impress, with a myriad of interesting new demons our cast had to contend with. However, a large part of the book revolves around dealing with the environment on a march which I found less satisfying that the smart political intrigue that was the highlight of earlier novels.
Despite my complaints, I still really enjoyed The Guns of Empire. It was an exciting book with a great cast and continued to raise the stakes in an interesting plot. I do, however, feel it could have been better and did not quite reach the high bar set by The Price of Valour. One thing The Guns of Empire did accomplish in spades was pump me up for the final book of the Shadow Campaigns, and I cannot wait to sink my teeth into it. With all the setup out of the way I have complete faith that Wexler can deliver a stunning conclusion to this great series.
Rating: The Guns of Empire – 8.0/10