Alright full disclosure, I am only writing this review because I was provided a nice free ARC by Netgalley, and I feel bad that I never actually talked about the book. I was hoping to let Ten Arrows of Iron, the second book in The Grave of Empires series by Sam Sykes, quietly sail me by and depart into the sea of memory like a ship in the night. Alas, my guilt over not reviewing the book has sunk that ship like a shark tearing a hole into the hull of a vessel. The only way I could think to patch this boat was to just sit down and talk about the book and come up with some interesting things to say. Like how this new book is about ships, which I subtly eluded to with my crafty analogies that you definitely didn’t notice. So, let’s keep this simple and clean. My thoughts on Ten Arrows boil down to three key discussion points.
Point one: The book is still super fun and if you liked book one (Seven Blades in Black) you will probably like the second one. If you were to click this link it would take you to my review of the first book in this series, explain the majority of the plot to you, and show you that I generally liked Seven Blades in Black. It’s an explosive high-intensity romp with a cool world, likable cast, and interesting premise. The major complaints I had against book one were that it felt bloated (could use some page trimming) and a little convoluted. The good news for book two is that all the things I liked in book one are still there, the fat has been trimmed, and the plot has been streamlined. The bad news for Ten Arrows is that these previous issues have been replaced with more problematic ones.
Point two: This book gave me whiplash. The first issue I had with this book is it feels like it drops all of the previous progress and story we built up from book one on the floor like a giant lego ship that I took hours to assemble. It feels like Sykes wanted to go in a completely new direction with a fresh story for book two, which can work, but the transition between the two narratives is so non-existent it resembles the mega-yacht I tell my friends I have. The entire case of book one, excluding protagonist Sal the Cacophony, just gets up and leaves – and I am not speaking in metaphors here. They are replaced with an equally likable new support cast, but I don’t want the new cast that requires a reinvestment; I want the old cast I was already into. The plot of book two is also so different directionally that it just makes the plot of book one feel even more convoluted in hindsight, which somehow has retroactively made me like book one less. But although almost everything from book one feels like it has been scrapped, at least we got to keep our main lady Sal, am I right? Right?!
Point three: It is becoming increasingly obvious that Sal kinda blows. In Seven Blades in Black, Sal has a mysterious past (which is fairly easy to guess, but still fun) that adds a lot of intrigue and allure to her character. At the end of the book, the mystery gets formally revealed, and we go into Ten Arrows with our eyes wide open and fully aware of the stakes and history of our protagonist. But it turns out that this mystery and allure was doing a very good job of covering up the fact that Sal isn’t a very deep or interesting character. I do think she is more likable in the second installment of the series, which does show some form of growth. But she doesn’t feel like she has any real direction or characterization beyond what she is doing in the exact moment you are reading her, and she has a tendency to be a dick sometimes when asked very normal questions like “could you please not murder me?” Sykes clearly had grand plans for what her story would be and who she would become, but the books are so long, and the deepening of her character so infrequent, that this plan just doesn’t hold water – much like these boat metaphors.
So do I recommend Ten Arrows Of Iron? I do, with great trepidation. If you liked Seven Blades in Black, which I did, then this installment is at its worst another 600+ pages of fun, raucous explosions and adventure. However, the new issues that have appeared on my radar (this is the final ship reference I promise) have sunk (I lied) any hopes I had of this being a ‘great’ series of this time period. There is still fun to be had, like when your ship pulls into port for shore-leave (yeah, I wasn’t even slightly truthful), but there is also the possibility you will realize that your time on the boat sucked and you are team landlubber for life.
Rating: Ten Arrows Of Iron – 6.0/10