The Guns of Empire: Unexpectedly falls prey to middle book syndrome

The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler epic fantasy book reviewsThe Guns of Empire by Django Wexler

In The Guns of Empire, Django Wexler continues one of the strongest military fantasy series to date. With Queen Raesinia determinedly in tow, Janus and Marcus chart course for the holy city of Elysium in hope of destroying the Pontifex of the Black to bring a more permanent peace to Vordan. Our protagonists return to begin a massive military invasion of Vordan’s powerful neighbors, and if you enjoyed Wexler’s world building in book three, The Price of Valor, wait until you get your hands on The Guns of Empire! Unforeseen challenges (and unforeseen romances) arise, and the story of Vordan grows ever more complex.

Wexler’s storytelling is particularly stellar in The Guns of Empire, comparable to Brandon Sanderson’s in his Cosmere. It’s not any specific thing that’s laudable but rather a confluence of factors. As in The Shadow of Elysium, Wexler’s imagery is beautifully descriptive and full of unseen depths. He teases us by revealing more and more of our protagonists’ pasts, exposing us to the world beyond Vordan in the process and dragging yet another major sociopolitical institution into what originally seemed to be a small-scale civil war. Even as Winter, Marcus, Raesinia, and Janus face unique situations and difficulties, each of them tread unexplored paths; the character development is undoubtedly up to par to what we’ve seen in the previous SHADOW CAMPAIGNS works. Even the focus of The Guns of Empire shifts again, opening up the story to new plotlines and new action. Unfortunately, that’s also the greatest flaw with The Guns of Empire.

The Shadow Campaigns (Book Series) by Django WexlerAs I’ve noted in my previous reviews, Django Wexler seems to introduce a new type or aspect of conflict in every SHADOW CAMPAIGNS installment. Book two pivoted from the military action of its predecessor to plotting and politics, book three from there to internal conflicts and personal development. Though this literary strategy has worked for the series up to now, it results in some serious hiccups in The Guns of Empire. Due to the honing in on religious conflict, there’s significantly less politics and scheming than in the previous two novels of the series, even less of the internal conflict we were introduced to in book three. So even as new action is introduced, old plotlines are closed off — but there are simply not enough pages in The Guns of Empire to flesh out all the novel subplots and storylines. Unsurprisingly, the final result is that The Guns of Empire reads more like a second book in a trilogy than anything else.

From a reader’s perspective, Wexler has lost sight of the structure of the novel in The Guns of Empire in favor of crafting a stronger series and overarching narrative. While The Guns of Empire is action-packed on paper, what action there is feels insignificant because there are simply too many events happening all at once for the plot to reach a convincing zenith. The emotional impact of the previous works has partially disappeared, and Wexler never capitalizes on the suspense present in The Guns of Empire — perhaps waiting for a major climax in the fifth (and probably final) book? If Wexlerian storytelling is a strength of The Guns of Empire, the story that’s being told needs more substance, more emotional heft to it.

In any case, the conclusion is yet another cliffhanger; it’s an ending that is all the more frustrating because of all the time Wexler spends building up the newly-introduced religious plotline, which isn’t resolved in The Guns of Empire. For fans of the SHADOW CAMPAIGNS, this isn’t a reason to quit the series. Just don’t expect The Guns of Empire to live up to the thrilling, action-packed style of the earlier books. As always, I’m like an eager puppy when it comes to the next sequel in this series. Although The Guns of Empire did disappoint, I’m anticipating a highly successful conclusion to the SHADOW CAMPAIGNS in the next novel!

Publication date: August 9, 2016. As the “audacious and subversive”* Shadow Campaigns novels continue, the weather is growing warmer, but the frosty threat of Vordan’s enemies is only growing worse… As the roar of the guns subsides and the smoke of battle clears, the country of Vordan is offered a fragile peace… After their shattering defeats at the hands of brilliant General Janus bet Vhalnich, the opposing powers have called all sides to the negotiating table in hopes of securing an end to the war. Queen Raesinia of Vordan is anxious to see the return of peace, but Janus insists that any peace with the implacable Sworn Church of Elysium is doomed to fail. For their Priests of the Black, there can be no truce with heretics and demons they seek to destroy, and the war is to the death. Soldiers Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass find themselves caught between their general and their queen. Now, each must decide which leader truly commands their loyalty—and what price they might pay for final victory. And in the depths of Elysium, a malign force is rising—and defeating it might mean making sacrifices beyond anything they have ever imagined.

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KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is a Math-Stat and Economics major at Columbia University. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea (a href="http://www.fantasyliterature.com/fantasy-author/funkecornelia">Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of SF/F at the ripe old age of 5). Kevin loves epic fantasy, military SF/F, New Weird, and some historical fantasy; some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. In his view, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he's extremely particular about this last bit. Outside of his SF/F life, Kevin loves politics, the startup lyfe, non-fiction, and more. You can find him at: kevinlwei.com

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8 comments

  1. Kevin, it looks like he has one (possibly two) other series going, as well as some short fiction. Do you recommend THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS to start with?

    • That’s a good question — when dealing with a prolific author, I’m never sure where to start.

    • Kevin Wei /

      I would definitely recommend starting with THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS, which is his best work. I’ve read the first book of The Forbidden Library and was not impressed. Hope you enjoy :)

      P.S. read the shadow campaigns novellas as well, maybe after book 1 or 2, they tie in to the later books

  2. April /

    Don’t know about Kevin but I definitely recommend them. Well, at least the first three. Haven’t read this one yet!

    • And now they’re on the list.

      • April /

        I’m actually not a huge fan of his other series, The Forbidden Library. It is actually something I really should enjoy: YA with a plucky kid protag and a library as part of the worldbuilding. Unfortunately it just didn’t work for me.

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