The Reborn Empire
by Devin Madson
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted May 10, 2020
Book 1: We Ride the Storm
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We Ride the Storm is Devin Madson's fourth novel, the beginning of a trilogy called The Reborn Empire. This and her previous three novels, the Vengeance Trilogy, were self-published, as was a novella prequel to the first trilogy. Her work was successful enough to draw the attention of a traditional publisher, in this case Orbit Books, which is now offering new editions. This is the first to get that treatment, but the previous trilogy will also be re-published beginning later this year. I'm not familiar with the earlier releases, but since some self-published books have been plagued with grammar, spelling, or other editing problems, it is possible Orbit's editors have polished them up. This came in third (out of a total of 300 titles) for the 2018 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. The cover image to the right is from the first edition, so it is evident Madson could afford a good artist. I actually like it more than the Orbit release, pictured below.
I wish I could say I like the book as much as the cover art, but I'm willing to admit the problem is as much me as it is the text. There are interesting characters and situations, and Madson's exposition skills are impressive, but it's mainly the subject matter. I've said many times that I prefer science fiction to fantasy, and when I do read fantasy I prefer urban to epic, or high fantasy. Yes, I have enjoyed other epic fantasies, even some as brutally violent as this, but I try to judge every book on its own merits. Considering I haven't read a lot of epic fantasy, I'm not the best to judge this, but it seemed too generic. Conflicting empires, with political machinations within each, multiple factions vying for control, with even those who seemed noble at the beginning resorting to nefarious acts to further their position. Too much blood and guts, too many beheadings, and not just in battle. Backstabbing, shifting alliances, and a seemingly fickle populace willing to bow down to whoever is on top at the end. I think the previous trilogy is set in the same world, the Kisian Empire, chronicling the rise to power of Emperor Kin Ts'ai, the first of his name. All previous emperors had been of the Otako clan. Kin's Empress had also been Empress to former Emperor Tianto Otako, executed for treason following Kin's rebellion. Tianto's son and daughter are now Kin's step-children, Tanaka hopeful of being named Kin's heir, while his sister Miko has always envisioned herself as Tanaka's co-ruler. What I don't know is whether the reborn empire means the Otako rise again, or whether one of the external foes take over Kisia, either the Chiltae or the Levanti. Since I didn't like this as much as I'd hoped, I may never know, but I did give this page the trilogy title just in case I change my mind and follow up later.
The link on the title above, and the image to the left, are for the new edition, the paperback release scheduled for next month. It has been out in e-book for several months. The Kindle price is very reasonable, and since this has been very well reviewed and recommended by other bloggers, I might have taken the chance and bought it, however I got it through a giveaway on Twitter. Chapters alternate between the first-person narratives of three people: Princess Miko Otako; Captain Rah e'Torin, a Levanti horse soldier; Cassandra Marius, a Chiltaen prostitute and assassin. It is with Cassandra that the first fantasy element is introduced. She is possessed by another, maybe the spirit of another human, maybe a demon, it's too soon to say, and it is unclear when the possession began. That spirit sometimes speaks with Cassandra's voice, and moves her body, so at times others have had the impression Cassandra is not in full possession of her faculties. Yet she is still able to parlay her skills of seduction and subterfuge to carry out her assigned tasks. That is, until she encounters a target she decides not to kill. The too many beheadings comment above is highlighted by the first sentence in Rah's first chapter: "It's harder to sever a head than people think." Levanti tradition holds that a person's head must be cut off and brought to a shrine to be burned in order for their spirit to not be trapped in the body, and this holds for both Levanti and any of their enemy. This later becomes a problem, a dilemma for Rah, when his superior orders him not to do this after a battle, since there isn't time. That is only one of many clashes between Rah and Gideon, the First Sword of the Torin. By the end of the book, Gideon sits on the Kisian throne, Rah is thrown into the dungeon, Miko is on the run with just one of her officers for protection, and Cassandra's fate is up in the air. She may be on the verge of having her possessing spirit purged, but I doubt it will be that simple.
Quite a bit of what I've said might sound very interesting to those for whom epic fantasy is their favorite. I am not trying to dissuade any one from reading this, just saying it didn't suit my tastes, at least at this time. I did set it aside twice to read other books, but the flow of the story improved about halfway through, and there were sections I appreciated more than others. As in all things, YMMV.
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