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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Empire Under Siege and Phoenix Rising by Jason K. Lewis (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Empire Under Siege HERE
Order Phoenix Rising HERE
Read Getting Started Is The Hardest by Jason K. Lewis (guest post)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Adarna Chronicles consists of two novellas so far: Empire Under Siege and Phoenix Rising. What drew me to this series was the subject matter of a “Roman-like empire in chaos” fantasy storyline and also the covers, which are simply striking and drew my eye instantly. The author mentioned what his influences were in writing this historical-ish fantasy series in his guest post previously & it bears a read to see the wide variety of influences. 

The story begins in Empire Under Siege with a full-fledged battle and as actual battles go, the one described is messy, chaotic and slightly difficult to follow. The story has multiple POVs and firstly we are introduced to branch leader Conlan of the Third who’s in the thick of it. Then we get to see the battle from the view of general Felix Martius who leads the legions against the invaders. Seconding Martius is his mentor cum friend general Antius Turbis who saw his brilliance and lent him his support. Lastly there’s Wulf who’s one of the horde (so as to speak) who has to deal with the aftermath of the battle. These are the POVs introduced in Empire Under Siege, for the follow-up Phoenix Rising, the new POVs introduced are Metrotis, Felix Martius’ nephew & an eccentric scholar who tries to extract more information from Wulf and Felix Ellasand, Martius’ wife who faces a deadly foe on her own. 

The story has many threads as seen from the multivariate POV list above, while we get a view from the legionary point via Conlan, we also get the higher-up view via Martius and Turbis. There’s the usual political backstabbing and one-upmanship brewing thanks to the actions of the generals and the Emperor who is troubled by them. Then we get a look from one of the POWs (Wulf) which offers another differentiating view into the happenings. All in all this is an intriguing series as the authors explores the world and the aftereffects of a terrible battle. The author effectively showcases PTSD, political maneuvering and other such movements that would occur in an empire. Of course there’s a lot more afoot with regards to a (possibly) mad prophet and what truly caused the barbarian horde to appear on the borders of the Adarnan Empire

The author slowly exposes the different story angles for the reader to be pulled in various directions. What I enjoyed about the story was this very approach, the reader is never quite sure where the plot is heading and because the episodic nature of the storyline, we are left wanting to know what happens next. What the author truly puts in his best are the characters, with each POV we get to view the world through a different pair of eyes and they are all fascinating. We meet Conlan who is a young soldier, learning that war is never pleasant and soldiers are often at the mercy of their higher-ups. Martius has to walk the fine between his peers and his emperor, giving offense to neither and efficiently manage his soldiers. Wulf is a prisoner who seeks to escape but first he has to gain favor with Metrotis who is crafty to his wiles. 

I couldn’t choose a single favorite but Wulf, Martius, and Conlan’s chapters were my favorites for the amount of twists and intrigue that is slotted in them. There’s some action to this storyline but mainly both episodes focus on building up the mystery of the "Bull, Bear, and Hawk" and also a couple of other threads that the readers will have to RAFO. Lastly I will have to mention the dazzling and Spartan cover art, so kudos to the Deranged Doctor Design chaps for both the covers so far. I can’t wait to see what they do for the third volume tentatively titled “The Great Bear”. 

One area wherein the story is deficient to a certain degree is the world building and the history. Of course the author has put in small hints and clues wherever possible but for world-building junkies, this will be a sub-par effort. Also both the volumes are on the shorter side considering they are novellas and not novels, so readers should definitely take that into consideration before buying them. 

Overall this series is slightly reminiscent of the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher but with less action, low-key magic settings and more of a focus on characters. Think a David Gemmellesque approach to story telling crossed with the Codex Alera world settings . So the story is more character & dialogue focused and with a slightly lesser emphasis on world details. For readers who like this sort of an approach, you will enjoy this story. For others who prefer a bit more meat to their stories, this might not entirely be your cup of tea. However I must say that the story isn’t finished & the author has mentioned that the third novella/episode will be a longer one with more depth as well. I would recommend reading the first two together for now as that way the story makes more sense and feels cohesive. 

CONCLUSION: Jason K Lewis’s Adarna Chronicles are an interesting mix of historical fantasy cast in the Roman empire mold and with the author’s strong focus on characters. This series managed to mark itself out and I would recommend it to all readers looking for a quick read and for lovers of Romanesque fantasy.

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