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Friday, December 29, 2017

The Fifth Empire Of Man by Rob J. Hayes + Black Blood short story review (by Mihir Wanchoo)


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BLURB: The Pirate Isles are united under Drake Morrass’ flag, but the war has only just begun.

There’s still a long way to go before he’s able to call himself King, and traitors at every turn. The Five Kingdoms and Sarth have assembled a fleet of ships unlike any the world has ever seen and they intend to purge the Pirate Isles once and for all by fire and steel.

Revenge, never far from Keelin Stillwater’s mind, is finally within his grasp and he sets sail to the Forgotten Empire. But more than dense jungles and ruined cities await him there. Vengeful gods and malignant spirits now call those cursed lands home, and they are not wisely disturbed.

Meanwhile, Elaina Black tries to secure herself powerful allies and the forces those allies can spare. She’s set her course on the throne: either by Drake’s side or over his dead body.

FORMAT/INFO: The Fifth Empire Of Man is divided into four parts which are spread out over fifty-seven ship titled chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person omniscient via Drake Morass, Keelin Stillwater, Elaina Black, T’ruck Khan, Damien Poole, Kebble Salt & Arbiter Beck. This book is the concluding volume of the Best Laid Plans duology and can be read as a starting point to the First Earth saga.

September 26 2017 marked the US and UK e-book publication of The Fifth Empire Of Man and was being self-published by the author. Cover art is by Alex Raspad & cover design is provided by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: Focusing on a wide character cast of pirates and epic sea battles, The Best Laid Plans duology is the grimdark version of Pirates Of The Carribbean if imagined by Joe Abercrombie.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Fifth Empire Of Man as far as fantasy book titles go is a terrific title. It is the concluding volume to the Best Laid Plans duology and a story that is epic in every sense of the word. I was lucky to be able to read this story in its draft form and I can safely say that the final version is something that will readers’ slack jawed at the very least. A warning though for readers who haven’t read Where Loyalties Lie, the book’s blurb might be a little spoilerific so you might want to avoid this review if you don’t like things spoiled even a little bit.

We begin with the immediate events of Where Loyalties Lie wherein Drake has been pronounced king of the pirates with Tanner Black’s support. However the support is tentative with the caveat that Drake has to take Elaina Black as his consort. Drake is certainly chafing at that but he has his mind on the final prize. On the other hand, Elaina Black has been sent by her father to gather support and when we last saw her, she had just reached Chade. Within the city, she meets a few fan favorite characters from the preceding trilogy and it was fun to see their interactions. The start of this book also references events in Chade and I believe this book runs concurrently with the events that will be featured in 2018’s City Of Kings.

Elaina’s journey is only beginning though as she will also have to travel to Larkos and therein lies the rub as she tries to do the impossible. Keelin Stillwater had a huge hand to play in the events which played out in the climax of Where Loyalties Lie. Drake’s belief in him proved strong in the end but for him the ultimate prize is all about revenge. That’s the one thing that’s been his main focus even amidst all the changes and he’s perhaps closer than he’s ever been. We are also reunited with T’ruck Khan and his crew as they find themselves in an impossible bind. Amidst his crew we get to meet a new character, Nerine Tsokei who is a character that I would love to read more of. Lastly there’s Beck who while in the background has perhaps the most crucial role and Kebble Salt also gets a POV wherein we learn all about his backstory.

The Fifth Empire Of Man is a book that takes the baton from its predecessor and amps them up even more. Firstly as is the case with the previous book & the preceding trilogy, characterization is the most prominent highlights of Rob J. Hayes’ writing and in this book, we are given a whole array of awesome characters. While Where Loyalties Lies focused on Drake Morass & Kellin Stillwater squarely, it also introduced Elaina Black, T’ruck Khan, & Arbiter Beck. This concluding volume gives them bigger roles and also gives a POV turn to newer fascinating characters such as Lady Tsokei & Kebble Salt. In fact it could even be argued that this is Elaina’s book as her arc easily eclipses that of Drake Morass.

Drake has always been the central focus of this duology and it’s his ambition which has fueled almost all the events however this duology easily could have been Elaina’s story and the second volume goes a long way in proving that. We not only get a swashbuckling pirate story but we get to see four fantastic character POVs. First Drake is ever present with his scheming and secrets, then there’s Keelin and then Elaina & lastly T’ruck Khan as well. These four pirate captains are what power the story to its exciting conclusion but the biggest stage is set for Elaina. She is a Black and is Tanner’s true daughter, she’s intelligent, brave, bloodthirsty but calculating and is perhaps the only character who sees Drake for what he is. For those complaining about strong female characters, look no further than Elaina Black. She’s a complex, bloody pirate who will have readers in the palm of her hand and rooting for her no matter what.

Keelin on the other hand suffers a bit in this volume. His thirst for revenge takes a backseat in this volume as he finds amidst a love triangle of sorts (keep in mind this is Rob J. Hayes after all). So there’s no smoldering looks, waxed chests, etc. but simply characters who get entangled with each other and it was fun to read after all. Lastly the best part to Keelin’s arc is a family reunion of sorts which I believe was a highlight for me. This is due to this character being mentioned in The Ties That Bind trilogy in relation to Jezzet. T’Ruck is T’Ruck and in this book, we get to see what a leviathan of a warrior he is and also the secret behind his crew’s prowess is revealed in a very, very bloody manner.

This concluding volume also doubles up on the naval battles, magical revelations and a climax twist worthy of GRRM. Oh the sea battles in this one, there are so quite a few and each of them is spectacular to say the least. The action in this volume never lets up and when the action slows down a bit, we are treated to secrets (Drake’s main one, the Drurr), world history (Larkos’s founding, the problem with witches & their magical dealings) and character interactions. All in all this book had me flipping pages as fast as I could to get to the end to see how it all goes down and it’s right before the end, that the author pulls the rug rather brilliantly under the readers. I will say watch out for the epilogue as it is a shocker and perhaps a clue to what lies ahead in the First Earth Saga (I believe this is Rob Hayes’ version of end credits scenes wherein the entire plot of the story is upended and we get an idea about the next story.)

This book for me didn’t have any drawbacks and was a complete winner. While the first book is a SPFBO 2017 finalist, I hope the other judges and readers read this volume as well to see how amazing a storyteller Rob J. Hayes is.

CONCLUSION: The Fifth Empire Of Man has a unique title and certainly the story to herald itself as one of the best books (if not the BEST) of 2017. I dare you to read it and not be enthralled by this dark story of feuding pirates. I certainly was and will continue to spread the word about the wonderful gem that is the Best Laid Plans duology.


Read BLACK BLOOD For FREE Over HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Black Blood is an 8000-plus word short story that is set before the events of Where Loyalties Lie and focuses upon Captain Elaina Black and Arbiter Black. Ideally it can be read before Where Loyalties Lie but I would recommend you read it just after finishing Where Loyalties Lie and just before The Fifth Empire of Man so a particular sequence in the second book will make a lot of sense.

The story begins with arbiter Beck finding herself in a scrap with a certain group of pirates when she gets rescued by Elaina Black and in exchange for travel to a particular island, agrees to help her find a special book. That’s all that I can reveal about the gist of the story without spoiling it further. This short story was written by the author to get himself into the head of the characters and to get a feel of the world before plunging in (see Q.7).

This story while being entirely from Beck’s viewpoint also affords a small yet intriguing look into Elaina Black. In this story, we get to see why Arbiters are so feared and yet treasured amidst the world of First Earth. Beck has to employ all her powers and tricks to locate a journal that potentially has some black magic ties which is exactly the sort of heresy that Arbiters like Beck love to stamp out.

This story is a free, fun adventure story and I would recommend it to one and all for those interested to know more about the world of pirates introduced in the Best Laid Plans duology. Plus this will be an excellent stepping stone to see whether these books are for you as well as get a strong taste of Rob J. Hayes as well. Now that’s a win-win scenario if I ever saw one.

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