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Friday, August 12, 2011

"The Crown of the Conqueror" by Gav Thorpe (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Gav Thorpe Website
Order "The Crown of the Conqueror" HERE or HERE (ebook)
Read FBC Review of The Crown of the Blood HERE

INTRODUCTION: As it can be seen from my review, I have enjoyed the series debut "The Crown of the Blood" quite a lot but I was apprehensive about The Crown of the Conqueror on two counts. The twist at the end while indeed cool and unexpected, indicated a clear deepening of the magic used in the universe and of course the "middle book syndrome" which has been keeping quite a few books in a narrative harness that lessened their potential.

On opening The Crown of the Conqueror, I was immediately sucked into the flow of the story and while both points above turned out to be pertinent, the powerful writing of the author and the interesting characters and setting of the series made the novel another page turner I had to finish as soon as possible.

Since the following discussion will have major spoilers for The Crown of the Blood as The Crown of the Conqueror directly continues the story there, if you have not read the series debut, continue at your risk!

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: For people who have not read The Crown of the Blood, the salient facts about the series are: it is set into a world that mixes Roman-style armies with middle-Eastern - from the Assyrian or Babylonian Empires of yore - customs and attitudes and with magic that becomes much more important in this second volume. The legions and style of fighting resemble the Roman armies, but the Greater Askhos Empire's provinces resemble oriental satrapies rather than Roman provinces as do customs like a special brand of polygamy - the high nobles marry all the sisters from another noble family, custom that is quite important in the structure of the series. The way the imperial power is structured resembles also the middle-Eastern experience as are the naming conventions.

The main character is Ullsaard, who from provincial ranks became general, hitched himself to the star of Aalun, the second prince of the blood since the eldest was sickly and almost incapacitated and when the old king Alluan refused to name Aalun heir, was forced to rebel first in Aalun's name, but soon he started aspiring to the crown himself.

Since the Askhos crown has been passed only to the direct descendants of the founder, Askhos himself, Ulssard seemed to have no chance until it was discovered that despite a tradition of "disappearing" all children of the blood outside of the first legitimate boys - one as heir, one as "reserve" so to speak - Ullsaard was actually the bastard son of Alluan and indeed the oldest of the blood to which the crown could rightfully belong.

And The Crown of the Blood ends with Ullsaard crowning himself only to discover that Askhos himself - his spirit, ghost, etc - haunts the crown and takes over its wearer so the founder has been ruling the empire beyond the grave while the reason for the tradition above becomes clear. But due to the circumstances, Askhos cannot take over Ullsaard and the two start an unusual "cohabitation" in Ulssard's head though the new king soon finds out how to diminish the influence of Askhos and to the founder's horror is ready to set the empire on a completely different course - a very reckless expansionary one in Askhos' view.

In the meantime, former slave dealer, all around slimy but cunning Anghlan, current governor of the important border town of Magilnada, has his own plans that involve sticking the knife in his patron's back, the Brotherhood, the priesthood that actually formed the bureaucratic backbone of the state has been disbanded by an angry Ullsaard who soon discovers that empires do not run by themselves, its leader, another old man with an agenda grooms Erlaan, the grandson of Alluan, though since the youngster would usually be just lunch for the experienced Ullsaard, lots of magic is needed, while the Salphorian clans targeted for invasion by Ullsaard refuse to heed their king's pleas and unite to deal with the empire.

So a volatile mixture with some things going for Ullsaard, but a lot more - including the unresolved tensions in his family of three wives, three sons and an injured friend who saved his bacon at great personal cost - going against, while the new king is ready to make his mark on the world and conquer Salphoria despite Askhos' desperate pleas that is way too soon as his centuries long plans go. And magic of course, the usual "ancient evil soon to be awoken" lurks somewhere too!

Action galore, including a duel for the ages, battles and intrigue, but The Crown of the Conqueror also expands the universe a lot and we get to see not only the width and breadth of the empire and a big chunk of Salphoria, but also another neighbor, the usually undisciplined "savage" Mekhani who now may have found their messiah-king of legend and are ready to sweep the Askhos away...

The character development continues strongly here and we see different facets of Ullsaard who shows that he can make mistakes as everyone, he can be scared as everyone but he is still the dodged fighter who would not give up but use the smallest edge to turn things around. On the other hand the other characters - especially Anghlan who loses most nuance from the first volume - have somewhat reduced roles, though there are several that stand out from the page and offer some great scenes, most notably the drunk king of Salphoria and the nasty chief priest of the Brothehood.

The more important role played by magic in this novel -role that moves The Crown of the Conqueror away from the straight-up military fantasy of the series debut towards the more traditional epic - was integrated skilfully by the author and I never felt my suspension of disbelief waver at any moment.

While the action advances a lot and the main threads of the novel are wrapped up well, The Crown of the Conqueror is still a middle book in the sense that the big picture issues remain to be addressed. Following the example of The Crown of the Blood, the ending is on another twist though this time it is foreshadowed so it comes as less of a shock, though it serves well its purpose of hook for the next installment as well as giving a slight hint where that will go.

All in all, The Crown of the Conqueror (A+) is another excellent fantasy that I strongly recommend without and the author has another winner here!


tmastgrave said...

I've liked Thorpe ever since seeing his work with Games Workshop. He's a good writer.

Anonymous said...

Halfway through right now, althrough I did not read book one. I am definitely enjoying Thorpe thus far though and will certainly go back to purchase book 1.

Liviu said...

@tmastgrave: while I am not really in shared universes, I agree that Mr. Thorpe is very good.

@PeterWilliam: I hope you will enjoy this to the finish.


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