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Friday, January 14, 2022

ENGINES OF EMPIRE by R.S. Ford - Review


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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: R S Ford is a writer of fantasy from Leeds in the heartland of Yorkshire. He writes historical fiction under the name of Richard Cullen.

FORMAT/INFO: Engines of Empire was published on January 18th, 2022 by Orbit Books. It is 575 pages and is told from the third person POVs of Tyreta, Conall, Fulren, Rosomon and Lancelin. It is available in paperback and ebook formats.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: In the kingdom of Torwyn, the Guilds of commerce hold sway over the land, and few are more powerful than the Hawkspurs. Lady Rosomon has ensured that each of her three heirs are pursuing a path that will prepare them to eventually assume leadership in the guild. Conall is undergoing military service on the frontier, while Fulren prepares for an apprenticeship in artificing. Tyreta, meanwhile, has been sent to an island mining outpost to be trained in running the operations and the family business. But troubled times are sparked in the kingdom when an emissary from a rival kingdom is murdered and Fulren is framed. With no one at court willing to defend her son’s innocence, Rosomon must investigate matters on her own, and soon discovers a sinister plot. Elsewhere in the kingdom, Conall and Tyreta make disturbing discoveries of their own that will push the kingdom ever closer to war.

Engines of Empire is a fast-paced epic fantasy adventure that is always engaging, though at the cost of deeply written characters. Those who find 600-page fantasy tomes a slog may find this story more to their liking, as it never lets up the pace, constantly throwing characters from one fire into another. I found myself constantly hooked by the story and flew through it in four or five days – books of similar length have taken me well over a week.

Engines is a brutal tale with surprising moments, peppered across multiple kingdoms and different magic systems. I enjoyed the steampunk adjacent setting, where industry has risen through the use of arcana devices powered by magic stones mined from various regions. These stones power everything from giant trains to guns to mechsuits – fans of the recent Arcane will enjoy the magical technology vibe. There are also some great action set pieces (Fulren in particular has a memorable fight).

What succeeded less in my opinion was the writing of the characters. The story of Engines of Empire is so whirlwind-fast that we hardly get a moment to sit with any of our POV protagonists. The result is that everyone felt a bit the same: hot-headed, impulsive people who are nonetheless dedicated to the family and who will go to extreme lengths to protect it without a second thought. “I’ll pay whatever the cost” is a feeling almost every character utters without hesitation. While you could chock some of this up to “it runs in the family,” the result is that you have four characters who generally make knee-jerk reactions to every bit of information they receive. There’s little variation to how anyone handles the situation. No one plays the long game or is a coward or is more methodical. As a “character first” kind of reader, this was a bit of a hang up for me, but your mileage may vary!

CONCLUSION: While Engines of Empire was not a home run for me, I commend the author for writing a tome that goes by in the blink of an eye. I didn’t connect with the characters in the way I was hoping, but it is certainly an engaging story setting up plenty of mysteries and trials for the Hawkspur family to overcome.

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