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Friday, June 3, 2022

Engines Of Empire by R. S. Ford (reviewed by Matthew Higgins)


Official Author Website
Order Engines Of Empire over HERE
Read Civilian Reader's interview with R.S. Ford

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: R S Ford is a writer of fantasy from Leeds in the heartland of Yorkshire. He also writes historical fiction under the name Richard Cullen. You can find out more on his website. And follow him on Twitter here: @rich4ord
OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: From an unmissable voice in epic fantasy comes a sweeping tale of clashing guilds, magic-fueled machines, and revolution.

The nation of Torwyn is run on the power of industry, and industry is run by the Guilds. Chief among them are the Hawkspurs, whose responsibility it is to keep the gears of the empire turning. That's exactly why matriarch Rosomon Hawkspur sends each of her heirs to the far reaches of the nation. 

Conall, the eldest son, is sent to the distant frontier to earn his stripes in the military. It is here that he faces a threat he could have never seen coming: the first rumblings of revolution.
Tyreta is a sorceress with the ability to channel the power of pyrestone, the magical resource that fuels the empire's machines. She is sent to the mines to learn more about how pyrsetone is harvested - but instead, she finds the dark horrors of industry that the empire would prefer to keep hidden.

The youngest, Fulren, is a talented artificer and finds himself acting as a guide to a mysterious foreign emissary. Soon after, he is framed for a crime he never committed. A crime that could start a war. 

As the Hawkspurs grapple with the many threats that face the nation within and without, they must finally prove themselves worthy-or their empire will fall apart. 
FORMAT/INFO: Engines Of Empire is 624 pages long, split into two parts, and follows the viewpoints of Rosomon, Tyreta, Fulren, Conall, and one other spoilery viewpoint. This is the first volume in the Age of Uprising series, released by Orbit Books (US) on 18th January 2022, Cover art design and illustration by Mike Heath (Magnus Creative).
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Engines Of Empire is a book that deserves to upend the SFF publishing world in the same way the events of this book upend the empire of Torwyn. It is a tantalising mix of epic fantasy within a steampunk world full of political conspiracy, danger, and wonder.  We experience several different locales, each with their own flavour, and I truly appreciated the effort put into a diversified world in this novel.  The worldbuilding was baked into the narrative, giving readers enough of a glimpse without being overbearing. The magic was in the periphery for a lot of the tale, and yet clearly there is more to learn in future books, which has me intrigued.
A big thanks to Mr Ford for running a giveaway for the audiobook, which enabled me to have the pleasure of listening to this magical tale. I listened to the audiobook, and it is the most well produced I have ever had the pleasure of piping into my ears. A full cast narration, with each POV a different actor, the effort really shone through and immersed me even more into this fantastical world. I eagerly await the sequel, sure to be full of chaos and uprising!
We’ll start at the very beginning, a very good place to start! What a fantastically atmospheric start it is, the audiobook drawing you in in a swirl of well-produced mystery. I mean I had zero idea what was going on, but it was a hoot! References to dragon gods known as the great wyrms, a mysterious ‘demonic’ stranger coming to attack, it really hit the ground running.
Suddenly we are introduced to the story proper with an introduction to Tyreta Hawkspur, female heir of the mighty Hawkspur guild. Here we first see some of her plucky nature as she uses her magical prowess to speed the airship ahead to the city of Torwind.  It is here, at the centre of world trade, which the guilds rule in tandem with the religious Draconate ministry, and where events mainly take place. The story revolves mainly around the Hawkspur family and the world shifting events they find them spiralled into. The characters for the most part do follow familiar tropes, and that is ok because what they did was actually very surprising! Tyreta is the plucky young troublemaker, Conall the heir to the guild shouldered with responsibility, Fulren the quirky young scientist, and Rosomon the iron matriarch wh0 holds it all together. They do tend to stay within their character boundaries, although this isn’t precluding any growth within them, but not every book has to be an intense character dive. Ford knows his characters, and knows them well, letting the plot drive them forward instead of the other way around.
I would argue in tandem with the worldbuilding, that the plot is the true standout of this engrossing series opener. There was one single element that I *did* guess, but it certainly didn’t spoil it by any means. The story goes that the Torwind empire has long been at war with the Nirakis empire, a people whom they believe to be demonic. Unexpectedly an emissary arrives to broker a potential peace and trade deal, something that Emperor Sullivar welcomes. But conspiracy and greed runs to the heart of this empire, some grudges long held in the dark, and now is their time to break into the light. As her children all branch out into the empire on different paths, Rosomon Hawkspur is left to control the chaos left behind. But each of these characters will all be drawn into danger of their own, revolution is in the air, and with it all of Torwind will be alight.
I simply loved the many twists and turns in this book. I NEVER ever gasp or cheer at a book, but this had me whooping and thumping along as the story raced on. It does have a necessary slower pace whilst in Torwind, however once it gets going, this thing paces like its Usain Bolt at the Olympics! However, it never feels too fast, never skips the necessary character moments, and they all get a fitting emotional climax. Whilst this wasn’t one to make me cry, it truly engaged me like almost no other.
I really liked phase two of the MCU because each one felt like a supehero movie with a different flavour to it, be it conspiracy thriller or buddy movie, and each character’s tale felt like it had its own nature to it. Tyreta felt like an Avatar flavour, Rosomon a political thriller, and I won’t spoil the others to enjoy! Unexpected characters turn up and take things for a ride as well, keeping it always fresh and exciting, your mind will change on other characters in ways you could never have imagined, just a total blast.
The magic system is quite soft at this point in the series, there is a lot that isn’t explained, but it’s clear there are depths to plumb in later novels. It’s based around the energy within precious gems called Pyrestone, and in Nyrakis they have a sort of tatoo/runic based magic system. I won’t go into detail much here because tbh there isn’t much detail within, and I liked it that way. I usually get quite lost in a magic system as I’m not a fan of hard magic system and authors often follow a Sandersonian style of hard magic in fantasy at the moment. Here it was enough to NOT be deus ex machina, whilst not bamboozling me. If I can understand it, you dear reader can too!
Whilst this book was not one to pull on my emotions in the same devastating fashion as some others within the fantasy genre, this factor did not hinder it in the slightest. It was pure zany unadulterated fun, much of it enabled by a pace that needs to be experienced to be believed!
CONCLUSION: Overall, this was a rip-roaring yarn of the highest order. Never have I been so entranced by an audiobook, one that truly took me on a journey. It totally changed my perceptions of steampunk and truly deserves to take the fantasy world by storm. RS Ford has written an adventure for the ages and I cannot wait to read the full tapestry.



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