Review: The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger
Narrator: Jeremy Arthur
Published by Macmillan Audio, Thomas Dunne Books on May 16th 2017
Length: 19 hrs and 51 mins
Format: ARC, Audiobook
An epic fantasy debut, The Empire’s Ghost weaves together the lives of the haves and the have-nots both desperately fighting to reassemble the remains of a fallen empire.
The empire of Elesthene once spanned a continent, but its rise heralded the death of magic. It tore itself apart from within, leaving behind a patchwork of kingdoms struggling to rebuild. But when a new dictator, the ambitious and enigmatic Imperator Elgar, seizes power in the old capital and seeks to recreate the lost empire anew, the other kingdoms have little hope of stopping him. Prince Kelken of Reglay finds himself at odds with his father at his country’s darkest hour; the marquise of Esthrades is unmatched in politics and strategy, but she sits at a staggering military disadvantage. And Issamira, the most powerful of the free countries, has shut itself off from the conflict, thrown into confusion by the disappearance of its crown prince and the ensuing struggle for succession.
Everything seems aligned in Elgar’s favor, but when he presses a band of insignificant but skilled alley-dwellers into his service for a mission of the greatest secrecy, they find an unexpected opportunity to alter the balance of power in the war. Through their actions and those of the remaining royals, they may uncover not just a way to defeat Elgar, but also a deeper truth about their world’s lost history.
Isabelle Steiger has crafted a powerful and masterful debut with The Empire's Ghost, the first book in a haunting new epic fantasy series.
The Empire’s Ghost is epic on many levels. The massive empire of Elesthene is now history, fractured into separate lands. Magic has become fable, thought to be rooted in superstition rather than historical fact. The story gives viewpoints from several rulers, all with their own agendas and ruling styles. You also get the view point of many citizens and soldiers as well. It gives a sweeping view of what life is like across the board, giving the reader insights into the life and happenings for commoners as well as intrigue from within the palace. Though the perspectives are all unique, they become intricately intertwined as the story progresses.
Through perspectives on the struggles between adjacent lands that used to be part of the Empire, we meet the rulers of all three and three and see the contrasting styles of rule. We see hints of magic, enough for speculation. The story can be dark at times, but this is not a brutal and gritty story. It is epic with ups and downs, and definitely death and blood. It’s not a happy feel good story that glosses over battles, but it is not terribly graphic either (at least not by my standards).
Now, one of the hallmarks of many epic fantasies is often a large cast of characters and varying lands to keep up with, along with all the political maneuvering, etc. This book takes the epic number of characters to, well, an epic level. Even for a large cast epic fantasy, the number of people to keep up with could be overwhelming. This is not a bad thing, just go in prepared that you will be introduced to what may feel like at times to be a staggering number of characters. I did find myself at times working to keep them all straight, but I have to say, overall, I did. That said, I truly hope the publisher includes a Cast of Characters, perhaps even with a visual representation of people and relationships/alliances (a friend was joking it could use a flow chart, and honestly, I think it really could). I do worry readers may complain that they had a hard time keeping characters straight, or remembering all the details. Some kind of reference or aid to help keep them straight would be highly beneficial. Maybe I’ll create one myself 🙂 Another downside of so many characters is that I can’t say I found myself as attached to any of them as I would have preferred just because no single character had as much page time as a book with fewer characters. Time learning about another new character is that much less time to grow attachment to existing or primary characters. I certainly was not detached, but the more page time a character gets, the easier it is form emotional attachments to them.
Another forewarning for those that love fully contained stories that can stand on their own and have a hard time when that is not the case, you may want to wait for subsequent books to be released. This is an exciting and fun book, I know way more than I did in the beginning, and there were a ton of revelations (and some great opportunities for speculation), but I left it feeling like the story is really just getting ready to take off instead of feeling like there was closure of any type. That is not something that bothers me, particularly in a book 1 of an epic fantasy series. Just mentioning it because I know different readers have different preferences. Personally, I enjoyed the journey and am anxious for the next installment.
Overall, I think this was a very ambitious and good debut. Considering the page length (this is not the heftiest epic fantasy), it is crammed with information and people and a crazy amount of things going on. I may have talked about the number of characters being hard to keep up with, but sometimes epic stories require more perspectives to really give the reader a comprehensive understanding of the world and all its facets. For me, it was worth it. Without a doubt, I plan to read the next one. I need to find out what happens next.
Audiobook Notes: I did a mix of reading the ARC and listening to the audiobook production for this one. I absolutely loved the performance for this audiobook, and hope to listen to another book narrated by Jeremy Arthur in the future. He gives the perfect touch of personality to the characters and is very easy to listen to. I have found that audio can sometimes make books with a large cast of characters more confusing, but thankfully I did not find that to be an issue with this one at all. (I did have the benefit of reading the names, which I am sure helped, but overall I felt like it was very comparable to my reading experience).