One of the best parts of the Fantasy genre is it doesn’t have to be just one thing. It can contain other genres within its genre. Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford, the first book in the new Age of Uprising series, is a hodgepodge of different fantasy elements, telling different stories with its point-of-view characters. Through the Hawkspur siblings and their mother, a tale of swords, sorcery, and artificery explores themes of imperialism, zealotry, conspiracy, and military thriller.
The book begins with Tyreta, Fullren, and Conall Hawkspur, children of privilege both as part of a Guild Family and the niece and nephews of the Emperor, all going their separate ways with new responsibilities ahead them as they’re coming of age. By separating them, Ford can paint a broad brush over his world for the reader to see. You’re able to take in a lot of world-building, including magic systems, different cultures, different creatures, and larger overarching narratives by putting them in each of these characters’ smaller story arcs.
Tyreta is headed to the conquered and colonized tropical islands full of jungles called the Sundered Isles to learn how to administer trade routes and supply chains for the transportation of the Empire. Conall is a captain in the military part of the Guilds, the Talons, and sent to Fort Tarkis in a desert frontier wasteland. However, poor Fullren, who was to stay in the capital and become an artificer, is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and banished to the kingdom of Malador, worshippers of demons as gods rather than the dragons of Torwyn. Rosamon serves as the one that stays in the capital of Torwyn, unraveling a supposed conspiracy that led to her son being exiled.
Of the point-of-view story arcs, Tyreta’s sections stand out from the rest not only because it is the most isolated from the others, but it is the one that the Empire of Torwyn and the Guilds that run it aren’t necessarily the babyfaces of this story exploring anti-imperialist sentiments. Fullren’s feels the most like a fantastical adventure, full of different magic systems, technology, creatures, and people that you might expect from a JRPG like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or Chrono Trigger. However, Fullren doesn’t have nearly as much fun. Rosoman’s chapters both serve as telling the story of political intrigue within the empire and furthering what seems like the overarching narrative for the entire series. Conall’s chapters are by far the weakest with the tried and true privileged guy who learns to be part of the military but foreshadows a grander story to be told. While the others feel like they have a beginning, middle, and end of their arcs, Conall’s chapters read the most like merely Act I of his story.
The plot and prose are well done. R.S. Ford has a strength for portraying emotions through descriptive writing of the character’s body language. While the inciting incidents of all three sibling’s sections of the book may have benefitted from happening sooner, Ford makes up for this with just how wondrous everything is in it. Sometimes we should appreciate when fantasy has cool and interesting things in it. Religions worshipping dragons and demons, giant eagles people ride upon, people with feline-like faces, mechs powered by gems embued with magical energy, glyphs with necromantic power, and lots of mysteries that make you want more which is a good sign in a fantasy book. No matter how much information Ford gives you, you want to learn more.
The climax of the novel hits like a ton of bricks. Everything goes to hell in what feels like out of nowhere, but upon closer reading of the beginning, it was all foreshadowed in clever ways. Ways if you’re not paying attention may go over your head the first time through. Engines of Empire establishes the world, the magic, the more significant conflict and gives the main characters enough development to feel like a complete arc while leaving room for further in the series. The novel’s final act from every point-of-view character makes the anticipation of the next book tenfold. Engines of Empire is a solid first entry in this new fantasy series by R.S. Ford.
Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Orbit books.
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