I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Fantasy Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: yes - second book
*SPOILER ALERT: contains SPOILERS for THE HAND OF THE SUN KING*
War makes monsters of everyone. Foolish Cur, once named Wen Alder, finds that his allies in the rebellion might cross any line if it means freedom from the Empire. But he can’t overcome a foe as strong as Emperor Tenet alone.
Rebellion has unintended consequences. Koro Ha, Foolish Cur’s former tutor, discovers the Empire is not so forgiving of those who raise a traitor. And their suspicion may cost him and his people more than he can imagine.
The gods are lurking in the shadows. As war against the Empire rages, Foolish Cur knows there is a greater threat. The emperor plans his own coup against the gods, and they will wreak destruction if he tries. To stop him, Foolish Cur might have to risk everything – and resort to ancient magics that could tear the world apart.
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
THE GARDEN OF EMPIRE swings its scope wide, which is a great way to show off world and threat in epic fantasy. The swing here is almost a “blasting open”, as it’s very wide compared to the tight focus on Alder/Foolish Cur in the previous books. Two more POVs are added to this book, in third person rather than first (Alder/Cur’s remains in first though.) These new narrators are Pinion (younger brother to Orien, Alder’s friend from the first book who died in a campaign that Alder feels responsible for) and Koro Ha, Alder’s tutor from when he was younger.
Pinion allows us to see what’s happening on the other side of Foolish Cur’s fight alongside the rebellion. Pinion is a Hand now, the survivor from the showdown at the end of THE HAND OF THE SUN KING, who is now bent on vengeance and gets tangled up with the emperor.
The other POV, as the blurb suggests, follows Koro Ha in the aftermath of Alder’s betrayal. It actually takes a while to get to that aftermath (news seeming to travel very very slowly, despite the Emperor being able to mindspeak. This is another time a map would be helpful as it would help show the distances a messenger is having to travel.) Instead, this storyline is mostly about Koro Ha getting caught up in teaching pour students in his home city and dragged into a sort-of rebellion (VERY different sort of rebellion to Alder’s.)
As you might be able to guess, this POV isn’t as intrinsically linked to Alder/Cur’s as Pinion’s. The only action from the other side that impact’s this one is in the previous book. None of the actions from Alder/Cur (or Pinion) in this book affect Koro Ha, or vice versa. There are also a few interludes at the start of the parts from another witch, but only three of those, I think. Alder mindtalks to one of her companions (Atar) at one point. I’m sure they will all link up in a later book, but they don’t really in this.
This is one of these stylistic/narrative choices that is very personal as to whether it works for a reader or not. I’m one of the ones who prefers heavy linkage of POVs though constant, rippling actions at the very least (if not physically weaving together.) Without that, Koro Ha’s sections feel a bit more like an “elsewhere in the empire” novella added in alongside the main story of Nayen and its rebellion.
The book spends a lot of its time focusing on right and wrong – in rebellion, in service. What is the best way to rebel? What should the casualty rate be like? Can and should casualties be kept down? Cur has to grapple with all that while also trying to work with an uncle and rebellion who doesn’t trust him. Oh, and also try to provide magic to people without inciting the gods to war. Easy, right?
There is at least one more book to come, but that’s going to mean over a year’s wait for me! I got to binge the first two books back to back in April 2022, and the ending makes me want the next instalment.
Read my reviews of other books by J. T. Greathouse:
Pact and Pattern (this series):