Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's Easier to Take a Crown Than Keep it

The Crown of the Conqueror
Gav Thorpe
Angry Robot Books
432 pp., $7.99 paper, $5.99 ebook

If you haven't read the first volume in this series, The Crown of the Blood, I'm giving you fair warning that I'm going to have at least one major spoiler in this review.

When I reviewed The Crown of the Blood, I really enjoyed it but had a few quibbles about a couple of things.  Overall, though, I thought it was a good book.  The Crown of the Conqueror, on the other hand is a very good book.  The  gripes I had about the first book, which I considered to be relatively minor, aren't present in this one.  The pace moves at what feels like a breakneck speed, which is an impressive trick for Mr. Thorpe to pull off, considering 3 1/2 years pass from the first page to the last.

The first book ended with a real cliffhanger (this one does, too), and in the opening chapter things pick up right where they left off.  Here's the spoiler, which is included in the sample at the end of the review.  At the end of The Crown of the Blood, when Ullsaard put the crown on his head, he hear a voice.  Askh, founder of the empire and dead for two centuries.  It seems that every king since Askh has really been...Askh.  When the new king puts on the crown, Askh takes over and the original inhabitant of the body ceases to be in control or even be aware of what's happened.  By interrupting the line of succession, Ullsaard has messed up that process so that while he can hear Askh and carry on a conversation with him, he's still in control.  Askh is along for the ride, experiencing everything Ullsaard does but unable to influence events.  This leads to some complications of Ullsaard's love life. 

Ullsaard soon learns that taking the crown and wearing it are two different things, and one is much harder than the other.  He has to deal with fighting a war without a lot a support from the nobles unless they can gain a political or financial advantage.  He has to fight more than one war at once.  And he has to deal with betrayal and revenge.

The supporting characters that gave The Crown of the Blood so much of its depth are back, although some of them don't survive until the end of the book.  In fact, that adds to the suspense.  Once I realized Thorpe would kill characters who were playing a major role in some of the subplots, the book became a lot less predictable.  To me this added to the realism, since most things in life are not resolved in a quick and easy manner.  They're messy with lots of false starts and missed opportunities.  Something the landship owner Anglhan finds out.  The descent of his character, to me, was one of the most fascinating parts of the story.  Anglhan's story is unresolved, something that aggravates me to no end.  That's a compliment, not a criticism.  A good writer makes the reader want more, and I want to find out what happens to Anglhan.  Hopefully it will involve flaying and impaling.

One of the criticisms of second books in trilogies is that they are often fillers between the setup in the first book and the finale in the third.  Gav Thorpe avoids that here, something he writes about on his blog.  Others may disagree with me on this point (it's a free country and they have a right to be wrong), but I think he succeeded admirably.  We learn more about the history of this world, and about the Brotherhood in particular.  We also learn about Askh and how he came to found the empire.  I was reminded of some of the themes of H. P. Lovecraft here, and that's a good thing because this gives a whole new light on the events of the first two books.  I won't spoil any of the details, but this part of the story should become more dominant in the next book, The Crown of the Usurper

Unfortunately that book isn't due out for another year.  It's going to be a long wait.  If you like stories of empire and conquest, particularly those modeled on the Roman Empire, then this series will probably be your cup of tea.

For your convenience, I've included the publisher's sample below.  (With permission of course.)


  1. You've got my interest-I'm going to go look for these at my nearest closing Borders.

  2. Good luck. I'm not sure The Crown of the Conqueror is out in the US yet. (I got an electronic review copy from the publisher as a member of the Robot Army.) The Angry Robot website says that UK publication is in August and the US publication September. Amazon says the release date is August 30. I didn't realize the book wasn't out when I posted the review or I would have waited. I thought the book was published simultaneously in both countries.