Cover Image: Hollow Empire

Hollow Empire

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Member Reviews

Australian author Sam Hawke’s debut City of Lies was one of the best fantasy books of 2018. A fact confirmed by its haul of nominations and awards. That book told a complete story of a civil war in the city of Sjona and the role of siblings Jovan and Kalina in not only ending that war but exposing the exploitation that was partly its cause. But there was more to the war that mere civil unrest. Hanging over the resolution of City of Lies was a feeling that Jovan and Kalina had only peeled back one layer of the onion. Readers were left satisfied that matters had been resolved but left hanging by all of the questions that were left unanswered. Given that City of Lies was subtitled as “A Poison War” novel, it could only be assumed that this was not actually the end.

The sequel, Hollow Empire, opens two years and four months after the end of City of Lies. For those who may be a little hazy on the events of City of Lies, Hawke delivers a recap in an enjoyable and non-exposition way, having her main cast attend a play based on those events (a similar technique used to great effect in the Avatar, the Last Airbender episode “The Ember Island Players”).
Jovan, himself trained and secretly employed as poison taster to the Chancellor, has started training his heir and younger cousin Didja, who is thirteen when the narrative rejoins the action. His sister, Kalina, trained in more of the craft of espionage, is slated to be the next ambassador to the neighbouring misogynistic and worryingly expansionist Talafan Empire.

The bulk of the action of this book takes place during and just after the karodee festival. Karodee is a week long celebration involving sport, art and masquerade to which Chancellor Tain has invited representatives of all of Silasta’s trading partners. (While maps are overused in fantasy novels, now that the story has referenced so many places beyond Silasta, a map of the world in the next volume might be useful). The chaos and free-wheeling nature of the festival makes it more difficult for Jovan and Kalina to protect Tain from a suspected assassin and there is an emerging feeling that wheels are turning to bring them down especially when an attempt is made to frame Jovan for a drug-fuelled murder. 

As with the previous book, Hawke does not spare her characters from pain or tough decisions as they struggle to understand the threat facing them and their city. What initially felt a little YA in City of Lies, given the main characters ages and experience, moves into decidedly more adult territory here with drug use, blackmail, gruesome deaths and as the book goes on, some big scenes of destruction and devastation. But there is also plenty of diplomatic manoeuvring and tentative alliance building both within the city council, full of people who still have reason to hate the pair, and with the foreign dignitaries also caught up in the mayhem. This is fantasy more along the lines of the scheming and negotiation of Game of Thrones rather than epic Lord of the Rings-style models – while it is set in a fantasy world and there is a smattering of magic and the calling of spirit forces, Hawke’s primary focus is on people and how they interact with each other personally and politically.

Hollow Empire is a great entry in this series. It tops City of Lies for its complexity and its capacity to payoff long running plot threads. Hawke has supreme understanding of her world and how it works, including the various different types of magic and magic users. She also once again delivers what feels like a complete story in which all of the short-term, internal mysteries are solved and some long running secrets are revealed but leaves the danger hanging in the distance and the feeling that there is much more to be learnt as the series progresses.
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Wow. I loved this book even more than the first one.

Hollow Empire, the second entry to the Poison Wars series, is a compulsively readable sequel that truly masters keeping the reader at the edge of their seat. The book as a whole is cleverly crafted as the author balances political intrigue, careful worldbuilding, and suspenseful mysteries in deft measures.

We return to our protagonists and the city of Silasta more than two years after the end of the siege in City of Lies. Necessary steps were taken to repair the damage from the uprising. Most importantly, the inequalities faced by the Dafri whose grievances were instrumental to many of the conflicts of the first book have since started to be addressed. While the reforms and reparations implemented are not perfect by any means – accusations and grumbling between the old Credol families and the Dafri certainly still occur – it’s nonetheless restored the city to a relative peace.

Chancellor Tain is determined to mark how far Silasta has come since those dark times with the multiday festivities of karodee. Karodee is a grand, city-wide celebration that’s like a cross between a festival and the Olympics. Hundreds of visitors from throughout their native Sjona and abroad have entered the city for the occasion, including many important representatives from foreign nations. It is during this event that the story largely takes place.

It’s clear from the outset that our two main characters have their own concerns during karodee. Jovan – as always – plans to protect Tain from threats he’s grimly aware have never truly disappeared. He, Kalina and Tain have relentlessly pursued the identity of the shadowy figures that planned the uprising two years prior, and it angers Jovan that the city’s other leaders no longer seem interested in doing the same.

As far as the Silastan Council is concerned, the conspirators were largely caught and the siege a thing of the past, so Jovan’s worries are politely dismissed as paranoia. But Jovan knows his suspicions about the rising crime rings in the city are valid, as are his repeated sightings of the man stalking Tain. When pointed attacks are made at Jovan’s reputation, he uneasily wonders at the sinister reasons that would make diminishing his credibility a priority.

Kalina, on the other hand, is ready to display her prowess as a spy during karodee while making diplomatic overtures to improve Silasta’s ties with other nations. It’s through her chapters that we get to see much more of the machinations of Sjona’s neighbours as she comes into contact with the Talafan, Doranite, and Perest-Avana delegations. When strange events start happening within the Talafan party in particular, Kalina shrewdly begins to take matters into her own hands. Kalina’s investigation grows only more important as becomes apparent that emerging threats in the city may have foreign backers.

The tension build-up throughout this book was so well executed. I really can’t praise it enough. I don’t think any other book I’ve read this year had made me feel as anxious as this book did. I was fully immersed in the escalating dangerous atmosphere within Silasta and felt the same sense of dread that the characters did.

Just like Kalina and Jovan, I was suspicious of almost every side character and never knew who to trust. There were some shocks that I suspected were coming, but other twists took me completely by surprise in the best kind of way. They never came out of nowhere, neither. Just the right amount of puzzle pieces were laid out beforehand that came together to form the whole picture at just the right time. I loved how this made the plot progress efficiently as a whole.

Another thing I loved was seeing Jovan in the role of the mentor to his cousin and adopted niece Dija. In so many books I’ve read it seems to be a staple to see through the perspective of the student and their coming-of-age journey. We see them grow frustrated with the impenetrable and sometimes mysterious manner of their teachers, but never see too deeply into their mentor’s thoughts. But in Hollow Empire, we very much get to see how Jovan struggles with being an efficient teacher. His task, after all, is to teach Dija their family’s deadly craft of proofing. Proofing for poisons mean that Dija must be trained to recognize the noxious substances and to build up an immunity – which means that Jovan has no choice but to poison her repeatedly with and without her knowledge.

Guilt tears at him as he attempts to balance these necessary but brutal learning experiences while still allowing Dija to retain some of her childhood. Jovan is aware how guarded and distant he must seem with his charge, but believes he must not coddle her while she grasps her future responsibilities. Watching him genuinely care for her and try not to push her too far could be heart-wrenching – especially since clever Dija, desperate to earn his approval, is always trying to impress and assist him.

Jovan and Dija aside, all the character storylines and relationships were compelling. I’d feel remiss not to point out how I admired Kalina’s bravery, cleverness, and her absolute determination to do what’s necessary no matter her physical limitations. Sjease was another favourite due to their competence and budding loyalties to the Oromanis. I’m also still wondering at Hadrea and the hidden, internal strife that plagues her throughout in this book. Hadrea remains a little bit of a mystery in some ways, but I’ve an inkling that she’s got a huge storyline coming in the future.

Lastly, I’d like to point out that you should definitely look forward to the epigraphs at the start of the chapters. Each epigraph details an investigation into a past poisoning – but if you pay enough attention you might note that the names of the victims greatly resemble some SFF authors you may have read.

A splendid read. Many thanks to Random House UK Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press and Netgalley for providing the free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I read City of Lies around this time last year, and while I liked it, I didn’t love it. However, I remember thinking that Sam Hawke was a debut author with a lot of talent, and someone to watch out for as they released more work.

And I was (thankfully) right. Hollow Empire picks up two years after City of Lies finished, with Jovan and Kalina still muddling their way through the consequences of the siege of Silasta and figuring out how to put the broken pieces of their country back together, while also preventing new fissures from emerging. The pacing – my biggest issue with City of Lies – is watertight from the start, Jovan and Kalina’s POVs feel much more equal, and the key conflicts of this book flow naturally from the previous, and are new and fresh while still being deeply connected to what has come before.

“You never get used to poisoning a child.”

Firstly, Sam Hawke is the master of opening lines, and Hollow Empire follows through. There are so many twists and turns in this book, and this pervasive sense of suspicion and fear that permeates the entire story: it’s impossible to tell who Jovan and Kalina can and can’t trust. It’s hard to say too much about the premise of the book without spoilers, but there is a combination of internal and external politics that are hard to pick apart: the city and the Guilders on the Council are still adjusting to the changes in governance that occurred following the revelations about the Darfri in book one, but there are also several foreign ambassadors in town for a festival, some of whom have political ambitions of their own.

I have to admit that I didn’t pick up a lot of the reveals, but they made sense in hindsight since the breadcrumb trail is so well-scattered. This book is also a lot darker than City of Lies in some ways: the ratio of murders to pages is probably about the same, but the attacks are more personalised, and more sinister in nature.

Both Jovan and Kalina remain the strong, stoic and kind-hearted individuals of the previous book, which I adored. The side characters are also fascinating, though it’s hard to necessarily like any of them (except perhaps Jovan and Kalina’s niece Dija), because you never know if one of them is going to metaphorically or actually stab one of the siblings in the back. (And, if I had one complaint about Hollow Empire, it’s that I would have loved to see more of a role for Tain, the Chancellor and my favourite character). But, if you like reading about good people who try their best to do the right thing and follow their own moral compass (even when it directs them slightly off-course), then I highly recommend this series.

There is also great disability rep: Jovan suffers from anxiety, while Kalina has an illness somewhat like chronic fatigue – and while the characters may be forced to slow down and take a deep breath sometimes, they are never inhibited in pursuing their goals one way or another. There is also an f/f relationship between Kalina and another character, and while it wasn’t my favourite part of the story since it didn’t get a lot of screen-time to fully develop, I know many readers will be thrilled. (Also Tain continues to be less subtle about his crush on Jovan than he’d like).

The Poison Wars is marketed as a duology, but it’s clear these characters aren’t done making Silasta a better place, and I am in desperate need of another sequel.

Finally, I have to give a shout-out to the chapter epigraphs. Where City of Lies started each chapter with a description of a various poison, Hollow Empire gives us entries from the diaries of previous Oromani family proofers, regarding the investigation of various poisoning incidents. I often skim epigraphs – but these are hilarious, and full of shout of outs to other authors in the fantasy community. (some of whom are the victims of insidious poison-related murder). It’s worth reading them just to see how many you can spot.
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Hollow Empire is the second book in Sam Hawke’s series of books ‘The Poison Wars’. Hollow Empire takes place two years after the events of the first book. 

When City of Lies ended I found myself with more questions than the book answered, with Jovan & Kalina as perplexed as I was as to the reasons why the events of the first book took place. I knew there was more to the story and Sam Hawke skillfully left me hanging with a cliffhanger, and in this, the second book, Hawke answers this question and the reasons why. And it may not be what you thought.

I have to admit. When I first started City of Lies, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. For one, it took me a little while to get used to the two person narrative and the mystery element of the plot (me and mysteries don’t tend to get along). However, as I read more I did get used to it and City of Lies was a bit of a sleeper hit with me, so when I got a chance to read an advanced reader copy of Hollow Empire, I jumped at the chance. And I have to say, wow! I wasn’t expecting that .

As I said earlier, the book starts  two years after City of Lies, and opens up with an opening line that is similar to the first book. Jovan has taken on an heir called Dija, the youngest daughter of his second cousin. And surprisingly, he has dosed her with some noxious substance as part of her training. As anybody who is familiar with the first book, Jovan is a proofer. A kind of poison taster for the Chancellor, Jovan’s best friend Tain, and this is the family business.

Now this is going to be a bit difficult, because if I reveal something here, it kind of spoils the first book, and whilst I suspect that there might be some people who have read this and know the end of City of Lies, there might be those people that are just coming to Hollow Empire without knowing there was a first book. So if you are in the former camp it doesn’t matter, but if you are in the second camp, turn back now - HERE BE DRAGONS.

So, all the gang is back together, Jovan, Tain, Kalina and Hadrea (although she doesn’t make an appearance until later in the book) and again the city of Silasta is in danger. However, this time instead of an all out revolution, this time the city is being subverted by a myriad of covert and seemingly unconnected occurrences. 

Jovan is convinced that there is a plot afoot, but he has difficulty in proving it until things come to a head and inexplicable events take place that indicate Jovan’s suspicions have more value than any of them suspected. 

Now, the strength of Hollow Empire is in its plotting, pacing and characters, and with these, Hawke really develops in both. I found this second book to be taken up a notch in all things really, The plot development is excellent. When I got to the final act and certain events revealed certain truths to the characters, I was like - I knew it. Yep, you didn’t fool me with that one Sam Hawke. And that is one of the strengths of the Hawkes writing. Yep, she gives you that one where you can feel all superior because you guessed that aspect of the plot, and then she totally blind sides you with something else and you are thinking Whoa! Did not expect that!
In terms of character development, nearly all the characters develop in some way. Jovan develops a relationship with his heir, the newly introduced DIja, and Dija is a fantastic new character. Kalina develops in her own way and also develops a relationship outside the family. However, Tain and Hadrea are a bit on the sideline in this one for some of the book, but when they do come into it, Hawke gives them the appropriate attention for them to develop and in a pretty satisfying way, I must say.

As I said, the other things that have been taken up a notch, is the plot and the pace. Hawke has really upped the game in Hollow Empire and there is all sorts happening. Shadowy plots, assassinations, magic and witchcraft and ultimately war. In this second book, you can really see the development. The plot is as twisty and turny as anything that you would find in any non fantasy thriller book and the pace, once it gets going, is so high octane that it kept me  firmly gripped to the edge of my seat. 

One of the things that I almost forgot to mention is the world building. In Hollow Empire, the story is not so compact as the last book, which was mainly situated in one location. In this book, we get to see a more fully realised world that is populated with a multitude of cultures, languages, religions and races. That is not to say that it wasn’t there in the last book, it’s just that the plot of the story mainly revolved around the city more in the first book and in this book we step outside the city and see what the estates look like. .

The other thing that I like about Hawke’s books, is that whilst they are fantasy books, there are some very real world topics in there again, which I think is a particular strength of her writing, it impressed me in her last book and impressed me again.  You can very much equate some of the topics that she covers to what is happening in the world now.

In the Hollow Empire, I have simply fallen hook line and sinker for this story. The plot is intricately woven and everything is so tight. The character development of the book is just glorious and the pace had my pulse racing and my head pounding with all the blind alleys that Sam Hawke leads us up. And just let me mention the end! That was one pretty magnificent ending that had me thinking yep, I enjoyed that.
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A strong follow on from the first book. Easily worth the wait and guaranteed to scratch the itch for intelligent, well-developed fantasy.
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Hollow Empire picks up a couple of years after City of Lies but things are no less dangerous than they were in the first book. There’s still a whole load of infighting between the various nobles who seem completely oblivious to the fact that there’s someone out there who is trying to kill them.

Much like the first book, the country’s ignorance of its own history comes back to bite it in the backside which leads Jovan and Kalina into a veritable spider’s web of political intrigue, murder and an oncoming war while everyone else remains seemingly wilfully ignorant and even wanting to blame Jovan for the troubles that have befallen them. 

Hollow Empire weaves its story excellently. At times it reads almost like a political thriller as Jovan and Kalina race against the clock to stop whatever bad thing is going to happen. There’s fighting, explosions, lots of death and political intrigue for days. There’s barely a dull moment in the story and I was frequently on the edge of my seat as I wanted to know what happened next and who exactly was behind the plot.

The characters are just as good as City of Lies. Yes, most of the nobles are insufferable morons but Jovan and Kalina make excellent protagonists and they work well with the other characters. I adore their relationship with Tain and this book introduces Jovan’s new apprentice, Dija, who manages to avoid the trap of being an obnoxious teenage girl character and is actually a good character. She’s competent and she’s likeable.

Hollow Empire was a very fun read. It’s well paced for the most part. Although I would have liked the reveal of the main bad guy to have been earlier just to have a little bit more of that part of the story. The mystery was intriguing but the story was wrapped up a little bit quickly after the full picture was revealed. Other than that, it was great. I loved reading the characters and there was a part near the end that nearly made me cry, which is impressive since I rarely feel like crying at books. Like City of Lies, the story works well as a standalone but is also open ended enough to continue in that world and I really hope there will be more with these characters because I enjoy reading them a lot.
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Kicking off the review by saying that I actually reread City of Lies before picking this up – which I 10000% recommend especially if, like me, you’re a little bit foggy on what happened in book one. That being said, the book does open with a creative way of recapping the events of City of Lies so those who might be a little bit time poor or have too much on their list will probably be ok. I know that’s always a concern I have when picking up a sequel so thought it worth mentioning.

Hollow Empire takes place two years after City of Lies and while much has changed in Silasta there are still things bubbling away under the surface. As before, Joran and Kalina need to use their various skills to try and pick apart the various conspiracies and events happening in their city to discover where roots have gone rotten. This book does a really good job of creating a huge web of events which could mean any number of things. It’s sort of like a fantasy mystery novel, one thing could be a red herring or it could be the key that unlocks the entire conspiracy – but you can bet that when the reveal happens it’ll both be a huge surprise and the most obvious solution. It’s my absolute favourite kind of plot to read and trust me when I say it is just as good as City of Lies.

At the start of the story I was a bit worried that the plot would feel less consequential than in City of Lies purely because everything felt a bit smaller, but I actually think that the…intimacy of the start of the book works really well – and things definitely ramp up later on. Joran and Kalina have to work hard in this book and at times it does feel like the two of them never get a break to recover from the last thing, but again I think that adds to the strange claustrophobia of this city setting. Without the pressure of the siege in book one, the two of them are very much stuck where they are, Silasta is the centre of the web.

I continue to adore Kalina and Joran has grown on me to the point where I might even like him just as much. I think the addition of a new character or two in relation to Joran helps to develop some aspects of his personality that didn’t come across as well in book one.

I didn’t think a sequel could possibly live up to how much I adored City of Lies and yet this book did. I think the fact that it starts off as a much less obvious threat really helps to change things up and trust me things are just as dramatic as they were in the first book. There are moments that truly made me want to cry and others that had me at the edge of my seat – it’s so good.

Like City of Lies this book has very long chapters, alternating between Joran and Kalina. My recommendation is that you give this book some focus, some dedicated time. I don’t personally feel it’s the kind of story that you can just dip in and out of, reading a couple of pages at a time. Not in the least because you might need to make a mental ‘detective’ board to keep track of all the various goings on.

Would I recommend this? 100000% – make sure you read City of Lies first but this is firmly one of my favourite series of all time.

My rating: 5/5 stars

I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Hollow Empire is out November 26th!
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Hollow Empire is a book I have been anticipating since December last year, and a book I was doubly anticipating ever since I found out that it’s sapphic. And it was so so good that all I want to do is go back and reread both books.

I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but Hollow Empire picks up two years after City of Lies ended. Silasta seems to be at peace: the Darfri and the Silastans are working together within the city and there have been no more suspicious murders. Only, Jovan has started feeling as though Tain is being followed by a shadowy figure, a figure only he seems to be able to spot.

When I read City of Lies, I was majorly not in the right mood for a slowburning political fantasy. I loved the characters and I could tell it was a book that, when I came back to it, I would love it. And, lo and behold, exactly that happened with Hollow Empire. In a way, there’s sometimes books you need to know what you’re getting into before you start them, so you can enjoy them to their fullest. So once I got that part out of the way, I was always going to love this book.

Much like the first book, this one is a slowburning political fantasy, but, in this case, the enemy is invisible. Where in the first there was an army outside the gates, and a siege being played out, here, no one knows who is working against them. And no one besides the main characters really believes anyone is working against them. So the struggle is on two fronts: internally, within the city, and externally, with this invisible enemy.

What’s great about this book, then, is that it expands the world we have come to know and love. It takes us out of Silasta, though not always physically, and introduces us to other countries and empires. Which is one of my favourite things about the book — any fantasy book or series, really — because it also raises the stakes. Who can the Silastans trust, if anyone?

And then there are the characters. I loved them in book one and I adored them again here (no lie, I teared up reading the first chapter because I saw them again… yeah, I know). It’s great to see how they have developed from the first book — not always in positive ways, to admit, but in ways that made you love them all the more. Which brings me to a brief side point: I love that this book shows the psychological toll that fantasy events can have on characters. There are so many books where characters go through something incredibly traumatising (you’d think) and yet show no effect of that. So it was great to see that here.

Really, with the characters, the only thing I’d say is that sometimes I found it hard to sympathise with Hadrea. Now, in book one, she’s clearly angry for the way the Darfri have been treated, and continue to be treated. And that makes sense. In book two, it’s as if she has stubbornly maintained that anger, but we don’t get her POV to see that. So instead, that anger was frustrating to read. But in a sense, it feels like that anger is what leads to her downfall, so by the end, I was very interested to see where that was going.

All I have left to say, then, is that, if you haven’t already had this series on your radar, please please put it there. Request your libraries or bookshops get the book in, do whatever, because honestly, I don’t know how I’ll cope if we don’t get a third book.
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4.5 stars.

My most anticipated sequel for this year sort of blew me away. The first book is such an intelligent political mystery that I wasn’t sure if the sequel could stand toe to toe with it, but I finished it feeling like I’d just run a very emotional marathon. I went from heavy breathing, to full blown sobbing, to elated exhaustion within the final 20 pages. 

Hollow Empire takes place two years after the siege of the first book, and now magic is on the rise in deadly forms while our main characters are also trying to navigate political waters with their neighbouring countries. Jovan and Kalina’s family is being sabotaged by something nefarious and attacks on the city leave them wondering whether the rebellion from two years before is awakening again with magic as a weapon instead of poison. The plot of this book immediately kicks off and maintains a really fantastic pace throughout. Jovan and Kalina remain incredibly strong characters; Kalina in particular has brilliant character growth and goes from hesitant at her place in the world, to fearlessly fighting for her political role. Jovan in contrast has grown paranoid and diminishing respect from his suspicious peers sends him on a desperate journey to understand who their enemy is this time. Hadrea I felt was lacking some depth; in the first book she’s angry over the way her people have been treated by Sjon and how their history has been trampled on. In the sequel, she doesn’t really seem to have developed past that. Although her consistent anger makes sense and is something I agree with, I was hoping she had grown or changed in the time jump, but her stubborn anger at Jovan grew tedious and because we do not have her POV, we didn’t have her thought process for some of her jarring decisions or dialogue.

Relationships in this were solid again. I loved the development of Hadrea and Jovan; their slowly dwindling romance gives way to really interesting unsteadiness and doubt between them. I remain a Jovan/Tain truther and the breadcrumbs in this were delicious (make it canon Sam you can have my firstborn) and the start of the romance between Kalina and Abae was really lovely and their dialogue was very touching and I imagine incredibly relatable for many lesbians. Kalina and Jovan’s sibling bond as well as Kalina and Tain’s dynamic - Kalina growing from seeing him romantically to “a second brother” - was really well done and the protectiveness between all three of them is very compelling.

The mystery surrounding the events of this book was brilliantly done again too. The first book had me attached and subsequently betrayed by the reveal of the spy and so this time round I was determined to not get attached to any side characters who could possibly be the enemy. Even then, I was still shocked and engrossed in the unfolding of the final events and how the main characters were going to get out of it. This isn’t 5 stars because I did feel like the conclusion was a little easy, but the potential consequences of those events made up for it. This book has a wonderful tension which is especially prevalent at the end, but throughout there are moments where my heart rate really picked up and I was fighting not to skim because I was desperate to know how things would go. It’s a little darker and the magic in this a little scarier and dangerous and it builds a far more threatening atmosphere that is quite different from the first book.

Overall, this is a wonderful and severely underrated series. It’s so consistent that I can’t even claim I enjoyed either book more than the other. If you’re a fan of political mysteries and fantasies, this series is a must read and if you loved the first book, I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed by this. Now all I have to ask is: is there a third book???
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(I will work this up into a review for The Fantasy Hive in time, but couldn't wait to read this, so here are my early thoughts.)

First, City of Lies was one of my favourite reads of the last few years because it was a remarkable blend of standard fantasy fare like intrigue, peril, magic but with characters and worldbuilding that were subtly unique. Nothing about the setting is taken for granted (i.e. just lifted from our world), and the choices about the type of fantasy world it is flow through all the characters and the plot. This made for a unique and transportive experience, though occasionally jarring and not without a few rough edges.

For Hollow Empire, Sam Hawke has kept all the remarkable uniqueness of the first while leveling up every aspect of storytelling, from plotting to characterisation, to make it not only a worthy sequel, but one that realises the full potential of  the series - and leaves you wanting even more. 

This book is in some ways almost a replay of the first, retaining everything I loved about it - the intrigue, the small team of outsiders struggling to prevent disaster, a way of life under threat but worth saving - while expanding all of it - the world, the set of characters, the dimensions of intrigue - in astounding ways.. It's history repeating, but in a city and to people scarred and striving to adapt after the events of the first book. The sense of innocence the characters had in City of Lies has been well and truly shattered and has not recovered here, which in some respects is a bit of a shame, but makes for a gripping, perilous tale. And just because innocence is lost, that doesn't mean they aren't still fighting for it. 

With the full introduction of Silasta's many and diverse neighbours, the world really fills out - and with the added aspect of diplomacy, the intrigue levels up from checkers to 3D chess. Favourite characters return - a bit older, a bit wiser, a bit more damaged - and new ones are introduced that fit perfectly into the gaps, making it all the more heartbreaking when the plot puts them through the wringer. This book delivers mystery, suspense, thrills, action, setbacks, puzzles, red herrings, emotional gut-punches, moments of despair and triumph, and even a little romance, taking what made the first so special and delivering a true fantasy masterpiece. I really hope we haven't seen the last of the Poison Wars, but this book has, for me, cemented its legacy.
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