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The Empire's Ghost by Isabelle Steiger
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Thomas Dunne Books Hardcover / eBook  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250088482
Date: 16 May 2017

Links: Publisher's Author Page / Show Official Info /

Leaders dream of recapturing the glory and power of a fallen empire. Elesthene, once united, broke into numerous kingdoms. Many have wanted to reunite the empire, but few have had the means and inclination. Imperator Elgar has both.

In order to ease his path to power, Elgar needs some special items of power. In order to retrieve one such piece, he needs a group to take on the quest. Although it would seem to be a prototypical quest story, the path is anything but typical and the small group will link the many disparate leaders.

Others will stand to oppose him. The leaders of a few of the stronger kingdoms know that they may be next, but they have their own issues. Kelken, the heir to a small but proud kingdom, wants to save his sister from being used as a political pawn and risking her life traveling. The Issamiri are powerful, but they have an inheritance crisis. Lady Margraine's family has access to some special talents, but her Kingdom is not very powerful.

This is the first novel in a new series and as such there is no barrier to entry for new readers. It is also Steiger's debut novel. It is a multiple point of view medieval fantasy series. The cast of characters isn't so large that it becomes difficult to follow the changes.

Although there is intrigue and people die, it isn't as gritty as George R.R. Martin, Mark Lawrence, or Patrick Rothfus. The world slowly builds throughout the novel, with little tidbits coming until the very end. The story ends with hints of what is to come and the realization that there is still much to be revealed.

I like the way Steiger sets up her group and then splits it leaving each something important to do for the plot. Her reluctant heroes are probably the strongest characters. She weaves real limitations into her characters. There is no perfect hero/heroine, there are flaws and individual foibles. These attributes make the characters relatable to readers.

I am a firm believer in the idea that series novels should always have a complete story even if the overarching arc isn't completed in one tale. I struggled a bit with determining what the conclusion was to this novel. There is a lot of set up for future action, but I had trouble seeing what the tale was for this piece of the series.

Spoiler

Part of the ending is determining who will be the leaders going forward as well as the explanation of how magic works in this universe.
End Spoiler

Is this a perfect novel? No. But it is a solid debut for Steiger and Thomas Dunne Books entrance into the fantasy market.

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