Book review

Review: Fallen Empire – Keith McArdle

324 pages| Self-published| Fantasy

The author kindly sent me a paperback copy of Fallen Empire in late 2018 in exchange for an honest review. Unfortunately, I am very much a mood reader, and with the final year of uni taking precedence over writing reviews, this has been heavily delayed. Apologies for that. The thoughts below are wholly my own.

Note: this review contains some spoilers from early on in the novel, all of which are discussed by the author in his book trailer. This is also quite a negative review, unfortunately. If you’re familiar with my posts then you will know that I’m a critical reader and an honest blogger – feel free to disagree with my reviews in the comments below if you want to 🙂

The digest: a  heavily simplified fantasy novel with interesting ideas that just about misses the mark. If you don’t mind extraordinarily fast character progression and a simplified plot, then you might enjoy this one.

From the book’s Goodreads page:

“Assassin-for-hire Vyder Ironstone is on a mission for the King of Wendurlund. While the pay’s good, the odds are not, since the task requires him to travel deep into enemy territory. But first, there’s the little problem of his death to overcome, not to mention a malcontent travelling companion with no love for humanity and a deadly purpose of his own. Vyder had better find a way to deal with both, and quickly, because, controlled by an unseen power, hordes of giant spiders have attacked the capital. Facing vast numbers, Commander Tork of the King’s Own and his small troop of elite soldiers won’t be able to hold the walls for long. Vyder’s quest is vital: he must not fail, or the empire will fall.”

What did I like?

  • There were some solid fantastical ideas in Fallen Empireincluding life after death and resurrection, witchcraft, a partnership between man and god (or demon?). In addition to these, the novel also has an element (though brief) of political intrigue and tactical warfare – it’s clear that the author has spent time creating his storyworld even if it isn’t all that developed on paper.
  • The action scenes are very well written and at no point was I confused. Be it a brawl in the street, fending off giant wolves in a forest, or protecting the city from spiders, McArdle writes with clarity to ensure that the reader can get swept up in the action.
  • I appreciated the little details the author included which I would have overlooked. These include things like how to properly load a gun, battle signalling from buglers and so on – these small elements all increase the immersivity of the story.
  • On occasion, I felt an emotional connection with some of the characters here which was a bit unexpected. I can’t really say much more as it would e too spoiler-y, but about 1/2-2/3 of the way through the story the tension became palpable.
  • The story of Fallen Empire is told from the points of view of a variety of characters, something which I believe increases the immersivity of the narrative and allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the storyworld.

What did I not like?

  • There were a few big issues that I had with Fallen Empire. The most easily rectified is that it needed another edit. The dialogue is at time dull and repetitive, with stale speech making reading character interactions a chore. For example, ‘my love’ is said far more often than necessary almost every time it appears – there are usually two people addressing each other as such. Would characters really say this? No.
  • The general presentation of the novel also suffered from a lack of editing. Too many times words and phrases were repeated, often within the same paragraph. I lost count how many times characters were described as ‘lying supine’, or the ‘destrier’ (a type of war horse basically) did something. In addition to this, there were noticeably more spelling, grammatical, and formatting issues than in most other books.
    • In fairness, I know that not all readers care that much about such repetition and imperfections and so might pass over these errors without judgement. Personally, I felt that they noticeably detracted from my reading experience.
  • Readers often appreciate a good mixture of showing and telling certain plot elements or characters’ thoughts, this novel contains too much showing and telling. On almost any given page one can read a paragraph breaking down the plot’s events before then reading the exact same information being commented on by a character. Why? There is no need for this to be the case – either have an omniscient narrator (the authorial voice) tell us what is happening or have a character give their own view. Having both is redundant, breaks the flow of the story, and feels like over-compensation. 
  • The other main issue I have with Fallen Empire is that it felt overly simplified on many levels. Within pages, a human-hating being suddenly accepts that not all humans are evil and relationships are formed and grow much faster than believable. It seems that McArdle had an array of ideas he wanted to work into the story but struggled to make them fit into this relatively short volume. Some of these simplified elements could (and perhaps should) have been left to develop slowly across whole books in my opinion.
  • The pacing is off – the first few sections seem to plod along at quite a pedestrian pace while Vyder is taken to be healed, but then once he is fit the world suddenly changes around him; he must do this and that with an urgency not felt before.
    • The element of chance also detracted from my reading experience; on more than one occasion the story could only really progress because something happened by chance.
  • My final issue with this novel is that it does not stand as a work on its own. Thinking of fantasy series I enjoy, the first instalment, of course, lays the groundwork for sequels but also tells a full story on its own. Fallen Empire, however, does not have a satisfying conclusion of its own – it is nothing more than the first episode of a story. If you are happy to commit to a series before reading the first book (and I know some readers do do this), then you will have no issue with this particular comment. If, however, you want to test the water first you may be left asking why you just spend hours reading a build-up.

Conclusion: 2.5/5 (rounded to 3/5 where required). To me, Fallen Empire is a book of missed opportunities populated with rectifiable errors. The ideas behind the narrative are sometimes very good, but their execution is often lacking and unbelievable.

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