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Empire of the Saviours by A. J. Dalton

Empire of the Saviours by A. J. Dalton
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Book Name: Empire of the Saviours
Author: A. J. Dalton
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: May 17, 2012

The world of Empire of the Saviours is a place where the people live under the control of the saints and, in turn, the saints work under the command of the saviours. The people are kept in their towns by the heroes, guards for the saints, and told it is for their own good, to keep them away from the chaos and terrible magic of the pagans that live beyond the towns. The saints exact their control by using their powers to bend the will of the people to them, making them slaves of blood and mind.

The young schoolboy, Jillan, feels threatened by his minister. He is young, in love, bullied, confused, and more than anything else, worried that there is a darkness, a taint of pagan magic, inside him. It encourages him to stray from the path the saints tell him to walk. It makes him think unholy and violent thoughts. It flexes its power within him, and Jillan, helpless to control the taint, is exposed and then pursued by the heroes and the terrible Saint Azual. Now his life can never be the same.

Freda awakens, feels the presence of another, and the weight of rocks and the mine and the world, bearing down on her. She learns a little about the environment around her and of the humans with their strange sun-metal and their overseers and their cruel ways. Freda has rock-blight, they say, but she isn’t really sure what that is or what it means. She discovers enough to know she is in danger though, and has no choice but to flee. Her body can move through the earth and she employs this strange ability to break through the surface and move into the world beyond.

With the power-hungry Saint Azual hot on his tail, Jillan has no choice but to head to Saviour’s Paradise. Along the way, he will have to learn more about the magic that dwells within him. As his journey progresses, a disheartened hero, an exiled warrior, a wolf, a goblin wizard, Freda the rock woman, the mysterious Peculiar, and a blacksmith who is more than he appears, all cross paths with Jillan, but how will he ever know which of them he can trust and which of them only desire to use him for their own advancement?

I first heard about Empire of the Saviours reading the Gollancz blog. You can find the thread here. The discussion about the cover art was interesting, mainly because we generally do not hear enough about the all-important visual wrappers of our beloved fantasy books, nor learn of their development from concept to finished artwork. By the time I got far enough down the blog to see the dragon relegated from the cover to the spine I decided I needed to read this book and was lucky enough to get an advanced copy.

Dragons are such a staple in traditional fantasy, so I was curious as to why the editor felt confident in the book without the need to flaunt the image of the dragon on its cover. Now that I’ve read it, I can see that it was the right decision, not only because of the way it competed with the other visuals, but because of the story itself. Indeed I am still a little vague on where the dragons come into Empire of the Saviours and how much they are, and will come to be, involved in the lives of the humans, pagans and people alike.

That is one of the reasons Empire of the Saviours didn’t score higher on my review. It was an enjoyable book, certainly with some unique ideas and a story that develops in an unpredictable manner. I felt engaged with the text and there was nothing in the worldbuilding or writing to criticise. In fact, one particular passage, Freda’s first appearance, is of such a standard of writing that it evokes an emotional response not often seen in the genre to such a degree, nor delivered with such control over the prose.

But nonetheless, after I had finished reading the book I had a nagging feeling that there was more to this story that I hadn’t quite grasped. It is one of those large tales, with multiple point of view characters, desires and conflicts that may need a second read to clarify some detail and to really throw light on this world and the struggles of its inhabitants. The pace was great and kept moving throughout but I felt like the end came too quickly, which is both a good and bad thing.

At the conclusion, rather than feel a sense of closure to book one, I just felt impatient for book two. I feel like there are answers I desperately need and they will now elude me until I get further along in the series. The characters seemed to multiply as the plot moved forward, their descriptions becoming shorter and less detailed, and being such a visual person myself, I found it difficult to conjure an exact picture of some of the characters in my mind, and hold them all in place as the story progressed.

The themes of the book are its greatest strength and are explored with depth in a strong and engaging manger. The constant power struggle was evident and the probing of religious beliefs and their use for control was well handled and a particularly topical subject in the genre. Overall, there is a great deal that is positive to be found in the story. The classic fantasy elements and character archetypes are well portrayed and it is very readable; a definite page-turner. Fans of the genre that prefer the more traditional fantasy epics will enjoy this.

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Rating: 8.0/10 (6 votes cast)
Empire of the Saviours by A. J. Dalton, 8.0 out of 10 based on 6 ratings
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One Comment

  1. Zah3212 says:

    Thanks for the great review- I have to read this book now!

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