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Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker

Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker
4.5
Book Name: Empire of the Dead
Author: Phil Tucker
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Zombies
Release Date: January 22, 2017

Gilgamesh meets Oceans 11 meets The Walking Dead.

As much as I raved about Phil Tucker’s Chronicles of the Black Gate, you would think I would’ve jumped at his Empire of the Dead, book one of the Godsblood Trilogy.

You would be wrong.

Partially.

I actually one-click bought the book when it first came out, but it immediately lost me in the first few pages. Why? Because no matter how unrequited my man-crush is on Tucker’s prose, I can’t stand zombies. I never made it through an episode of The Walking Dead, didn’t like World War Z, and only grudgingly read my own crit partner’s The Reburialists (which is actually quite awesome, despite it’s ugly Big 5 cover. Check it out if you’d be into Ancient Egypt and zombies). It wasn’t until Reddit’s r/fantasy chose Empire of the Dead as their book of the month that I decided to pick it back up.

Minus the zombies, which I still don’t care for, Empire of the Dead has everything I would expect out of a Phil Tucker book: compelling characters, intricate worldbuilding, and a complex plot, all put together with his typically beautiful prose.

Yeah, about that prose. One element I particularly enjoyed in Chronicles of the Black Gate was how the author created distinct narrative voices among the five viewpoint characters, captured brilliantly by narrator Michael Noah Levine, while maintaining engaging wordsmithing. Whether it was the spectacular narrator of the audiobook in Paul Guyet, or it is Mr. Tucker just improving at his craft, Empire of the Dead captures unique, compelling narrative voices even better.

The two main characters, Acharsis and Jarek, pop off the page with their unique voices. Both demigods, their powers have diminished due to the deaths of their divine fathers two decades prior. Both have dealt with the loss in their own ways: Acharsis, by starting a shipping company, Jarek by sequestering himself in the middle of nowhere.

The epic adventure begins with Acharsis returning back to his homeland where only the Goddess of Death reigns supreme. With the exception of undead workers, it’s a second-world Babylon wonderfully portrayed through clay tablets, bronze weapons, and towering ziggurats. Acharsis plans to find Jarek and apologize for his part in the killing of all the gods, save for the Goddess of Death. Along the way, he stops in a backwater village to visit a former lover, Annara, who he hasn’t seen for sixteen years.

As timing would have it, a caravan of Death Wagons is passing through—like in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the death wagons collect the dead; though for the most nefarious reasons: to reanimate the corpses to work as cheap labor. This time, however, the Death Wagons have come for Annara’s fifteen-year-old son, Elu, and not because he’s won the lottery.

Unable to rescue the boy on the highway to the local capital of Rekkidu, what ensues is an absolutely insane plan that comes off like something out of Oceans 11 or Mission Impossible. This means first assembling a team of divinely-gifted Godsbloods (people directly descended from a God, typically the child of a demigod), assessing their resources, and adapt on-the-fly as original plans fail.

For fans of the Dragonlance series, Acharsis is Tasslehoff Burfoot to Jarek’s Flint Fireforge: one happy go lucky, the other dour, though Acharsis also has a contrasting streak of Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hawke, in that he comes up with the most ridiculous plans, and is unabashed at the likelihood of said plans’ failure.

The supporting cast members also feel vibrant and alive. One of the main villains, Leech Yesu, has a false-modesty that owns the pages he appears in. A believer in the departed gods, Ishki is an old lady with a heart of gold, and surrogate mother of Godsbloods Sisu and Kish.

It’s a fun, quick read, which will be sure to pick you up after watching 13 Reasons Why or reading The Poppy War. Though I still don’t like zombies, I’m going to rate Empire of the Dead a 9.126542060, coincidentally the phone number of the morgue in Tattnall County, Georgia.

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One Comment

  1. Kris Bauers says:

    As life would have it, quick reads are my new thing. It’s lead me to a lot of genre’s I wasn’t expecting, this sounds intriguing and based on my last pick , Moira Ashe – Enemy Within by Brendon Bertram, I think I’m onto something. Highly recommend this one, Awesome female lead with a quick but really rich plot and character development.

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