This is a novella of many things, diplomacy, greed and music, but the greatest one is love. Not the obvious kind of a whirlwind romance, but of sacrifice. If that seems a soft option, it is far from it; the sort of love in this short book is painful, hopeful and largely unseen. Following the story of an Empire and surrounding states, this fourth book in a series draws heavily on the themes, stories and characters dominating the books of the Empire, as told by one of the central characters, Lena. In this book, Lord Sorley tells the story of the diplomatic experience of the Empire being joined to another state, his own ambitions and concerns, and the illness of his greatest friend, Cillian. I believe this book can be read as a separate, even standalone book, if only to create an appetite for the earlier novels. It is so vividly written that it carries the reader along, on the one hand to discover what is going to happen, but also to revel in the brilliantly written characters. This book, in common with the earlier three books, is a sort of historical fantasy, with elements of Roman Empire history and language. There is a list of characters and of the unusual words used in the narrative, but also it is possible just to let the story take over. The imagination and construction of this narrative is impressive, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The story opens with Sorley being told of his friend’s illness following wounds sustained in a huge battle. He has been representing his country in the court of another; but now he has been given permission to depart for “Wall’s End” where the new leader of the Empire is quartered with the wounded Cillian and his partner, Lena. Lena is pregnant, and is wearing herself sitting with Cillian, especially as hope for his survival seems slim. Sorley is horrified at the state of both of them. He has long been attracted to Cillian, but knows that the son of the previous Emperor’s one true love is Lena. Therefore he faces the choice of comfort from a soldier servant, Druisius or Druise, who is aware of the situation. In addition Sorley is soon asked to help with the delicate negotiations between Casyn and a greedy Procurator who has arrived to settle the arrangements between the weakened Empire and Casil who provided the means to fight off threats to the Empire. He protests that he is only able to translate, he has not the skills to be a diplomat or a strategic advisor that Cillian has by experience and aptitude. Moreover, he soon realises that he must provide the support and calming music that is necessary in the Infirmary. Can his love and physical help Lena and Cillian survive this severe test?
I found this such an enjoyable book to read and become involved in, with its keen insights into diplomacy and statecraft. Moreover, I found it a fascinating resolution to various storylines which had emerged in the previous novels. It is a powerful and vivid read featuring memorable characters and a storyline which carried me into a world on the edge of history with its consistency.
I really enjoyed this book, especially in the context of the previous three books of the trilogy which mainly proceeded it. I am eagerly awaiting the next book, “Empire’s Reckoning” which is due to come out soon.
I enjoy reading in a series in the background to the shorter and self contained books I usually review on this site. It appeals to my sense of completeness! I have read such vast series as “A Dance to the Music of Time” in the past, and have kept the copies in case I feel like repeating the experience. Do you enjoy reading series of books beyond Harry Potter? I have also tackled a Dunnett series in the past as well as the Barsetshire books of Trollope and Thirkell. Have you any suggestions for further entertaining series of books?