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“They just gleefully spouted mistruths that were so outrageous and stupid there was no way to properly engage with them.”

tyranny of faithRichard Swan roared onto the fantasy scene with his debut novel “The Justice Of Kings,” first of his Empire of the Wolf series. Told through the recollections of Helena Sedanka, the trilogy is the story of her and Sir Konrad Vonvalt. As a Justice of the Empire, it is given to Vonvalt to travel from town to town and settle matters accordingly, as the voice and will of the Emperor. Contrasting the more experienced Vonvalt, Helena began the series younger and more naive only to grow through hard and difficult lessons. 

Helena and Vonvalt travel to the imperial capital of Sova, finding a city beset by intrigue and deception. Worse still, the Empire is poised on the brink of catastrophe and the Emperor’s grandson has been kidnapped. Vonvalt is set on the task of finding the missing prince with the help of Helena and their allies. Unfortunately, with old friends also come old enemies and one of the chief villains from Book 1, the relentless Bartholomew Claver, has returned.

Swan is very good at intrigue, which follows his truly spectacular worldbuilding. The Empire not only feels alive, but Swan manages to avoid typical traps of medieval fantasy. Namely, making everything dismal and horrible. Rather, the Empire has vibrant culture and genuine questions abound about its morality and utility. Vonvalt is an empowered officer and one of the Justices whose authority includes summary execution. The Empire engages in brutal suppression and persecution, but likewise keeps the peace and betters the lives of many citizens. Much of what we see is filtered through the viewpoint of Helena, who is constantly learning to question much of what she sees.

Where the book excels is the relationship between the heroes. Helena is a dynamic and intelligent heroine, whose naivety has slowly given way to a growing cynicism and curiosity. No longer is Vonvalt exalted in her eyes, and the more she learns, the more human the people around her appear.

Swan is mostly good at balancing several plot points. There are the personal arcs between the heroes, the grander plot of the missing prince, and also the growing threat of Claver and his forces. Unfortunately, Swan tends to push some to the background to the point where it can be somewhat of a struggle to keep up with everything going on, particularly when so much is clearly being saved for the end of the trilogy.

Vonvalt is the crux of the story himself and more layers to him are revealed. One admittedly disappointing part of the story is the revelation of the nature of his feelings for Helena. While this will doubtlessly be addressed later, Vonvalt’s affections seemed almost paternal early on and this reveal seemed somewhat gratuitous.

As for villains, Claver elevates himself from a mere fanatic to something truly terrifying. Swan is clearly having a blast writing him and it shows, with his threat growing. Leading to the moral quandary if the evils of the Empire of the Wolf are needed to stop a man like Claver.

But overall, Empire of the Wolf is fun. It’s well-written with terrific characters and plotting with a conclusion that promises to be titanic.

4.5/5



Empire of the wolf

Empire of the wolf

Empire of the wolf

Empire of the wolf

Empire of the wolf

Empire of the wolf

Empire of the wolf

Empire of the wolf

 Zachary Rosenberg

Zach Rosenberg is a Jewish horror and SFF writer living in Florida who crafts horrifying tales by night and practices law by the day. The latter is even more frightening. His works have been published in various magazines and anthologies, including Dark Matter Magazine, the Deadlands, and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. His debut books, Hungers as Old as this Land and The Long Shalom were released by Brigids Gate Press, and Off Limits Press. Follow him on Twitter @ZachRoseWriter

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