exciting story full of intrigue, worldbuilding, and power struggles
Engines of the Empire by R.S. Ford is a book that I have been eyeing with excitement for the last six months. It did not disappoint and was just as exciting as I had hoped with a few caveats.
“How long do you think the battalions will carry on this war when it stops being profitable? This won’t last.”
From the first chapter, where we meet one of our protagonists, Tyreta, the reader becomes very aware of the depth of the storytelling Ford brings. The story is separated into multiple very distinct points of view, mostly revolving around three siblings, Tyreta, Fulren, and Conall. Their lives go on very different winding paths in service to the empire. They are the Hawkspurs, heirs of the Hawkspur guild in the nation of Torwyn. Multiple guilds rule the empire through Plutocracy, which is explained in the story. But I am looking forward to learning more about the various guilds and how they work.
Additionally, the story is peppered with those who practice a craft with pyrstone that fuels the empire’s machines. This craft reads like part magic and part science. Those who practice get a “feel” for the device and can control the machines from afar.
“By placing a number of pyrestones inside small conversion chambers, a webwainer could use them to imbue any piece of artifice to life.”
Encapsulating the story’s narrative is a blanket of political intrigue, unrest, and colonialism. While we are viewing the story through the eyes of mainly three members of the ruling class of Torwyn, it is evident that Torwyn has not always been on the side of angels when it comes to relations with neighboring areas. Specifically, the nation of Nyrakkis, who are foreign, differs in every way from the nation of Torwyn.
The story starts with a random emissary from the country of Nyrakkis who has come to open up trade agreements with Torwyn. The deal that the emissary wants to broker would benefit both countries and start an age of great prosperity for the two nations. This kicks off a series of events that change the siblings’ lives forever.
Engines of the Empire is not an easy fantasy book to read; instead, it asks a lot of the reader. You need to parse multiple levels of intrigue and points of view. But even with these various paths, Ford masterfully curves all paths back to the empire. No matter what, the fates of this family are intricately entwined with the people, culture, and future of the Torwyn society.
“There might be a price for this later. Lady Rosomon had never been a tolerant woman. Whatever that price was, Tyreta thought as a smile played across her lips, it had been worth it.”
When the 2/3rds through the book, the action sequences started to pick up, and it was like watching a movie. Even better, because the characters’ paths go not just away from each other, but into new cultures. Ford wrote the combat as distinctly as the settings. Characters do not just fight, but they fight in ways characteristic of their cultures. If the worldbuilding did not hammer home how different the cultures are, the action will.
The one issue I had with the story, and is my caveat mentioned above, is that while these character paths expertly wind through the empire, the characters didn’t feel like they have narrative arcs. I couldn’t point to a goal for each of the characters except for lack of a better term, “level-up.” I needed more connection with the characters on an individual level that are less lofty than the empire’s health. Because the characters didn’t have that, the characters always felt at arm’s length from me. I admit this might be a preference for me as a reader, but it was a sticking point for this story.
All in all, Engines of the Empire is an exciting story full of intrigue, worldbuilding, and power struggles. Any reader of classic fantasy will find a home inside Ford’s world. It was a captivating story, and aside from my difficulties with how the characters were written, it was enthralling.
I look forward to seeing what happens next in this world!