“He might find that the reality is more than he can handle.”
Calidan Darkheart has survived monsters, men and the first years of the Academy, but will he be able to survive a higher power than his own?
As a young student at the Academy and freshly dealing with the loss of a dear friend, Calidan must endure a new trial; one that will test every fibre of his being. If he survives, he will be forged into something new and be one step closer to his ultimate goal. Revenge.
Alone in the dark, Calidan the Imperator has so far managed to avoid the clutches of a rampaging beast but now seeks to escape and fulfil his lifelong dream. Intent on saving his best friend Cassius and heading deeper into the barren wastelands, he seeks a prey that will eclipse all others.
He might find that the reality is more than he can handle.
David Oliver’s second novel in the Great Hearts series brings back the dual adventures of past and present day Calidan, following the protagonist’s journey from earnest youth to a cold and forbidding Imperator.
Brutal combat, terrifying magics, dark secrets and the antics of a certain panther lay within.
I have been on a real streak of good luck in reviewing second books in series lately, and The Great Hearts II is no exception. Picking up where the first book left off in both it’s present and past timelines, we get an even better look into the Empire and the lives, past and present, of Calidan, Cassius and the rest of their class of Imperator trainees. It’s a story with some dark twists and turns that you just don’t see coming.
This book has a really interesting bit of world building due to the way the story is structured with a story line set in the present and a story line set years in the past when the Calidan and Cassius were young men training to become Imperators. Its a really jarring difference, seeing a world that is dealing with the consequences of what we see starting from the shadows in the past timeline, and the very different versions of Calidan and Cassius we see in the present day show the realities of what they have dealt with in years of service to the empire. It’s done seamlessly, and you really get drawn into this world. There are also some surprising pieces of technology and magic that hint the world may have a deeper backstory than you’ve seen so far.
While the world building is excellent, the characters are where this book really shines! Calidan especially stands out. Bound to his giant cat Great Heart Seya, he is gifted with abilities the other imps can only dream of, including heightened strength, senses and healing. This could have made him a conceited bully, but his background and Seya’s influence help keep him grounded. He also has higher expectations on him due to his abilities, and he really works at improving himself and protecting his friends, and the empire as a whole. Seeing him switch between midway through his training to being an experienced, jaded Imperator is an interesting shift, and is really well done.
The supporting cast is excellent as well. Cassius is a standout, being Calidan’s oldest friend, and having gone through the same trauma as Calidan with the slaughter of their village. He plays off Calidan in a lot of ways, being less of a roguish character and is much more trusting of people, sometimes to his detriment. He makes up for it by being an unmatched swordsman and an excellent partner for Calidan. The rest of the supporting cast bring their own talents and personalities to the group, and they add to the story themselves. It was interesting to see the differences in how Calidan sees the Emperor as a young man, seeing him as a mentor and then as an experienced Imperial agent, jaded with a much different outlook on the Emperor’s actions. The villains are finally starting to reveal themselves in both timelines, and the way they are introduced and tied together across the timelines is seamless, and points to bigger things on the horizon, with world shaking consequences.
The audio version is narrated by the author. He does an excellent job bringing his characters to life, giving each their own unique voice. He injects real personality into each character, and you can feel his love of the characters he has created. His narrative pacing is excellent, and the listener is just drawn into the story and kept there until the end.
A second book in a series can often be a letdown, especially with a series opener as strong as this one had, but this is no sophomore slump. Taking what worked in the first so well, this one expanded both the characters and the world they inhabit, creating something truly special. This book will definitely appeal to fans of dark epic fantasy, and anyone who loves an action packed thrill ride with some truly unexpected twists and turns. I give it my highest recommendation.