Sam Hawke – Hollow Empire (Poison War #2)

Title: Hollow Empire
Author: Sam Hawke
Series: Poison War #2

Two years after a devastating siege tore the country apart, Silasta has recovered. But to the frustration of poison-taster siblings Jovan and Kalina, sworn to protect the Chancellor, the city has grown complacent in its new-found peace and prosperity.

And now, amid the celebrations of the largest carnival the continent has ever seen, it seems a mysterious enemy has returned.

The death of a former adversary sets Jovan on the trail of a cunning killer, while Kalina negotiates the treacherous politics of visiting dignitaries, knowing that this vengeful mastermind may lurk among the princes and dukes, noble ladies and priests. But their investigations uncover another conspiracy which now threatens not just Silasta and the Chancellor but also their own family.

Assassins, witches and a dangerous criminal network are all closing in. And brother and sister must once more fight to save their city – and everyone they hold dear – from a patient, powerful enemy determined to tear it all down . . .

In City of Lies I really enjoyed the basic premise of the plot: a mystery that had to be solved not by two amateurs who just stumbled into everything but by two people who had been trained to deal with problems…they just had never expected to deal with such a huge problem (or to deal with it that early in their lives). I also loved that, despite it being a historically inspired fantasy setting, there was no “historically accurate sexism”. Women and men are equal. Same-sex relationships exist. Full stop. But I also found that the characters lacked distinct voices. The book switches between two narrators and I frequently forgot who was the narrator in the chapter I was reading. And, more generally, I also had issues telling the other characters in the story apart because they all remained a bit colourless. I picked up the sequel because I hoped that these things would get better.

Now, in Hollow Empire… I still had trouble telling the narrators apart but the supporting characters seemed more developed and I no longer thought “This scene would probably feel more dramatic if I remembered who this person was”. Unfortunately, the plot no longer was what could be considered a very grand scale murder mystery but leaned heavier towards a conspiracy thriller. Not a genre I am very fond of. Besides, one of the main characters got framed for a crime he didn’t commit which is very much my least favourite trope and then the characters have to do quite a lot of dealings with a foreign country that has historically accurate sexism of the worst “women are just there to marry them off to form alliances” kind.

So, while technically some things got better, overall it got much worse for me because there was more and more stuff I simply didn’t like.

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