Review: Swords of the Emperor / Author: Chris Wraight / Publisher: Black Library / Release Date: Out Now
Swords of the Emperor is an anthology of two previous fantasy novels; Sword of Justice and Sword of Vengeance, with a couple of short stories thrown in to lure the completest. Both books follow the exploits of high ranking members of the Empire; a medieval civilisation that covers the majority of the Old World. It is beset by orcs, bestial mutants and demonic forces, and every day may be its last.
Both books focus on the exploits of Ludwig Schwarzhelm, a very big man with a very big sword who protects, as well as being part of, the judicial system. (He’s the person you face when you want to face justice.) The first book, Sword of Justice is essentially a series of battle scenes connected by a slim thread of intrigue and suspicion. However, Wraight has a real talent for describing the bloody horror of war, and it’s always fun to dive into a good old fashioned orc hunt. The characters are both fantastic and believable; each hero is nothing of the sort, being instead a regular person in extraordinary circumstances. In a way, the main character is a sort of medieval Judge Dredd; the story and its rich and detailed world revolves around the main protagonist, who is stern, strong, indomitable and unchanging, whilst all around him goes to hell. The author handles the concept of corruption and being taken over by dark forces in an engaging and interesting way.
It would be profoundly unfair to describe Sword of Vengeance as more of the same, but the same mix of intrigue, violence and corruption deliver the same entertainment value as Sword of Justice, and I didn’t even pause from one book to the next. Wraight raises the stakes, adds more twists and turns to the existing story and the two novels really do benefit from being bound under the same cover. Neither of these are subtle stories; they’re fantasy action tales filled with blood and adventure. Some of the extended battle sequences do drag on slightly too long in the second book, but this is more than made up for by the improved character development we also get.
The two additional short stories are fairly short, and one of them (I won’t spoil it by saying which one) should not be read on an empty stomach. Both are as fast and subtle as a thrown knife, but work well as dessert for the hearty meal which is the first two books. A good solid fantasy adventure for those who like their broadswords and sorcery stories a bit bloody.