By this point The Shadow Campaigns might as well be subtitled “Django Wexler’s one-man crusade into flintlock fantasy”. Reworking, altering and adapting countless ideas, it has become as much of a deconstruction of genre elements as a celebration of what made them great in the first place. Rather than immediately blending the two, the series took the approach of making the subject of magic as alien as possible; turning it into some ancient concept forgotten by the world, presenting all else with the style and detail of a Sharpe novel. The Guns of Empire continues this trend, with a clear push towards a finale.
The book is something of a change of pace, shifting from out and out war to a fragile push for peace. Both sides of the conflict are attempting to come to an agreement, but elements the Church of Elysium seeks to prevent this at all costs. While this is a push away from the grander scale and military details which offer the series an oddly “genuine” feel for such an era, it does permit a more singular focus upon the characters. The events here are far more personal, and leave few distractions from the risks or predicaments brought about by this tumultuous event. Winter Ihernglass remains one of the strongest written figures within the series, especially given her rise to prominence, while the doubts surrounding Janus’ motives makes him a truly engaging foe for the heroes.
While there is less restraint when it comes to magic this time, the subject is still deftly handled. It’s treated as a far more deadly and risky subtext to the obvious culture clash and makes it clear that the modern world does not fully comprehend what it is getting itself into. Adding another hanging sword to events, it remains prominent enough in the background that it only enhances the conflict, keeping you guessing as to when it might come into play. Thanks to the tight structure of the book, it only arises as and when needed, before disappearing just as quickly, offering moments of tension and action between the more character-focused scenes.
The only thing which truly hurts Guns of Empire is its conclusion, which fails to truly tie up many key events. Previous books have been somewhat episodic, allowing them to be viewed as chapters in a bigger work, but the abrupt closure here just fails to be satisfying, and leaves too many events in question. That aside, it remains a strong entry in a fantastic series. If you have yet to look into this one, start with The Thousand Names, otherwise pick this up and continue this saga at the earliest opportunity.
THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS: THE GUNS OF EMPIRE / AUTHORS: DJANGO WEXLER / PUBLISHER: HEAD OF ZEUS / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 6TH