Empress of the Fall by David Hair is an epic fantasy with the skeleton of historical fiction written in a multiple POV structure with chapters and sections of the books allotted for each major player, gore, violence, after the structure of ASOIAF.
The publishers rightly claim this book to be in line with A Song of Ice and Fire. A few of the POV characters narrate the events with such emotional indifference that the reader is allowed to make his/her conclusion. Adds to the charm, I must admit.
The author’s background in history shows in his writing.
Once the reader gets past the first pages of the glossary (pages of unique terms and their explanations almost made me shut the book and run), the book becomes increasingly addictive.
The novel has familiar themes of religion holding a significant influence in people’s life and wars, detailed accounts of various heirs and power-groups playing the game of thrones, unusual but inspiring love stories that make your heart melt.
Relationship plays a significant role in this book, though never really taking the front. Brothers with bitter life experience, couples forced into a marriage of politics, a son seeking answers for his mother’s death, a young, convent-educated heiress who struggles against becoming a puppet-Empress, the book is about ordinary people who become extraordinary through magic or fate. But each is tied to the other half, be it a sibling, a spouse, or friends, even enemies disguised as friends.
Facts and legends jump out of the pages of history and fog your mind with magic and mayhem.
The author’s powerful imagination creates a world of fantasy where the Muslim jihadis and Christian Crusades have the power of magic. Masked humans pose as Gods of legends to instill fear in people.
As I said before, after reading the first few pages of explanations, glossary, trivia, I dozed off. The command, “Kill the prisoner,” woke me up. Since then, I was unable to stop.
This book is an epic journey of ordinary people destined to change the course of history (historical fantasy, whatever you will) and David Hair’s no-nonsense, straightforward writing style makes it more alluring. David Hair is no GRRM. Don’t seek the beauty of GRRM in brutality and scenic expressions.
Mr. Hair knows how to capture the reader’s interest.
The author doesn’t sugarcoat the horror. The emotional scenes are relatable and expressive. The action scenes are gripping, and nail-biting situations are exactly so.
The book lacks a single focus in the plot, but I believe that is intentional. It’s like reading three books parallelly, each with an agenda of its own. The chain of events acts as a living, breathing thing moving the story and the reader’s curiosity forward. All the principal characters, though mostly unrelated by other means, are revealed to be connected through a common enemy.
None of the three parts have anything earth-shattering as GRRM killing off Ned Stark. But they are well plotted and greater than any of the characters who never really get a chance to develop. However, this is the first book in the series, and there is ample scope for the young protagonists to shine and evolve into heroes, as is for the antagonists to become legendary lords and ladies of evil. I couldn’t isolate a single protagonist or antagonist as my favorite as of now.
A few points I noted:
Shihad means honey, but the word usage in the story strongly suggests ‘jihad.’
Sal-ahm is used instead of Salam.
I am not well-conversed in Urdu or Arabic so really can’t comment on the usage of these words but they did catch my attention.
Note: The author has reached out to me with the details regarding the above mentioned words.
“Shihad”: in New Zealand, in the 90s a hard rock band called ‘Shihad’ were making a name for themselves, and began touring the US – just as the US/Iraq war began.
Their promoters were nervous that ‘Shihad’ was too much like ‘Jihad’ and forced them to change their name to ‘Pacifier’ (a name the band chose sarcastically, to ‘pacify the dummies’). So the use of Shihad is a New Zealand in-joke.
Adult fantasy lovers who enjoy historical fiction and intricate political plots will love this book. Just don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the first few pages. The rest is epic.
3.7 bohostars. Taking away points for the first few pages of distracting explanation which could easily follow the main storyline; lack of characters who make you go back for them and them alone (I couldn’t isolate a single protagonist or antagonist as my favorite). Added points for pace, action, narration, plot, and historical influence.