Book Review

Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

You never get used to poisoning a child…

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…

Sam Hawke has a wonderful talent for opening lines.  City of Lies gave us:

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.

Following in a similar vein, Hollow Empire has the equally intriguing:

You never get used to poisoning a child.

It’s fair to say that I was hooked from the very first page with both novels, and both fully lived up to the expectations set by these opening lines.

Hollow Empire is set two years or so after the events of City of Lies.  I have to admit that while I could remember the general outline and main characters of that novel, much of the detail has since escaped me.  In my defence, I did read City of Lies three years ago!  If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t worry.  There are plenty of reminders as to what happened in the previous novel, and the events are still very much fresh in the minds of the characters if not the reader – this reader, at least – and so you’ll quickly get back up to speed. Because of that, I do also recommend reading these novels in order – if you start with Hollow Empire, you’ll find inevitable spoilers as to the events of the first novel. 

Structurally, Hollow Empire is similar to City of Lies as the narrative alternates between the perspectives of siblings Jovan and Kalina.  I really enjoy both threads, and Hawke successfully gives each an individual voice – there’s little risk of confusing the two.  Kalina is my favourite character in these novels, however, and it’s great to see her getting more recognition for her work which is much more prominent in this novel. Her role in the previous novel was essentially one of espionage and often undertaken without even Jovan knowing exactly what she was up to.  Here, she’s in a more prominent position taking on an ambassadorial role and helping to keep the visitors to Silasta happy, whilst also looking to learn as much about them as possible, the espionage elements of her training still very much apparent. 

As with City of Lies, there’s a lot going on in this novel.  I won’t go into the plot in any detail, but it unfurls slowly as Jovan and Kalina combat an unseen enemy hell bent on destruction.  There’s plenty of political intrigue and manoeuvring, conspiracy, murder, magic and mayhem to keep the reader engaged and entertained.  I love the way in which each chapter begins with the proofing notes from Jovan and Kalina’s family.  These notes highlight the various poisons available, and circumstances in which they have been administered – sometimes accidentally, other times quite deliberately.  It brings to life Jovan’s role as a proofer which isn’t as apparent in this novel, and adds a note of intrigue, highlighting once more the degree of political manoeuvring of the people of Silasta.

Hawke has created a fantastic world in these novels, and it was great to learn more about Silasta’s neighbours in Hollow Empire.  It highlights once again what a paragon of equality Silasta is, valuing everyone equally and giving them the freedom to be themselves.  This is emphasised in this novel by the visiting nations whose cultures are more restrictive and while it was wonderful to learn more about those neighbouring lands, they certainly hold less appeal. 

I absolutely love this series, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.  Highly recommended. 

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