Review: Empire by Graham McNeill

Posted by DarkChaplain at 9/17/2012
A bit late, not just looking at the calendar, but also because I'm halfway through God King, the sequel, but I have to get this sorted now, at last.
Yes, I know, I've been slacking off, but try to understand - I'm also a gamer, and the last many weeks were hardcore, both in terms of entertainment value, challenges and on my pocket. Wish me luck that I can get back on track without too much trouble!

Either way, here's my review of Graham McNeill's Empire. I very much enjoyed reading this novel, and hope to convey the reasons well enough.

The Story:
"Having driven back the orc invaders, Sigmar unites the tribes of men and founds the Empire. The fledgling empire grows, but its prosperity is not assured. The lands are still wild and untamed, and many enemies lurk in the forests and the mountains. When a Chaos invasion sweeps down from Norsca, the ensuing conflict tests the abilities of Sigmar and his chieftains to the utmost."

Book Two of The Legend of Sigmar

General Information
There's hardly anything to say in general about Empire at this point. You should read Heldenhammer first, so check the earlier review of that novel first. The individual novels of the Sigmar trilogy will probably be out of stock everywhere by now, but don't worry - there's a newly released Omnibus readily available, collecting all three novels into one massive tome. If you consider the story interesting based on the reviews, go ahead and buy it. Not only do you save money, but it will also looks great on your bookshelf.

Note: This review might include spoilers due to being a sequel.

Structure & Plot
Empire follows directly after the end of Heldenhammer, which introduced Sigmar and the tribes that would form the biggest Empire in the world known to men. While Heldenhammer introduced the characters the Legend of Sigmar depends on, presenting the dream of Sigmar Heldenhammer up to its fruition, the sequel does paint a slightly different picture. The adult king of the Unberogen is taking up the crown of the Emperor, uniting his tribes under one banner and keeping their lands safe.

However glorious the ceremony of his coronation, or the dream itself might be, the task resting on Sigmar's shoulders is a heavy burden to bear. The Emperor soon realizes that mankind's enemies are many, ranging from the vile beastmen lurking in the forests right within the Empire, to the savage orcs or the restless dead. Sigmar has to fend off all kinds of forces that would see his work destroyed.

He cannot do this alone. Unity is the key to mankind's success. To show their allegiance to Sigmar as their Emperor, the former tribal kings shed their titles in favor of a less pompous title. They are counts of the Empire, equals under their Emperor's rule. Yet while they support Sigmar's dream, their internal struggles keep Sigmar on his toes. He has to learn to be just as skillful a diplomat as he is a warrior, appease rivalling counts, reassure loyalties and face his own fears.
However, one tribal king did not stand with him at Blackfire Pass to defend their realms against the orc invaders, and when all attempts on diplomacy fail, Sigmar's quest for unity takes him to the walls of Jutonsryk. After a long and depressing siege, he succeeds in bringing the Jutone merchant city to join his Empire.

The newfound wealth through trading lets the Empire grow far beyond its limits while ghosts of the past plan their schemes, forcing Sigmar's hand against the undead gathering near Middenheim, the city of the White Wolf. An artefact of incredible strength falls into Sigmar's hands, and he must resist temptations from beyond the grave to stay true to himself.
The book comes to its eventual conclusion after a massive invasion from the north, which sees Middenheim ravaged by Norsii tribes, beastmen and the minions of the Blood God. Upon the anvil of the Fauschlag Rock, old bonds of loyalty and friendship will be reaffirmed and new ones crafted, as the unity of the Empire is being put to a test.

Final Words & Verdict
I very much enjoyed Empire, maybe even more so than Heldenhammer. I can fully understand why this book won the David Gemmel Legend Award 2010 and believe that it absolutely deserved that honour.

Empire puts everything we've read about in its prequel to a test, puts the pieces into relation, shows us new characters we only heard about before, while keeping everything solidly connected. The first of the Empire's many counts are getting much more attention, the headaches that come with dealing with all their squabbles are comprehensible and actually reach the reader, and the risks, fears and dangers feel realistic enough to keep you hooked til the very end.

Graham McNeill managed to keep a fantastic balance between moments of hope and despair, glory and shame, life and death. Nothing here seemed wasted, overdone or lacked impact. While one can argue that the development of the Empire as a nation feels rushed, with incredible discoveries and construction projects being fulfilled in a manner which makes modern architecture feel like a sad, ineffective joke, it did not bother me in the slightest. The early years of the Empire are an age of prosperity, great developments and epic heroes - we can surely overlook those minor gripes in favor of a well-crafted world.

To me, Empire is the second extremely strong novel in the Sigmar trilogy, and the first 200 pages of God King I read this far is looking solid as well. If you haven't picked these books up yet, I want to ask you one simple question:
Why haven't you?

Empire on the Black Library Website

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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