Empire. Book Review

EmpireEmpire by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard,
Headline, h/c, £16.99 / p/b £7.99 / Kindle, £3.99
Reviewed by Dave Brzeski

This is the second book in The Chronicles of the Invaders series, by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard. I reviewed book one, Conquest some time back and really enjoyed it, so I was very happy to get the chance to review the sequel. As I mentioned in that previous review, this series is marketed as YA, but the only perceivable facet of that is that the main protagonists are teenagers. There’s no writing down here, nor any pulling of punches when it comes to violence, or the morality of the decisions the characters are faced with.

At the end of Conquest, the young heroes are split up. The Illyrie girls, Syl Hellais and her closest friend, Ani Cienda are now novices in the dubious care of the Nairene Sisterhood. There’s actually a very clever use of one of the classic tropes of youth-based fiction here, as Syl soon finds herself in the position of outsider from the popular girls, and defending the tormented misfit. The psionically talented ‟gifted” are akin to the cheerleaders, of so many High School movies, and their leaders are privileged bitches. Ani is accepted on to this ‟cheerleading squad”, but Syl is not, nor would she wish to be, which strains their friendship.

Paul and Steven Kerr have been forcibly conscripted into ‟The Brigades”, where their Illyri masters force them to fight for the Empire. Their first adventure in this capacity appears to be an homage to a certain series of monster movies that I will refrain from naming for the sake of spoilers. Separated by light years, both pairs gradually become aware of the true evil that is infecting the Illyrie Empire, and which threatens the very existence of the human race.

As with the first book, nothing is black and white here. There appear to be good, and bad people on all sides involved in this struggle, of which there are at least four. Even the Nairine Sisterhood might not be entirely evil.

In these days of authors desperately trying to gather enough reviews on Amazon to help their visibility and sales, many of us don’t entirely trust the veracity of reviewers. Therefore, I try to offer at least some constructive criticism to avoid readers assuming I’m the recipient of some sort of bribe, or that I’m somehow related to the authors. So here’s the nitpick—the only thing I can find to criticise. While I found the girls entirely believable as teenagers, I was slightly pulled up short when reminded of just how young Paul, and especially Steven, were. I shouldn’t be, I suppose. After all, my own father was forcibly conscripted into the German army at the age of 14, after they invaded Poland.

I’m more used to reading novellas and short novels these days, so I admit to feeling a little daunted when I picked up this 440 page hardcover. I need not have worried, though. It was only the occasional need for sleep and food that kept me from finishing the book in one sitting. It’s definitely the middle book of a series, in that, while it does end in a sensible place, it still leaves the story some way short of finished. 440 pages, and the authors still managed to end it on a cliffhanger that left me desperate for the next volume!