Fiction Reviews


(2015) John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, Headline, hrdbk, £16.99, 441pp, ISBN 978-1- 472-20972-3


There are three reasons why I agreed to review this book. The first is that Jonathan asked me nicely. The second is that I read and reviewed the first book in this continuing series a year or so ago and was curious enough to want to see what happened next. The third reason – and I must admit to some indulgence in this – is that there were three books with 'empire' in the title up for review this time and for the neat completist in me they just had to be read.

This book wasn't really a risk, because I enjoyed the first book and I had no reason to suppose this one would not just carry right on with its strong mix of good characters and action packed, intriguing plot. And does it? Well…

For recap or catch-up, the first book in the series, Conquest, is a young adult softish science fiction novel covering the invasion of Earth and its subjugation by the elf-like Illyri. There's an alien love subplot (probably the main plot, come to think of it) between Scottish resistance fighter Paul and the Illyri daughter of the Earth's Governor, Syl. Conquest ends with some robust Scottish defiance and with Syl's father infected with an alien mind-controlling parasite (think Stargate), Paul conscripted into the Illyri version of the French Foreign Legion and Syl packed off as a novice under the evil Syrene of the Nairene Sisterhood.

Empire follows Syl and Paul’s different stories in alternate chapters, coming together right at the end. That gives it a different pace to the first book, which felt much more integrated, and each of the parts is different in style and tone.

Syl's story takes her into a kind of evil-witch Hogwarts, where novices are schooled in the dark arts. Syl conceals her gifts, and is underestimated both by her unbelievably cruel enemies and her supposed friend Ani, which conveniently gives her an advantage when she needs it.

Paul on the other hand is rather enjoying life as an extraterrestrial adventurer. Things inevitably go wrong for his small band of fellow conscripts with giant sand worms (think Dune) covert militia disguised as pirates, rickety wormhole links (think Stargate again) and mysterious hidden planets with dark secrets. 17-year old Paul and his 15-year old brother are soon commanding and piloting an advanced military vessel after having successfully outwitted two ships full of highly trained SAS types. And that's where, I'm afraid, the story and credibility parted company for me.

Oh, and Paul goes to rescue Syl. Or is it the other way round? Do they succeed? Obviously I couldn't possibly say.., but the book does end on a cliff-hanger, so I guess you might conclude there's more on the way.

Last time around you could not really see the join between Connolly and Ridyard but this time I’d put my money firmly on Connolly doing the derivative sci-fi and following Paul around, and Ridyard writing Syd's fantasy and magic sections (well, not described as 'magic' as such, but I don't use the Hogwarts comparison lightly). The result is that this book jerks around a bit and fails to completely satisfy. Because the plot lacks credibility and is quite convoluted the book lacks the tension of its predecessor.

That's not to say it's a bad read. The writing is competent and fluid and the characters are engaging. And there is a coherent narrative here, albeit one that's throwing up a few question marks.

Empire is a real change of pace from its predecessor Conquest . It's a mixed bag, good in parts, grating in others. Don't read it without reading Conquest first (otherwise you’ll have no clue what’s happening). On-the-fence verdict from me.

Mark Bilsborough

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