In Robert’s sweeping debut novel—“the complete trilogy”—the fall of an empire leads to a half-century of warfare before peace and unity are restored.
Robert’s forward implies that this story is based on true events of “a thousand odd years ago,” and the vaguely Mitteleuropean character of places and people—Nordenkraj, Zentralenkraj, Vasserkraj—suggests that it’s meant to be the Holy Roman Empire. What starts as a petty grab for power on the part of an aging emperor’s young wife brings down an already shaky, corrupt government. In the aftermath of this coup, some men unite in a general allegiance to the idea of an empire; others are merely out for what they can get. The main characters who emerge are Howster, who uses his craftiness and military prowess to get the boy emperor under his control, and the trio of Lucent, Gordon and Max, brothers in arms who prove themselves as mercenary soldiers before Lucent’s noble blood leads him to a position of power in the mining city of Bergenkraj. Though successful warriors in different ways, these latter three only come into their own when Lucent happens upon a mysterious hermit named Fabian who turns out to be a genius at military strategy. Opposed to them is a long line of villains, all ultimately done in by their own greed, cruelty and senselessness. After episodes of back-stabbing and whirlwind side-changing in the immediate aftermath of the empire’s dissolution, the land settles into three kingdoms, until finally, about three generations after the crisis, the empire is reunited. (Oddly, after the empire’s collapse, no outside force attempts to take advantage of the chaos; it’s all infighting among former regions of the empire.) Although well-written, the narrative reads more like a military history than a novel, describing events rather than allowing the story to come to light through the interactions of its characters. For instance, when Lucent meets Fabian, readers are told he “was impressed by Fabian’s calmness as he discussed [his plans],” but those plans aren’t conveyed. Rare female characters rapidly disappear once they’ve served their purpose in the male agenda; for instance, the deaths of Lucent’s first wife and a heretofore unknown son in a plague are mentioned in passing for no apparent reason other than to explain an insult. Admittedly, adequately dramatizing a tale of this heft would result in a book even longer than these current 700-plus pages.
Medieval military–history buffs will be intrigued, though readers looking for subtle drama won’t be as impressed.