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ARC provided by the publisher—Tor Books—in exchange for an honest review.
Cover illustration by: Greg Ruth
Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Poison Wars (Book #2)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mystery
Pages: 560 pages (US Hardcover)
Published: 26th November 2020 by Bantam Press (UK) & 1st December 2020 by Tor Books (US)
An incredibly well-polished and absorbing sequel; out of all the books and series I’ve read this year, Hollow Empire is quite likely THE sequel that has the most significant improvement in overall quality over its predecessor.
Yes, I know what I just said can be considered an insane statement, especially because I’ve read so many magnificent sequels this year, but I must always be honest. I liked City of Lies, but the quality’s improvement in Hollow Empire blew my mind; it completely hooked me cover to cover. And this goes to the cover art as well, not just the content of the novel. The cover art by Greg Ruth is so stunningly beautiful, and I actually wondered whether the content could actually live up to it. No need to worry, Hawke’s storytelling skill did the cover art justice, and she starts the story with one memorable sentence:
“You never get used to poisoning a child.”
And with that first sentence, the twists and turns in Hollow Empire, the second book in the Poison Wars series by Sam Hawke, begins. The story in Hollow Empire takes place two years after the end of City of Lies. The first book was focused around a besieged city, I personally feel that Hawke has outdone herself with this sequel. The unstoppable assassinations, deadly poisons, and thrilling mysteries in a conflict and investigations against an invisible enemy just fit the tone and strength of this series so much. Mysteries were compiled before our two main characters were able to solve the first conflicts they stumbled upon. Seriously, the troubles that Jovan and Kalina encountered in this book piled on non-stop that Hamilton’s “Non-stop” would be applicable as the main themes for these exhausted Oromani siblings. I really loved reading Hawke’s plotting capability; this isn’t an easy book to write, and I’m sure Hawke has her fair share of pain writing it. However, the result was so worth it. Plots or small scenes that I, at first, thought were unnecessary sneaked on me; no spoilers, but none of them were ever redundant.
Great plotting aside, I think the key elements that enhanced the reading experience of this book over its predecessor was the characters development and the balance in their spotlight. When I was reading City of Lies, I was hugely in favor of Jovan’s POV chapters; I felt that Kalina didn’t have enough time to shine in the first book. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. Kalina’s role in the story is so much more crucial and involved now, and I honestly can’t decide which POV chapters I liked more in this sequel. Both Jovan and Kalina use their respective skill to investigate and find solutions to their predicaments, and Hawke did an excellent job in showcasing the depth of their familial relationship. I also found Jovan and Kalina to be so refreshing as main characters; Jovan’s anxiety issues or Kalina’s disabilities were never portrayed as weaknesses, and I highly enjoyed reading the development of their stories. In addition to Jovan and Kalina, Tain and Dida were easy-to-care side characters. To make things better, although these characters were so likable, due to the nature of the invisible villains and treacheries embedded in the narrative, I was left constantly questioning everyone’s—except Jovan and Kalina—motives and possible hidden agenda. That’s how good Hawke was.
Hollow Empire also shed light on the detailed world-building and cultures of the world. Hawke’s description of the environment, clothing, and differences in cultural behavior never hinder the pacing. The prose was well-written, and the action sequences were explosively better. Also, in City of Lies, each chapter starts with an epigraph of a specific poison—their description, symptoms, and proofing cues. In Hollow Empire, each chapter starts with an epigraph that entails an off-screen poisoning incident in the past that enriched the history and lore of the world. These epigraphs are made more hilarious and entertaining because Hawke uses real-life authors and bloggers as the victims of the respective incident. Here’s one example with Nicholas Eames, the author of Kings of the Wyld and Bloody Rose, as the victim:
“Incident: Poisoning of Lord Niceames, son of the 2nd Duke of Marutia.
Incident notes: Lord Niceames visited Silasta on a recreational trip and took to life in the city, thereafter refusing to return to his duties in homeland. Presented to the hospital with a bloody cough and hair loss after apparent weeks increasing illness. Physics diagnosed graybore poisoning but Niceames died shortly thereafter. Traces of graybore later found in the man’s favorite perfume bottle. Political background suggests manservant may have been instructed by the Duke to carry out the gradual poisoning. Servant left Sjona shortly after the man’s death and determination council elected not to pursue further…”
If you’ve read and enjoyed City of Lies, I will give you a fair warning that Hollow Empire is about to become your on-demand addiction; reading this will spark your new reading obsession, and there’s no antidote for it. With genuinely likable sibling and family, an engaging plot brimming with mysteries that are stacked upon another mysteries continuously, intricate world-building, and devastating magic, Hawke has her reader’s heartstrings at her grasp, and she played with them as cruel as possible. This was such a wonderful, emotional, and satisfying reading experience. Hollow Empire is one of the best books published this year, and it’s easily one of the best sequels I’ve ever read. Treat yourself with a gift for surviving this nonsensical year by reading one of the best books to come out this year. You can thank me later.
Official release date: 26th November 2020 (UK) and 1st December 2020 (US)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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