“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.” – Walt Whitman
Richard Dawes’ novel, ‘Sword of Empire’, is the latest installment in the ‘Wolf Slayer Saga’ series. Valka, a fearsome fighter from the North, has been away from home for years. The fiercest warrior of his generation, he’s won numerous battles and vanquished evil forces, won praise and admiration from both friends and foes. No longer a lone wolf, Valka commands an army of fierce fighters, and has plans for creating an empire stretching from the Black Sea, to the mountains in the north, and all the way to Ayodhya in the east. But there’s trouble brewing in the kingdom of Kornelia. Queen Satana of Vanendaria has vowed to annex Kornelia to her kingdom, and ensures victory by summoning to her aid demonic forces. Opposed by an army of overwhelming strength, Queen Marija of Kornelia sends an urgent message to Valka, asking him to come to her rescue. It has been nineteen years since Valka set foot in Kornelia. Still, he feels a sense of duty to defend the kingdom of his birth, so he and a picked band of elite warriors called the Black Guard move north to Kornelia.
Sword of Empire is a book that studies two different and complex relationships. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of fighting and action, all of which have made this series a hit with readers. It’s bloody and filled with gore and decapitations. And there are so many decapitations. So many that it will make your head spin! No? Fine, let’s get back to the review.
The characters of Valka, Marija, and their adult son, Seljuk, balance one another as the story moves forward and they come to terms with what their relationships are and can be. First, the tale of Valka and Marija, former lovers, estranged in between, brought together by circumstances larger than both of them. Seeing them work together, putting their minor differences aside, is a pleasure to read. As were the scenes between Valka and Seljuk. The latter had grown up not knowing his father, all the while idolizing Valka and his adventures. When he finds out that Valka is his father, the confusion and slow acceptance from his side and the sensitive transformation that takes place in Valka are thrilling for readers who have followed this character over the course of seven sagas. When father and son team up, they get to know each other better. Mutual respect morphs into mutual admiration, which slowly grows into much deeper feelings.
As usual, Richard Dawes has created interesting supporting characters, and has woven a storyline that will keep the reader up late into the night. For regular readers of the series, the ending may seem both bittersweet and ambiguous. Will we get to read more sagas about Valka? And which time line will they follow? The ones from his youth or stories about an older and mature Valka riding along with his son in search of new adventures. Only time will tell.
Even if you have begun to tire of quests and battles, you will not be bored with the action in Sword of Empire. The fight sequences are magnificent and rooted in reality. Valka too undergoes a metamorphosis. He becomes a three-dimensional being, more than just a savage fighting machine. There were a lot of deft literary touches in the saga that gave continuity and clarity to the series.
The chief villain in the novel, Queen Satana, wasn’t the strongest villain that we have seen in the series. It could be argued that her henchman, General Bleda, was far more menacing. He stole the scenes in which he appeared. But the battle sequences in the beginning and the end of the saga more than make up for it. The clear, realistic descriptions and minute play-by-play of the action, and the final determining battle between Seljuk and Bleda are all goose bump inducing scenes.
If you like fearsome alpha men, strong, beautiful women, unusual plot lines, and a lot of depth, then this book is for you.