The Garden of Empire by J.T. Greathouse
WAR MAKES MONSTERS OF EVERYONE.
Foolish Cur, once named Wen Alder, finds that his allies in the rebellion might cross any line if it means freedom from the Empire. But he can't overcome a foe as strong as Emperor Tenet alone.
REBELLION HAS UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.
Koro Ha, Foolish Cur's former tutor, discovers the Empire is not so forgiving of those who raise a traitor. And their suspicion may cost him and his people more than he can imagine.
THE GODS ARE LURKING IN THE SHADOWS.
As war against the Empire rages, Foolish Cur knows there is a greater threat. The emperor plans his own coup against the gods, and they will wreak destruction if he tries. To stop him, Foolish Cur might have to risk everything - and resort to ancient magics that could tear the world apart.
The sequel to the spectacular The Hand of the Sun King, filled to the brim with magic and the cruel consequences of war. This is perfect for fans of Robin Hobb and Shelley Parker-Chan.
When J.T. Greathouse released The Hand of the Sun King last year, it did something that I never expected, it surprised me! The story of Wen Alder (or Foolish Cur) just clicked with me and it was one of my favourite books of last year, so when The Gardens of Empire was announced it was immediately put on my must read books of 2022.
So, I have not long ago finished The Gardens of Empire and let me tell you dear reader that this book is just pure awesomeness. I just love this Asian inspired fantasy, and yes again, JT Greathouse surprised me. This time in other ways.
The story continues the story of Wen Alder, although he has now ditched this name in favour of his given Nayeni name, Foolish Cur and has joined the revolution against the Emperor proper.
Now, before we get into talking about the book, I want to say a great big thank you to J. T, Greathouse for the synopsis of the first book at the beginning of book 2. I love it when authors do this and it helps to get reacclimatised to the world. I did reread The Hand of the Sun King prior to reading The Gardens of Empire, but the sheer fact that it is there shows that there is an understanding of his audience and he wants them to get straight back into the world that he has created.
One of the things that I adored about The Hand of The Sun king was the way that the story unfurled. It started off quite small and by the end it opens into epic magnificence, and with The Gardens of Empire, J.T. Greathouse opens the world further by adding more character points of view, and it work so well, as not only does he expand on some of the characters from the first book, but he also maintains some of the supporting characters like Atar and continues to give them a supporting role.
As I said, there are some more characters added to this one. Firstly, in the prelude, we have the introduction of a completely new character, Ral ans Urrera, who at first seems to have little bearing on the story and is presented in a series of interludes. However, this does have a bearing later on. Then, we have Foolish Cur’s former tutor Koro Ha. And finally, there is Hand Pinion, Oreole’s brother from the first book who blames Foolish Cur for his brother’s death and is hell bent on getting vengeance.
I thought this worked really well. Foolish Cur’s and Hand Pinion’s arcs are quite intertwined, and they have a direct bearing on the story, but Koro Ha and Ral’s are quite seperate. However, they all do have an impact, but in different ways that you expect, especially Koro Ha’s, whose journey is really intriguing and I cannot wait to see how this arc has an effect on the wider story as a whole.
In addition to this, we get some more back story on some of the supporting characters, such as Hissing Cat and Doctor Sho, who are both quite intriguing characters in their own right.
In the Garden of Empire the world building is much more expansive, and whilst we touched on other cultures in The Hand of the Sun King, The Garden of Empire introduces us to Girzan and Tao Alon, which is explored more with the different points of view. When the story is told through the eyes of the other characters we get to see just how oppressive the rule of the Emperor is and how he has subjugated other cultures and amalgamated their culture and magics into his own canon of magic. Not only that we get to see and understand a lot more of the Emperors motivations and plans and just how expansive they actually are.
The other thing that we get more of in the book is the Emperor, Tenet himself, and rather than just being a figure of myth and legend, we see him much more up close and personal in this book. He is not just a distant figure who seems clouded in his own reputation, but he is far more human and real in TGOE.
As usual the writing is superb, In some ways it reminds me of Raymond E Feist’s Magician, and that is always good in my book as I absolutely adore this book. I think it is the focus on magic and the Asian culture that does it. Not only that, JT Greathouse displays similar complexity and depth that is in Raymond E Feist’s works, detailing everything to add to the richness of the story.
It was interesting to see more of the Gods and their motivations in the book as they have a greater part to play in this instalment, and we get to meet the pantheon and be able to discern their personalities.
For me, the first book, The Hand of the Sun King was more of a character driven novel with a steady development of plot. However, TGOE seemed to increase the impetus of the plot and the two seemed to balance out evenly with developments in both areas. We are still party to observing the inner turmoils of Foolish Cur as he tries firstly to not become an overbearance in the revolution and his uncle’s rule, but then how this develops as he struggles to become accepted in his Uncle’s army. In addition to this, Foolish Cur struggles to accept the tactics and utter devastation that the war has on his people and whether there is a great difference in the methods used by both sides as the lines that they cross become more indistinguishable.
There is still an onus on conflict, not just between the two rival factions, but also the inner turmoil of Foolish Cur as he straddles two worlds and also between the opposing rivalries of individuals and the factions.
Again, J.T. Greathouse writes fantastically rich and complex characters and I loved seeing how they developed and the prose remains both rich and elegant. The plot is masterfully executed and similarly to THOTSK, I was left with that feeling of ‘bloody hell’ at the end and have no predictions of how this story is going to conclude in the third book, but I know it is going to be MASSIVE.
The Garden of Empire is simply an absolutely amazing piece of fantasy fiction that somehow manages to expand on an already richly described world with great characters and a driving plot, and I for one, cannot wait to see how this story ends.