In The Guns of Empire, Django Wexler continues one of the strongest military fantasy series to date. With Queen Raesinia determinedly in tow, Janus and Marcus chart course for the holy city of Elysium in hope of destroying the Pontifex of the Black to bring a more permanent peace to Vordan. Our protagonists return to begin a massive military invasion of Vordan’s powerful neighbors, and if you enjoyed Wexler’s world building in book three, The Price of Valor, wait until you get your hands on The Guns of Empire! Unforeseen challenges (and unforeseen romances) arise, and the story of Vordan grows ever more complex.
Wexler’s storytelling is particularly stellar in The Guns of Empire, comparable to Brandon Sanderson’s in his Cosmere. It’s not any specific thing that’s laudable but rather a confluence of factors. As in The Shadow of Elysium, Wexler’s imagery is beautifully descriptive and full of unseen depths. He teases us by revealing more and more of our protagonists’ pasts, exposing us to the world beyond Vordan in the process and dragging yet another major sociopolitical institution into what originally seemed to be a small-scale civil war. Even as Winter, Marcus, Raesinia, and Janus face unique situations and difficulties, each of them tread unexplored paths; the character development is undoubtedly up to par to what we’ve seen in the previous SHADOW CAMPAIGNS works. Even the focus of The Guns of Empire shifts again, opening up the story to new plotlines and new action. Unfortunately, that’s also the greatest flaw with The Guns of Empire.
As I’ve noted in my previous reviews, Django Wexler seems to introduce a new type or aspect of conflict in every SHADOW CAMPAIGNS installment. Book two pivoted from the military action of its predecessor to plotting and politics, book three from there to internal conflicts and personal development. Though this literary strategy has worked for the series up to now, it results in some serious hiccups in The Guns of Empire. Due to the honing in on religious conflict, there’s significantly less politics and scheming than in the previous two novels of the series, even less of the internal conflict we were introduced to in book three. So even as new action is introduced, old plotlines are closed off — but there are simply not enough pages in The Guns of Empire to flesh out all the novel subplots and storylines. Unsurprisingly, the final result is that The Guns of Empire reads more like a second book in a trilogy than anything else.
From a reader’s perspective, Wexler has lost sight of the structure of the novel in The Guns of Empire in favor of crafting a stronger series and overarching narrative. While The Guns of Empire is action-packed on paper, what action there is feels insignificant because there are simply too many events happening all at once for the plot to reach a convincing zenith. The emotional impact of the previous works has partially disappeared, and Wexler never capitalizes on the suspense present in The Guns of Empire — perhaps waiting for a major climax in the fifth (and probably final) book? If Wexlerian storytelling is a strength of The Guns of Empire, the story that’s being told needs more substance, more emotional heft to it.
In any case, the conclusion is yet another cliffhanger; it’s an ending that is all the more frustrating because of all the time Wexler spends building up the newly-introduced religious plotline, which isn’t resolved in The Guns of Empire. For fans of the SHADOW CAMPAIGNS, this isn’t a reason to quit the series. Just don’t expect The Guns of Empire to live up to the thrilling, action-packed style of the earlier books. As always, I’m like an eager puppy when it comes to the next sequel in this series. Although The Guns of Empire did disappoint, I’m anticipating a highly successful conclusion to the SHADOW CAMPAIGNS in the next novel!