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Moving from poison and treachery to war and witchcraft, Sam Hawke's Poison Wars continue with Hollow Empire, a fabulous epic fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, and Scott Lynch. Poison was only the beginning.... The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people a Moving from poison and treachery to war and witchcraft, Sam Hawke's Poison Wars continue with Hollow Empire, a fabulous epic fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, and Scott Lynch. Poison was only the beginning.... The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina's skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination.


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Moving from poison and treachery to war and witchcraft, Sam Hawke's Poison Wars continue with Hollow Empire, a fabulous epic fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, and Scott Lynch. Poison was only the beginning.... The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people a Moving from poison and treachery to war and witchcraft, Sam Hawke's Poison Wars continue with Hollow Empire, a fabulous epic fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, and Scott Lynch. Poison was only the beginning.... The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina's skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination.

30 review for Hollow Empire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petrik

    I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo ARC provided by the publisher—Tor Books—in exchange for an honest review. 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 sequ I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo ARC provided by the publisher—Tor Books—in exchange for an honest review. 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 this 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. Poison: Graybore 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) You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping) | Bookshop (Support Local Bookstores!) The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication. You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing! My Patrons: Alfred, Alya, Annabeth, Blaise, Devin, Diana, Edward, Hamad, Helen, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Lufi, Michelle, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas, Zoe.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nick Borrelli

    Sam Hawke's debut novel City of Lies was a revelation and absolutely one of my favorite reads of 2018. It was a perfect blend of suspense, treachery, and court politics that I found a breath of fresh air from the usual battle-frenzied epic fantasy. After I was finished reading it I couldn't wait for more Poison War books because the story was just so good and infectious. So when I received an advance copy of HOLLOW EMPIRE a few weeks ago, I was more excited than I can tell you. I'm happy to say Sam Hawke's debut novel City of Lies was a revelation and absolutely one of my favorite reads of 2018. It was a perfect blend of suspense, treachery, and court politics that I found a breath of fresh air from the usual battle-frenzied epic fantasy. After I was finished reading it I couldn't wait for more Poison War books because the story was just so good and infectious. So when I received an advance copy of HOLLOW EMPIRE a few weeks ago, I was more excited than I can tell you. I'm happy to say that after reading this one, Sam Hawke has taken what she built with the first book and catapulted this series to a level that makes it a flat-out must read for anyone who claims to enjoy tremendous character-driven stories, regardless of genre. HOLLOW EMPIRE begins almost immediately with an exciting and mysterious pursuit through the mysterious back alleys and deserted buildings of Salista. Jovan and Kalina are still entrusted with protecting the nobles and leaders of the country but the stakes have been elevated even more than previously as there seem to be assassins around every corner these days. As proofers, they must detect the intricate poisons of those who would do harm in an effort to overthrow the kingdom once and for all. This comes with its own particular set of risks and dangers to their own lives as well, for they are now well known among the lechers and murderers who are prowling in the dark and deserted areas of town, plotting the death of their enemies. As we get deeper into this story, Jovan has been teaching his young niece Dija the complex skills of proofing. With enough training, he believes she may also be able to lend her skill to the defense of the realm. But their training is cut short as an unexpected event thrusts Jovan and Kalina into a political crisis between neighboring countries that could put a price on both of their heads and turn them from protectors to prey. No longer can the brother and sister team operate in anonymity, they have fallen on the radar of some very dangerous people who have serious motivations to eliminate them as obstacles. To what end? You'll have to check out this amazing series to find out. There are books that are just a joy to read every minute, and HOLLOW EMPIRE was definitely that for me. Truth be told this is a really dark book filled with nasty nobles and even nastier assassins. Death occurs with impunity and frequency, so this is not a feel-good jaunt through a fantasy land of unicorns and fairies. But it is a story that takes turns in directions that I never saw coming. I can't count the number of times I was floored by a plot twist or a scene that had me so tense that I almost didn't want to continue. HOLLOW EMPIRE is a sequel that builds upon its predecessor and introduces the reader to even more of its incredible world and characters. I now know why this book took over two years to create, because it is a feast for the imagination that reminds me of Robin Hobb at her wondrous best with a dash of Paul Kearney's brutal realism. Another of the many strengths of this book is the evolution of the main characters of Jovan and Kalina. I love that we get to experience their intersecting story line through alternating viewpoint chapters. It was interesting to see the plot progress while seeing it through each of their eyes as it was happening. I found it to be a very effective way to convey the story that kept the telling of it fresh since you are reading it from the viewpoint of two very distinct personalities every 30 pages or so. Just when you get settled in to Jovan's account of things, boom, you get Kalina's side of the story. Really great in my opinion. In closing, I was so blown away by HOLLOW EMPIRE and Sam Hawke has totally captivated me once again with her beautiful storytelling. I highly recommend starting with the first book in The Poison War series, City of Lies, and then continuing right along with this brilliant follow up. If you are looking for a fantasy series that has strong characterization and skullduggery galore, you can't do much better than this series. Do yourself a favor and read Sam Hawke's books! They will astound and entertain like very few books can. I'm really amped up to see where Sam takes this series now. I know one thing for sure, it will be an epic finish when all is said and done and one that will not soon be forgotten.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anna Stephens

    I've been waiting for the sequel to City of Lies with extreme excitement and I can promise you right now - it does not disappoint! It has everything that CoL had - intrigue and mystery and a nameless, faceless enemy hellbent on destruction, and yet if possible, it adds EVEN MORE to this heady mix, bringing in new elements and old enemies and personal grudges in a way that means every chapter feels like a mystery has begun or been solved - and yet there's always one more. The characterisation, wor I've been waiting for the sequel to City of Lies with extreme excitement and I can promise you right now - it does not disappoint! It has everything that CoL had - intrigue and mystery and a nameless, faceless enemy hellbent on destruction, and yet if possible, it adds EVEN MORE to this heady mix, bringing in new elements and old enemies and personal grudges in a way that means every chapter feels like a mystery has begun or been solved - and yet there's always one more. The characterisation, worldbuilding and societal structures remain as deeply ingrained in the story as before, while the magic hinted at in CoL is brought more fully into the spotlight. And the tension! Gods alive, the tension is exquisite, winding tighter chapter by chapter as you pull together the threads of the mystery along with the characters until everyone's at breaking poing, including you. In a good way. Less a slow-burn mysterious epic fantasy thriller and more a case of everything's on fire, all the time, including the reader. In other words, absolutely brilliant!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    As with City of Lies, Hollow Empire is a compelling mix of original characterisation, intricate diplomacy, and whodunnit, topped with a dash of magic. In this instalment, Sam Hawke succeeds in enhancing all the things that made the first book so appealing whilst also extending the worldbuilding and upping the tension. The two protagonists, Kalina and Jov, are damaged by what they experienced before, but still determined to do what it takes to save their friends and their city. Importantly, their As with City of Lies, Hollow Empire is a compelling mix of original characterisation, intricate diplomacy, and whodunnit, topped with a dash of magic. In this instalment, Sam Hawke succeeds in enhancing all the things that made the first book so appealing whilst also extending the worldbuilding and upping the tension. The two protagonists, Kalina and Jov, are damaged by what they experienced before, but still determined to do what it takes to save their friends and their city. Importantly, their past actions didn't 'fix' everything. Not only do the threads of the first book's plot reach into this story, the siege and destruction of the city didn't teach some people anything at all. In that, it feels so very real. Why actually deal with problems when you can throw disadvantaged or persecuted communities a few crumbs and tell them they should be satisfied? How very.... modern. This timely crossover of real world and world-specific issues is well-handled, amplifying their emotive power. Whereas much of fantasy relies on people being special, better than everyone else, this emphasises the human. The good and bad of it. It's powerful authorial statement and one of the many reasons Sam Hawke contintinues to be one to watch. ARC via Netgalley

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kahlia

    I read City of Lies around this time last year, and while I liked it, I didn’t love it. However, I remember thinking that Sam Hawke was a debut author with a lot of talent, and someone to watch out for as they released more work. And I was (thankfully) right. Hollow Empire picks up two years after City of Lies finished, with Jovan and Kalina still muddling their way through the consequences of the siege of Silasta and figuring out how to put the broken pieces of their country back together, whil I read City of Lies around this time last year, and while I liked it, I didn’t love it. However, I remember thinking that Sam Hawke was a debut author with a lot of talent, and someone to watch out for as they released more work. And I was (thankfully) right. Hollow Empire picks up two years after City of Lies finished, with Jovan and Kalina still muddling their way through the consequences of the siege of Silasta and figuring out how to put the broken pieces of their country back together, while also preventing new fissures from emerging. The pacing – my biggest issue with City of Lies – is watertight from the start, Jovan and Kalina’s POVs feel much more equal, and the key conflicts of this book flow naturally from the previous, and are new and fresh while still being deeply connected to what has come before. “You never get used to poisoning a child.” Firstly, Sam Hawke is the master of opening lines, and Hollow Empire follows through. There are so many twists and turns in this book, and this pervasive sense of suspicion and fear that permeates the entire story: it’s impossible to tell who Jovan and Kalina can and can’t trust. It’s hard to say too much about the premise of the book without spoilers, but there is a combination of internal and external politics that are hard to pick apart: the city and the Guilders on the Council are still adjusting to the changes in governance that occurred following the revelations about the Darfri in book one, but there are also several foreign ambassadors in town for a festival, some of whom have political ambitions of their own. I have to admit that I didn’t pick up a lot of the reveals, but they made sense in hindsight since the breadcrumb trail is so well-scattered. This book is also a lot darker than City of Lies in some ways: the ratio of murders to pages is probably about the same, but the attacks are more personalised, and more sinister in nature. Both Jovan and Kalina remain the strong, stoic and kind-hearted individuals of the previous book, which I adored. The side characters are also fascinating, though it’s hard to necessarily like any of them (except perhaps Jovan and Kalina’s niece Dija), because you never know if one of them is going to metaphorically or actually stab one of the siblings in the back. (And, if I had one complaint about Hollow Empire, it’s that I would have loved to see more of a role for Tain, the Chancellor and my favourite character). But, if you like reading about good people who try their best to do the right thing and follow their own moral compass (even when it directs them slightly off-course), then I highly recommend this series. There is also great disability rep: Jovan suffers from anxiety, while Kalina has an illness somewhat like chronic fatigue – and while the characters may be forced to slow down and take a deep breath sometimes, they are never inhibited in pursuing their goals one way or another. There is also an f/f relationship between Kalina and another character, and while it wasn’t my favourite part of the story since it didn’t get a lot of screen-time to fully develop, I know many readers will be thrilled. (Also Tain continues to be less subtle about his crush on Jovan than he’d like). The Poison Wars is marketed as a duology, but it’s clear these characters aren’t done making Silasta a better place, and I am in desperate need of another sequel. Finally, I have to give a shout-out to the chapter epigraphs. Where City of Lies started each chapter with a description of a various poison, Hollow Empire gives us entries from the diaries of previous Oromani family proofers, regarding the investigation of various poisoning incidents. I often skim epigraphs – but these are hilarious, and full of shout of outs to other authors in the fantasy community. (some of whom are the victims of insidious poison-related murder). It’s worth reading them just to see how many you can spot. Note: I received an ARC from Bantam Press in exchange for a review. Hollow Empire will be released on 26 November in the UK and Australia and on 1 December in the US (by Tor). This review is also available @firstbreathsreviews.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Unseen Library

    I received a copy of Hollow Empire from Penguin Random House Australia to review. After a two year wait, we finally get to see the epic sequel to Australian author Sam Hawke’s impressive debut novel, City of Lies, with her blockbuster new novel, Hollow Empire. Two years after the siege of the city of Silasta, where the oppressed Darfri minority where manipulated into attacking the capital by an unknown outside force, the city has started to recover. While the city focuses on rebuilding and reconci I received a copy of Hollow Empire from Penguin Random House Australia to review. After a two year wait, we finally get to see the epic sequel to Australian author Sam Hawke’s impressive debut novel, City of Lies, with her blockbuster new novel, Hollow Empire. Two years after the siege of the city of Silasta, where the oppressed Darfri minority where manipulated into attacking the capital by an unknown outside force, the city has started to recover. While the city focuses on rebuilding and reconciliation with their former besiegers, the poison-eating siblings Jovana and Kalina Oromani, secret protectors of the Chancellor, continue their efforts to work out who was truly behind the attack on their city. However, to their frustration, no one else in the city shares their concerns, instead they have grown complacent with the returned peace. But no peace lasts forever, especially as Silastra celebrates the karodee, a grand festival, to which representatives of all the nations surrounding the city state have been invited. While the focus is on peace and forging ties between nations, the siblings begin to suspect that their unknown enemy is using it as an opportunity to launch a new attack against Silastra. In order to determine what is happening, Jovana attempts to hunt down a dangerous and deadly killer that only he seems to have noticed, while Kalina navigates the treacherous world of politics and diplomacy as she works to determine which of their neighbours may have been involved in the prior attack on their city. Working together with the Chancellor Tain and the Darfri mystic Hadrea, the Oromani siblings get closer to finding some of the answers that they desire. However, both siblings find themselves under attack from all sides as their opponents not only attempt to kill them, but to discredit their entire family. Determined to protect Silasta no matter what, Jovana and Kalina will risk everything to find out the truth, even if the answers are too much for either of them to bear. Hollow Empire was another awesome novel from fellow Canberran Sam Hawke which serves as the compelling and enjoyable second entry in her Poison War series which follows on from her 2018 debut, City of Lies. I am a big fan of Hawke’s first novel and not only was it one of my favourite books in 2018, but it is also one of my top debuts of all time. As a result, I have been looking forward to seeing how the story continues for some time now and I was incredibly happy to receive my copy of Hollow Empire several weeks ago. The wait was definitely worth it as Hawke has come up with another impressive and clever novel that not only serves as an excellent sequel to City of Lies, but which takes the reader on an intrigue laden journey into the heart of an exciting fantasy city filled with great characters. To see the full review, click the link below: https://unseenlibrary.com/2021/01/03/... An abridged version of this review ran in the Canberra Weekly on 17 December 2020: https://unseenlibrary.com/2021/01/03/... For other exciting reviews and content, check out my blog at: https://unseenlibrary.com/

  7. 5 out of 5

    Juliano Dutra

    DNF at 24%.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    5/5 - *incoherent screaming*

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Wow. I loved this book even more than the first one. Hollow Empire, the second entry to the Poison Wars series, is a compulsively readable sequel that truly masters keeping the reader at the edge of their seat. The book as a whole is cleverly crafted as the author balances political intrigue, careful worldbuilding, and suspenseful mysteries in deft measures. We return to our protagonists and the city of Silasta more than two years after the end of the siege in City of Lies. Necessary steps were Wow. I loved this book even more than the first one. Hollow Empire, the second entry to the Poison Wars series, is a compulsively readable sequel that truly masters keeping the reader at the edge of their seat. The book as a whole is cleverly crafted as the author balances political intrigue, careful worldbuilding, and suspenseful mysteries in deft measures. We return to our protagonists and the city of Silasta more than two years after the end of the siege in City of Lies. Necessary steps were taken to repair the damage from the uprising. Most importantly, the inequalities faced by the Dafri whose grievances were instrumental to many of the conflicts of the first book have since started to be addressed. While the reforms and reparations implemented are not perfect by any means – accusations and grumbling between the old Credol families and the Dafri certainly still occur – it’s nonetheless restored the city to a relative peace. Chancellor Tain is determined to mark how far Silasta has come since those dark times with the multiday festivities of karodee. Karodee is a grand, city-wide celebration that’s like a cross between a festival and the Olympics. Hundreds of visitors from throughout their native Sjona and abroad have entered the city for the occasion, including many important representatives from foreign nations. It is during this event that the story largely takes place. It’s clear from the outset that our two main characters have their own concerns during karodee. Jovan – as always – plans to protect Tain from threats he’s grimly aware have never truly disappeared. He, Kalina and Tain have relentlessly pursued the identity of the shadowy figures that planned the uprising two years prior, and it angers Jovan that the city’s other leaders no longer seem interested in doing the same. As far as the Silastan Council is concerned, the conspirators were largely caught and the siege a thing of the past, so Jovan’s worries are politely dismissed as paranoia. But Jovan knows his suspicions about the rising crime rings in the city are valid, as are his repeated sightings of the man stalking Tain. When pointed attacks are made at Jovan’s reputation, he uneasily wonders at the sinister reasons that would make diminishing his credibility a priority. Kalina, on the other hand, is ready to display her prowess as a spy during karodee while making diplomatic overtures to improve Silasta’s ties with other nations. It’s through her chapters that we get to see much more of the machinations of Sjona’s neighbours as she comes into contact with the Talafan, Doranite, and Perest-Avana delegations. When strange events start happening within the Talafan party in particular, Kalina shrewdly begins to take matters into her own hands. Kalina’s investigation grows only more important as becomes apparent that emerging threats in the city may have foreign backers. The tension build-up throughout this book was so well executed. I really can’t praise it enough. I don’t think any other book I’ve read this year had made me feel as anxious as this book did. I was fully immersed in the escalating dangerous atmosphere within Silastia and felt the same sense of dread that the characters did. Just like Kalina and Jovan, I was suspicious of almost every side character and never knew who to trust. There were some shocks that I suspected were coming, but other twists took me completely by surprise in the best kind of way. They never came out of nowhere, neither. Just the right amount of puzzle pieces were laid out beforehand that came together to form the whole picture at just the right time. I loved how this made the plot progress efficiently as a whole. Another thing I loved was seeing Jovan in the role of the mentor to his cousin and adopted niece Dija. In so many books I’ve read it seems to be a staple to see through the perspective of the student and their coming-of-age journey. We see them grow frustrated with the impenetrable and sometimes mysterious manner of their teachers, but never see too deeply into their mentor’s thoughts. But in Hollow Empire, we very much get to see how Jovan struggles with being an efficient teacher. His task, after all, is to teach Dija their family’s deadly craft of proofing. Proofing for poisons mean that Dija must be trained to recognize the noxious substances and to build up an immunity – which means that Jovan has no choice but to poison her repeatedly with and without her knowledge. Guilt tears at him as he attempts to balance these necessary but brutal learning experiences while still allowing Dija to retain some of her childhood. Jovan is aware how guarded and distant he must seem with his charge, but believes he must not coddle her while she grasps her future responsibilities. Watching him genuinely care for her and try not to push her too far could be heart-wrenching – especially since clever Dija, desperate to earn his approval, is always trying to impress and assist him. Jovan and Dija aside, all the character storylines and relationships were compelling. I’d feel remiss not to point out how I admired Kalina’s bravery, cleverness, and her absolute determination to do what’s necessary no matter her physical limitations. Sjease was another favourite due to their competence and budding loyalties to the Oromanis. I’m also still wondering at Hadrea and the hidden, internal strife that plagues her throughout in this book. Hadrea remains a little bit of a mystery in some ways, but I’ve an inkling that she’s got a huge storyline coming in the future. Lastly, I’d like to point out that you should definitely look forward to the epigraphs at the start of the chapters. Each epigraph details an investigation into a past poisoning – but if you pay enough attention you might note that the names of the victims greatly resemble some SFF authors you may have read. A splendid read. Many thanks to Random House UK Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press and Netgalley for providing the free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    This and more reviews at superstardrifter.com!~ This is the (continuing) story of Jovan and Kalina Oromani, who are nobles in the city of Silasta. Since the events of City of Lies, life has for the most part gone on. Jovan has taken on an apprentice proofer (poison taster), Kalina has thankfully recovered from things that occurred, and Tain Iliri is doing his best at being chancellor, despite his health being in somewhat of a decline since those events. When strange things begin happening, and the This and more reviews at superstardrifter.com!~ This is the (continuing) story of Jovan and Kalina Oromani, who are nobles in the city of Silasta. Since the events of City of Lies, life has for the most part gone on. Jovan has taken on an apprentice proofer (poison taster), Kalina has thankfully recovered from things that occurred, and Tain Iliri is doing his best at being chancellor, despite his health being in somewhat of a decline since those events. When strange things begin happening, and the Oromani family (as well as two others) are seemingly being specifically targeted for scandal and assassination, it takes all three of their skills to unravel what’s really happening and who would have a grudge so large on their family that they’d resort to witchcraft and assassination. Having really liked City of Lies, I knew going in that I was going to like Hollow Empire. I love love love Jov, Tain, and Lini as characters. They are flawed, but never let their disabilities or differences stop them. I especially see myself in Jovan, who has anxiety and something similar in presentation to OCD. He has ticks and compulsions that sometimes even help him solve the mystery at hand. And mystery it is. Just like City of Lies, this one had me suspect pretty much everyone of being the baddie. With the exception of the three main characters, I had my eyes metaphorically narrowed at nearly every single other character. When things really did start coming to light in the end, it was very much a surprise to me. This book, especially the last quarter of it, gave me a couple really good kicks in the feels, and while they weren’t necessarily good feels (some were, though), they really gave the story that depth that always gets me so invested in it. I continue to be invested in these characters after the fact. The story was left in a place that fully closed the plot at hand, and yet left the world open to further exploration, and I for one hope that more exploration comes along. All told, I loved Hollow Empire just as much as I loved City of Lies. Characters that I can’t help but love put into situations that I can’t help but fear for them in. That, to me, a good story makes. It was fantastic! Thanks to the author, as well as Tor via NetGalley for the review copy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jack Heath

    Jovan and Kalina Oromani are brother and sister, sworn to protect the Chancellor of Silasta. This is a difficult job, as the Chancellor's kindness borders on naivete, and he has many enemies - some political, some personal. Despite - or perhaps because of - their various heroic deeds in City of Lies, the Oromanis have enemies of their own, and so does Silasta itself. For that reason, when Jovan is attacked by someone who attempts to frame him for murder, it's unclear not only who the attacker is Jovan and Kalina Oromani are brother and sister, sworn to protect the Chancellor of Silasta. This is a difficult job, as the Chancellor's kindness borders on naivete, and he has many enemies - some political, some personal. Despite - or perhaps because of - their various heroic deeds in City of Lies, the Oromanis have enemies of their own, and so does Silasta itself. For that reason, when Jovan is attacked by someone who attempts to frame him for murder, it's unclear not only who the attacker is, but what they want. And the more threads the Oromanis tug, the more clues they find that something very, very bad is coming. This is an exceptional sequel to an exceptional book. I'm too busy with my own writing to go into much more detail than that right now, but I hope to come back and write a full review later. Those are famous last words - I'm always making promises like that - so let me just say that if you like fantasy, you should read this (read book 1, City of Lies, first) and if you don't like fantasy, you should probably still read it. The mix of murder mystery, political thriller and wild, vivid magic is enthralling. The characters are memorable (which is handy, because there are so many), the world feels utterly real, and the twists and turns took my breath away. The scene in the hospital after the closing ceremony left me aghast, and at a loss to explain the gravity of the situation to my wife. The story is also rich with symbolism and metaphor. Silasta is a lot like Canberra - a prosperous if oblivious multicultural capital, bisected by a lake with two bridges, and ostensibly leading a region that mostly despises it. The Darfri could represent Indigenous Australians, in the midst of an uneasy reconciliation after their traditions and spirituality were trampled by invaders. The neighboring Talafan Empire resembles Saudi Arabia, or some other nation state whose wealth makes them an important trading partner but whose customs create friction with their allies (and their own citizens, particularly women). This is all very clever, but at a certain point, most readers will stop looking for hidden meanings and just enjoy the story. Hopefully someday someone will write their thesis on this series, and the thinking will be done for me. Most books that switch between two narrators have a bad habit of reiterating things the reader already knows, or showing the same conversation from different perspectives in the hope that it will be just as interesting the second time. But as with City of Lies, Hollow Empire is cunningly structured. Every time we swap viewpoints, instead of rewinding, the plot leaps forward, giving this book a blistering pace that similar novels lack. The three heroes are kind, but flawed, and sometimes attempt to deceive each other, which adds a frisson of paranoia to even the less action-packed scenes (though the dialogue has enough humour in it to break the tension). One minor gripe: over the course of the series so far, four good guys have turned out to be bad guys (by my count). In one of those cases, it's a superb reveal - completely unexpected, yet utterly consistent with the character. In the three other cases, it comes more out of the blue. The shock factor is good, and the villain's objectives make sense once exposed, but the twist doesn't seem to fit with the character's... well, character as we've seen it so far. The narrator does explicitly point out that some people can hide a ruthless streak under an utterly convincing facade of genuineness - but when everything you thought you knew about a hero turns out to be fake, there's often not enough personality left underneath to make a convincing villain (especially when they tend to be killed so soon after the reveal, almost as if they're dying of exposure). Also, many of the threads are tied up very quickly at the end of the book, with some problems solved almost as soon as they've been introduced. At the risk of suggesting a 560 page book should have been even longer, I would have liked a bit more at the end. Luckily, the way is left open for a sequel - and I'll be first in line to read it. This is fast becoming my favourite fantasy series. You really owe it to yourself to check it out. Five stars. Look at that? I wrote the whole review after all, leaving me behind with my own writing for the day. Whenever I open my mouth to tell someone about City of Lies or Hollow Empire, I can't stop talking. I should have known it would happen here, too.

  12. 5 out of 5

    FantasyBookNerd

    Hollow Empire is the second book in Sam Hawke’s series of books ‘The Poison Wars’ and takes place two years after the events of the first book. When City of Lies ended I found myself with more questions than the book answered, with Jovan & Kalina as perplexed as I was as to the reasons why the events of the first book took place. I knew there was more to the story and Sam Hawke skillfully left me hanging with a cliffhanger, and in this, the second book, Hawke answers this question and the reason Hollow Empire is the second book in Sam Hawke’s series of books ‘The Poison Wars’ and takes place two years after the events of the first book. When City of Lies ended I found myself with more questions than the book answered, with Jovan & Kalina as perplexed as I was as to the reasons why the events of the first book took place. I knew there was more to the story and Sam Hawke skillfully left me hanging with a cliffhanger, and in this, the second book, Hawke answers this question and the reasons why. And it may not be what you thought. I have to admit. When I first started City of Lies, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. For one, it took me a little while to get used to the two person narrative and the mystery element of the plot (me and mysteries don’t tend to get along). However, as I read more I did get used to it and City of Lies was a bit of a sleeper hit with me, so when I got a chance to read an advanced reader copy of Hollow Empire, I jumped at the chance. And I have to say, wow! I wasn’t expecting that . As I said earlier, the book starts two years after City of Lies, and opens up with an opening line that is similar to the first book. Jovan has taken on an heir called Dija, the youngest daughter of his second cousin. And surprisingly, he has dosed her with some noxious substance as part of her training. As anybody who is familiar with the first book, Jovan is a proofer. A kind of poison taster for the Chancellor, Jovan’s best friend Tain, and this is the family business. Now this is going to be a bit difficult, because if I reveal something here, it kind of spoils the first book, and whilst I suspect that there might be some people who have read this and know the end of City of Lies, there might be those people that are just coming to Hollow Empire without knowing there was a first book. So if you are in the former camp it doesn’t matter, but if you are in the second camp, turn back now - HERE BE DRAGONS. So, all the gang is back together, Jovan, Tain, Kalina and Hadrea (although she doesn’t make an appearance until later in the book) and again the city of Silasta is in danger. However, this time instead of an all out revolution, this time the city is being subverted by a myriad of covert and seemingly unconnected occurrences. Jovan is convinced that there is a plot afoot, but he has difficulty in proving it until things come to a head and inexplicable events take place that indicate Jovan’s suspicions have more value than any of them suspected. Now, the strength of Hollow Empire is in its plotting, pacing and characters, and with these, Hawke really develops in both. I found this second book to be taken up a notch in all things really, The plot development is excellent. When I got to the final act and certain events revealed certain truths to the characters, I was like - I knew it. Yep, you didn’t fool me with that one Sam Hawke. And that is one of the strengths of the Hawkes writing. Yep, she gives you that one where you can feel all superior because you guessed that aspect of the plot, and then she totally blind sides you with something else and you are thinking Whoa! Did not expect that! In terms of character development, nearly all the characters develop in some way. Jovan develops a relationship with his heir, the newly introduced DIja, and Dija is a fantastic new character. Kalina develops in her own way and also develops a relationship outside the family. However, Tain and Hadrea are a bit on the sideline in this one for some of the book, but when they do come into it, Hawke gives them the appropriate attention for them to develop and in a pretty satisfying way, I must say. As I said, the other things that have been taken up a notch, is the plot and the pace. Hawke has really upped the game in Hollow Empire and there is all sorts happening. Shadowy plots, assassinations, magic and witchcraft and ultimately war. In this second book, you can really see the development. The plot is as twisty and turny as anything that you would find in any non fantasy thriller book and the pace, once it gets going, is so high octane that it kept me firmly gripped to the edge of my seat. One of the things that I almost forgot to mention is the world building. In Hollow Empire, the story is not so compact as the last book, which was mainly situated in one location. In this book, we get to see a more fully realised world that is populated with a multitude of cultures, languages, religions and races. That is not to say that it wasn’t there in the last book, it’s just that the plot of the story mainly revolved around the city more in the first book and in this book we step outside the city and see what the estates look like. . The other thing that I like about Hawke’s books, is that whilst they are fantasy books, there are some very real world topics in there again, which I think is a particular strength of her writing, it impressed me in her last book and impressed me again. You can very much equate some of the topics that she covers to what is happening in the world now. In the Hollow Empire, I have simply fallen hook line and sinker for this story. The plot is intricately woven and everything is so tight. The character development of the book is just glorious and the pace had my pulse racing and my head pounding with all the blind alleys that Sam Hawke leads us up. And just let me mention the end! That was one pretty magnificent ending that had me thinking yep, I enjoyed that.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    ARC provided by publisher. 4.5 stars. My most anticipated sequel for this year sort of blew me away. The first book is such an intelligent political mystery that I wasn’t sure if the sequel could stand toe to toe with it, but I finished it feeling like I’d just run a very emotional marathon. I went from heavy breathing, to full blown sobbing, to elated exhaustion within the final 20 pages. Beware spoilers for City of Lies. Hollow Empire takes place two years after the siege of the first book, and n ARC provided by publisher. 4.5 stars. My most anticipated sequel for this year sort of blew me away. The first book is such an intelligent political mystery that I wasn’t sure if the sequel could stand toe to toe with it, but I finished it feeling like I’d just run a very emotional marathon. I went from heavy breathing, to full blown sobbing, to elated exhaustion within the final 20 pages. Beware spoilers for City of Lies. Hollow Empire takes place two years after the siege of the first book, and now magic is on the rise in deadly forms while our main characters are also trying to navigate political waters with their neighbouring countries. Jovan and Kalina’s family is being sabotaged by something nefarious and attacks on the city leave them wondering whether the rebellion from two years before is awakening again with magic as a weapon instead of poison. The plot of this book immediately kicks off and maintains a really fantastic pace throughout. Jovan and Kalina remain incredibly strong characters; Kalina in particular has brilliant character growth and goes from hesitant at her place in the world, to fearlessly fighting for her political role. Jovan in contrast has grown paranoid and diminishing respect from his suspicious peers sends him on a desperate journey to understand who their enemy is this time. Hadrea I felt was lacking some depth; in the first book she’s angry over the way her people have been treated by Sjon and how their history has been trampled on. In the sequel, she doesn’t really seem to have developed past that. Although her consistent anger makes sense and is something I agree with, I was hoping she had grown or changed in the time jump, but her stubborn anger at Jovan grew tedious and because we do not have her POV, we didn’t have her thought process for some of her jarring decisions or dialogue. Relationships in this were solid again. I loved the development of Hadrea and Jovan; their slowly dwindling romance gives way to really interesting unsteadiness and doubt between them. I remain a Jovan/Tain truther and the breadcrumbs in this were delicious (make it canon Sam you can have my firstborn) and the start of the romance between Kalina and Abae was really lovely and their dialogue was very touching and I imagine incredibly relatable for many lesbians. Kalina and Jovan’s sibling bond as well as Kalina and Tain’s dynamic - Kalina growing from seeing him romantically to “a second brother” - was really well done and the protectiveness between all three of them is very compelling. The mystery surrounding the events of this book was brilliantly done again too. The first book had me attached and subsequently betrayed by the reveal of the spy and so this time round I was determined to not get attached to any side characters who could possibly be the enemy. Even then, I was still shocked and engrossed in the unfolding of the final events and how the main characters were going to get out of it. This isn’t 5 stars because I did feel like the conclusion was a little easy, but the potential consequences of those events made up for it. This book has a wonderful tension which is especially prevalent at the end, but throughout there are moments where my heart rate really picked up and I was fighting not to skim because I was desperate to know how things would go. It’s a little darker and the magic in this a little scarier and dangerous and it builds a far more threatening atmosphere that is quite different from the first book. Overall, this is a wonderful and severely underrated series. It’s so consistent that I can’t even claim I enjoyed either book more than the other. If you’re a fan of political mysteries and fantasies, this series is a must read and if you loved the first book, I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed by this. Now all I have to ask is: is there a third book???

  14. 4 out of 5

    charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow)

    On my blog. Actual rating 4.5 Rep: non-white cast, bi mc with OCD, lesbian mc with chronic pain, lesbian li, bi side character, nonbinary side character CWs: violence, gore Galley provided by publisher Hollow Empire is a book I have been anticipating since December last year, and a book I was doubly anticipating ever since I found out that it’s sapphic. And it was so so good that all I want to do is go back and reread both books. I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but Hollow Empi On my blog. Actual rating 4.5 Rep: non-white cast, bi mc with OCD, lesbian mc with chronic pain, lesbian li, bi side character, nonbinary side character CWs: violence, gore Galley provided by publisher Hollow Empire is a book I have been anticipating since December last year, and a book I was doubly anticipating ever since I found out that it’s sapphic. And it was so so good that all I want to do is go back and reread both books. I will try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but Hollow Empire picks up two years after City of Lies ended. Silasta seems to be at peace: the Darfri and the Silastans are working together within the city and there have been no more suspicious murders. Only, Jovan has started feeling as though Tain is being followed by a shadowy figure, a figure only he seems to be able to spot. When I read City of Lies, I was majorly not in the right mood for a slowburning political fantasy. I loved the characters and I could tell it was a book that, when I came back to it, I would love it. And, lo and behold, exactly that happened with Hollow Empire. In a way, there’s sometimes books you need to know what you’re getting into before you start them, so you can enjoy them to their fullest. So once I got that part out of the way, I was always going to love this book. Much like the first book, this one is a slowburning political fantasy, but, in this case, the enemy is invisible. Where in the first there was an army outside the gates, and a siege being played out, here, no one knows who is working against them. And no one besides the main characters really believes anyone is working against them. So the struggle is on two fronts: internally, within the city, and externally, with this invisible enemy. What’s great about this book, then, is that it expands the world we have come to know and love. It takes us out of Silasta, though not always physically, and introduces us to other countries and empires. Which is one of my favourite things about the book — any fantasy book or series, really — because it also raises the stakes. Who can the Silastans trust, if anyone? And then there are the characters. I loved them in book one and I adored them again here (no lie, I teared up reading the first chapter because I saw them again… yeah, I know). It’s great to see how they have developed from the first book — not always in positive ways, to admit, but in ways that made you love them all the more. Which brings me to a brief side point: I love that this book shows the psychological toll that fantasy events can have on characters. There are so many books where characters go through something incredibly traumatising (you’d think) and yet show no effect of that. So it was great to see that here. Really, with the characters, the only thing I’d say is that sometimes I found it hard to sympathise with Hadrea. Now, in book one, she’s clearly angry for the way the Darfri have been treated, and continue to be treated. And that makes sense. In book two, it’s as if she has stubbornly maintained that anger, but we don’t get her POV to see why. So instead, that anger was frustrating to read. But in a sense, it feels like that anger is what leads to her downfall, so by the end, I was very interested to see where that was going. All I have left to say, then, is that, if you haven’t already had this series on your radar, please please put it there. Request your libraries or bookshops get the book in, do whatever, because honestly, I don’t know how I’ll cope if we don’t get a third book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Kidnapping, backstabbing, and of course, poisoning. And as much as I love the writing connected to the intrigue, it is the personal lives of these characters that keep me reading this series. Hawke’s attention to detail… it’s not just the physical fights that Jovan and Tain and Kalina are fighting, but that mental stress and anxiety that this strife brings. She has produced several of the most realistic characters in contemporary fantasy lit. Please get started on The Poison War series, pronto! A Kidnapping, backstabbing, and of course, poisoning. And as much as I love the writing connected to the intrigue, it is the personal lives of these characters that keep me reading this series. Hawke’s attention to detail… it’s not just the physical fights that Jovan and Tain and Kalina are fighting, but that mental stress and anxiety that this strife brings. She has produced several of the most realistic characters in contemporary fantasy lit. Please get started on The Poison War series, pronto! An opening salvo of City of Lies introduced me to this wonderful author, and Hollow Empire confirms that talent. For my full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2020/11/27/ho... For all my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  16. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Fitzgerald

    When I decided to revive the Earl Grey Editing blog, I’d originally intended to resume at the beginning of 2021: a new year, a new start. Then I heard that Hollow Empire was being released in December and I knew I couldn’t wait. City of Lies was such a stunning debut that I needed to get my hands on the sequel ASAP. Two years have passed since the siege of Silasta. On the surface, the city has healed. Tensions still exist between the Darfri and the Silastans, but work is being done to bridge the When I decided to revive the Earl Grey Editing blog, I’d originally intended to resume at the beginning of 2021: a new year, a new start. Then I heard that Hollow Empire was being released in December and I knew I couldn’t wait. City of Lies was such a stunning debut that I needed to get my hands on the sequel ASAP. Two years have passed since the siege of Silasta. On the surface, the city has healed. Tensions still exist between the Darfri and the Silastans, but work is being done to bridge the rift. This has brought changes to the city: the population has increased, bringing correspondingly higher rates of crime. Nevertheless, the Oromani siblings have prospered, lauded for their role in saving the city. However, the popular view of them is quite different. While Kalini is held up as the beloved saviour of Silasta, the secretive nature of Jovan’s role and its association with poison means he is commonly viewed as a sinister and shadowy figure in the background. This view of Jovan becomes a particular problem when it becomes apparent that an enemy is waging a subtle war to smear his reputation. The characters remain one of the strongest aspects of this series. Although only two years have passed, Kalini and Jovan feel like they have matured, having had time to settle into adulthood without their Tashi. Nor have the other characters remained static. Tain has less of a presence in this book than the previous, but it’s clear that being poisoned has had an ongoing impact on his health. Hadrea remains as prickly as ever, in part due to her dissatisfaction with her training as a Speaker. Her irascibility serves to make the cracks in her relationship with Jovan all the more plain. However, Hollow Empire isn’t a book solely about bringing the old gang back; it features new characters, too. With his Tashi gone and now that he’s not reeling from one disaster to the next (well, at least in the beginning), Jovan must ensure a proofer is ready to step up in case something happens to him. Enter Dija. Although she’s only 13 years old, she’s smart and wise beyond her years, level-headed in a crisis… of which there are plenty to test her mettle. She’s also good with people and quick to play the wide-eyed innocent, making her an excellent spy — and bringing together the strengths of both Oromani siblings. I rather hope we might see her as a point-of-view character in the future. Seeing her awkward, yet affectionate relationship with Jovan was a highlight of the book. This relationship also affords a chance for the reader to experience along with Jovan the flip side of the relationship between proofer and apprentice. As an apprentice, Jovan trusted his uncle implicitly, bearing through the poisonings that were part of his training and working hard to develop the knowledge necessary for the role. As the teacher, Jovan is faced with the necessity of repeatedly poisoning a child, a fact with which he struggles, even as he knows the necessity. Compounding this is the disapproval from some of those closest to him, playing into his self-consciousness over his somewhat sinister reputation in the city. The book also introduces the first gender nonbinary character of the series. Al-Sjease serves as the Oromani family’s household manager, a sweet person who respects their employer’s privacy and offers wisdom when it is most needed. The cast was already reasonably diverse in relation to race, so it’s nice to see Hollow Empire follow that lead along the axis of gender. It also expands its representation of disability. Although Jovan’s compulsiveness and Kalini’s chronic health issues are less prominent than in the previous book, Silastra’s new Warrior-Guilder sports a prosthetic leg. This is nicely underplayed, shown as a part of who she is and not a big deal. As with the previous book, Hollow Empire deals with lots of weighty subjects. A key plot development centres around Kalina’s forthcoming appointment as Ambassador to the Talafan, a country which offers a patriarchal contrast to the more equitable Silasta. This allows some of the feminist concerns present in the series to be explored in more detail. Issues regarding consent, sexual harassment, and the disenfranchisement of women are all touched on. As Tain and the city seek to learn from past mistakes, issues of reparation are also brought up. There were some very relatable parts around the short memories of institutions and their reluctance to change. In fact, if there’s one criticism I have of the book, it’s that there was too much going on. There wasn’t the time to dig into all of these themes in a satisfying way. I also felt that some of the sense of place that characterised the first book was missing from this one, sacrificed to the twisty plot. I particularly felt this in the parts that took place outside the city, and therefore couldn’t rely on the weight of the previous book to carry it through. However, Hollow Empire remains an excellent intrigue. There were red herrings and more than enough twists to hook me in and keep me there from beginning to end. It was absolutely worth an early return to reviewing just for a chance to read it. I have my fingers crossed for another book in the series. This review first appeared on Earl Grey Editing.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ash | Wild Heart Reads

    I have been anticipating Hollow Empire ever since I finished City of Lies and it was worth every second of waiting. Two years after the siege that almost destroyed Silasta the scars, both physical and mental, continue to ache for the survivors. The city has done it's best to move forward into a new future for all citizens but the peace, it seems, is only surface deep. Old enemies and new make moves in the shadows, intent on tearing down the city in its moment of glory. Hollow Empire is a fantasti I have been anticipating Hollow Empire ever since I finished City of Lies and it was worth every second of waiting. Two years after the siege that almost destroyed Silasta the scars, both physical and mental, continue to ache for the survivors. The city has done it's best to move forward into a new future for all citizens but the peace, it seems, is only surface deep. Old enemies and new make moves in the shadows, intent on tearing down the city in its moment of glory. Hollow Empire is a fantastic follow-up to City of Lies. Whilst City of Lies can be read as a standalone, it's absolutely magical to be able to re-enter Silasta and get to follow my favourite pair of siblings again. Hollow Empire ups the stakes, the tension and the intrigue. Though I loved City of Lies, I do think Hollow Empire managed to surpass it. It was just so good and every page kept me guessing. Every time you think you had something figured out Sam pulls the rug out from under you. New magic, old enemies and old vengeances make for an explosive story. The worldbuilding is one of the things I love most about the Poison Wars novels. Silasta is a matrilineal society with no concept of marriage or a patriarchal, nuclear family set up. It's really refreshing and as Sam and I talked about in my interview with her, despite the fact that fantasy means that the worlds you can create are limited only by your imagination, all too often we are still stuck with a pseudo-European, patriarchal society - even as dragons fly overhead. Sam does away with this with absolute ease. One of the main elements that makes Hollow Empire so good are, of course, Jovan, Kalina and Tain. These characters are everything. They worm their way into your heart. Sam is brilliant at characterisation. They come straight off the page and everything they feel, you do as well. I love that we get a fantasy with a sibling relationship front and centre with OCD rep and chronic illness rep. Both Kalina and Jovan show that, even as others would dismiss them they are not to be underestimated. There were a couple of little threads dropped right at the end that could be explored in a third book and honestly I am praying that we get one because it would be too cruel otherwise. There's so much potential there! And I desperately need my ship to sail. I need it like I need air. Also I would like to say this was a win for the sapphics!! Get it Kalina. "And what am I supposed to do without you?" he muttered, so softly I barely heard. I highly recommend Hollow Empire, and if you haven't read it starting with City of Lies. This was an incredible sequel, worth every second of waiting. It showcases one of the best (and local!) voices in fantasy. If you want a diverse, character driven story with exquisite worldbuilding and characters you would lay down your life for, do yourself a favour and pick up these books. *I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own* This review and more can be found at https://wildheartreads.wordpress.com/

  18. 4 out of 5

    shri (sunandchai)

    REVIEW TO COME

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lia Yuliana

    STUNNING. ABSOLUTELY STUNNING. I BAWLED MY EYES OUT READING THE LAST FEW CHAPTERS. Gonna update soon with my review! :) Update 3/12/20 4.95/5 stars Official Release Date : 26th November 2020 (UK) & 1st December 2020 (US) "You never get used to poisoning a child.” TW : death, gore, violence ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. An intoxicating sequel to end all sequels I’ve read this year; Hollow Empire is the stunning continuation to a fantastic debut City o STUNNING. ABSOLUTELY STUNNING. I BAWLED MY EYES OUT READING THE LAST FEW CHAPTERS. Gonna update soon with my review! :) Update 3/12/20 4.95/5 stars Official Release Date : 26th November 2020 (UK) & 1st December 2020 (US) "You never get used to poisoning a child.” TW : death, gore, violence ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. An intoxicating sequel to end all sequels I’ve read this year; Hollow Empire is the stunning continuation to a fantastic debut City of Lies by Sam Hawke, the story raises the bar with its mystery and conspiracies that will pull you in as we follow Jovan and Kalina to save Sjona once again. Hollow Empire is the follow up to Sam Hawke’s fantastical debut book, City of Lies. Before I start my review, I am aware that I am late to the party. As much as I wished to post this review before the book is released it didn’t happen because of certain circumstances. I would like to thank NetGalley for providing the ARC and for being the sole reason I found out about this series. It is quite rare for me to jump right in to the second book of a series as soon as I finished the first book. The end of City of Lies left a huge impact on me emotionally that I just have to pick up Hollow Empire straight away. I would like to point out that the cover of this book gave me the impression of an ominous aura to the story. The story in Hollow Empire picks up two years after the events of the first book. In City of Lies, Silasta lay besieged by a mysterious army that is aiming to destroy the city and its people. As Silasta’s Chancellor and his trusted adviser is poisoned, Tain, the Chancellors nephew, inherits his seat extremely unprepared under dire circumstances. With Jovan, Tain’s best friend, whose family’s honor and life is dedicated to protecting the Chancellor, is propelled into the role of advisor. Together with Kalina, Jovan’s sister, the three of them tackle the mystery surrounding the appearance of this army and unravel the reasons of such aggression towards their neutrally peaceful city. "We don’t forget. We are patient. We are coming." Silasta is recovering from their past traumas, all the while preparing for their biggest event yet. The city is hosting an annual celebration with honored guest from various countries with an array of backgrounds and cultures. This setting makes for a good chance for certain individuals to take advantage of the situation to wreck havoc. Because of past experiences everyone is on high alert especially our main characters, Jovan and Kalina. Throughout the novel the general mood of the story is as though someone is trying to jump on you when you least expect it. Hollow Empire delivers a much more intense plot driven story than its predecessor. Just when I started to doubt this sequel, Sam Hawke blindsided me with more conspiracies and assassinations on a much bigger scale. There are more poisons mentioned and used within the story that I find intriguingly exciting. With each new chapters readers are given a snippet of a certain poisoning case written in the Oromani’s Proofer Book. Reading about previous cases that the Oromani proofers encountered is a good touch to a new chapter in the novel. The author didn’t hold back in terms of mystery to challenge their characters. Sam Hawke surely elevated the circumstances and stakes for the characters. Jovan and Kalina are both desperate to keep up with the twist and turns of each lead they find that brings them closer to catching the invisible enemy. This invisible enemy seems to always be ahead of Jovan and Kalina no matter how hard they try to out smart them. Sam Hawke weaved plot after plot into the story without it seeming confusing or diluted. It is easy to follow for readers, full of twist and turns that will make you second guess every character and every incident. The way the author sneaked in “signs” or small instances that I brushed over as meaningless came back tugging at the edge of my brain. It is cleverly done and will keep you on your toes as you flip from page to page. Personally, I’ve grown to like Sam Hawke’s style in storytelling and I find her style fascinatingly original. One of the key aspects of this series that I’ve grown to cherish and love with all my heart is the characters. The characterization from the first book did not drop in quality instead the characters exploded (yes, I said exploded) with vivid and vibrant personality. In City of Lies, I felt that Jovan and Kalina had similar voices that left me slightly confused while reading. The author clearly improved and gave both main characters time to shine equally during their own predicaments. While reading City of Lies I wanted to see Kalina being more involved instead of being the weak character. Kalina did impress me in the last chapters of the first book but it only left me wanting more chapters of her. And again Sam Hawke delivered. Most of my favorite chapters in Hollow Empire are from Kalina’s POV. Her role in this book is much more deeply involved in solving the mystery. It is a sin that I ever thought of her as weak and I want to apologize personally to Sam Hawke that I ever viewed her that way. Another thing that impressed me about the author’s characterization is how Sam Hawke depicts disabilities. Not once that Jovan’s anxiety or Kalina’s chronic illness is ever viewed as a weakness. There isn’t one instance, even during the tougher moments when they are in a bind, that Jovan or Kalina appeared helpless with their disability. As someone that has anxiety reading about characters like Jovan is like a fist bump to my heart. Besides that I also cared for the side characters as well. Specifically, Dija and Tain. Both of them are characters that made me want to instantly protect. Without spoiling anything, they left a huge impact in the story that I could not even explain why they are so impactful while writing this review. The enemies that they’re up against are illusive that from start to the moment of the reveal I could not pin point where the arrow is gonna point. "But also . . . . there were other magics in this world, other things we didn’t fully understand." The well detailed world building in Hollow Empire expands and it doesn’t feel too cramped even though the setting mostly still takes place within Silasta walls. With an array of honored guest from various countries coming to Silasta, they bring in their customs and culture into the mix. The author shows the world surrounding Sjona through characters from different countries. It is well written without being info dump-y for readers to understand. If we have to compare the other countries to Sjona, Sjona is a much more progressive in culture and customs. There are clear distinctions and the new cast of side characters didn’t hinder me from enjoying the story. Kalina’s POV helped me understand the relationship between Sjona and its allies. As someone that studies international relations for three and a half years, I enjoyed every bit of the interactions Kalina has with the delegates from each country. The political dance is amusing to read, not to mention that politics has it hands in the plot as well. It is hard to explain without mentioning any spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. Another thing to love about this book is the mind blowing explosive action sequences. It literally gave me goosebumps as I read this book. In City of Lies, we didn’t get to see any magic up until the end. Hollow Empire served us more scenes involving magic. There were many instances when Hadrea, a Dafri speaker and Jovan’s lover, showed wondrous talent and growth since the events of the first book. The way the author interlaced magic into the mystery is refreshing, magic plays a big part in the plot of the story that adds an edge and elevates the story to a new level of fantasy. Sam Hawke definitely created a new kind of fantasy with Hollow Empire. I will conclude my review by saying that if City of Lies left you breathless and utterly flabbergasted, say no more, pick up Hollow Empire, NOW! Especially since it’s already released by the time I publish this review. It is one of the best sequels I’ve read this year and I don’t know how I will functioning after this. With heart warming familial relationships, good representation of disability and mental illness, a variety of characters, engaging plot with endless twist in mystery and deceit, this book is a must read if you’re in the mood for mystery but make it fantasy. All the long chapters, that I normally would dislike, is well worth it when you reach the end. Hawke knows how to play with your emotions and pull at your heart strings at just the right time to make you comeback for more. Trust me, prepare tissues and don’t read it at work. I learned that the hard way by sobbing like a lunatic during my lunch break. The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Katharine (Ventureadlaxre)

    This has easily been my most anticipated book of 2020. And yes, that’s with more Murderbot and Empire of Gold and other also excellent titles. And while Murderbot has my heart, the Poison Wars series has my soul because all of the characters are just so vital to me. I’m a mix of what Kalina and Jov struggle with most – health and compulsions – and seeing them out there managing to save the lives of themselves and others, do what’s best for their kingdom, and still care for those important to the This has easily been my most anticipated book of 2020. And yes, that’s with more Murderbot and Empire of Gold and other also excellent titles. And while Murderbot has my heart, the Poison Wars series has my soul because all of the characters are just so vital to me. I’m a mix of what Kalina and Jov struggle with most – health and compulsions – and seeing them out there managing to save the lives of themselves and others, do what’s best for their kingdom, and still care for those important to them gives me hope for myself. Anyway. Enough waxing lyrical for a bit, onto the book. We join our heroes two years after the events of the first book. Jov and Tain now have heirs who they need to train in their succession, and enough time has passed now that the theatre guild has put together a dramatic retelling of the siege, and part of it aren’t overly kind to the Oromani family. From here, as with the first book, life-changing events start taking place immediately and it soon becomes clear that someone is targeting very specific people to ensure it looks like the Oromani family are benefitting at every turn, so that perhaps it looks like the Chancellor’s shadowy friend Tain – who whispers are spreading out about his real role on the Council – may be getting a bit carried away… So as if it wasn’t enough to be dealing with their usual duties as Credola and Credo, it’s also time for the biggest celebration Silastra has hosted. Karode, which involves games to display the best sporting ability each nation has to offer, lavish parades, and nights were celebrations take on a significantly more adult turn. It’s during this where the ever-careful Jov falls into something far more dangerous, and as if the book wasn’t hard enough to put down as it already was, be prepared to block out the rest of your day from that point on. In short, I loved it. I loved the new characters – Dija, who is Jov’s apprentice – and Sjease, the new house manager and secretary to Jov and Kalina, who fits in perfectly to their secretive household and is of huge benefit to everyone, (beyond fixing Jov’s lack of taste in clothing.) I could certainly do with a whole series and/or side story involving either or both of these characters. Dija is so quickly intelligent, yet sensitive and fiercely proud of what their family does for the empire. The plot itself was intricate and subtle mentions of things past crop up and become incredibly important – something so hard to pull off without it seeming forced, yet Hawke manages it with finesse. SO much happens within this book – and although it may be longer than some at 550 or so pages it keeps a consistent pace yet feels utterly realistic throughout. The worldbuilding and passing of time was excellent, with the mentions of how particular clothing has changed rapidly as fashions come and go, how the city has changed since the siege’s destruction and the rebuilding that has taken place since. Especially how they’ve managed to put on such a show for their neighbouring royals and leaders in order to show off the best Silastra has to offer. And the character development, I just – I have no words. At the start of the first book you may wonder how three young adults are going to cope when both Tashis are taken from them too early, leaving such a burden on their shoulders… and yet, here we are – two years on, and all three of them are pretty damn impressive with what they notice, what they figure out when a dozen other adults around them fail to, and now with the added responsibility of raising their heirs, well. The background characters are also incredibly interesting, from a princess and an ambassador, to our favourite Lord Ectar who reappears, and a whole cast of villains from the first book as well as new who are targeting fair Silastra. One of my favourite elements was the expansion from what we saw in the first book – where we see why things spiralled out of control – the Darfri situation – and how they were so integral to how Silastra was saved – we see now in the second book that just as in real life it hasn’t magically fixed everything. There’s still racism and childish taunts and accusations, and there are many heartfelt moments that are key in our world today akin to the Black Lives Matter movement – why is it always the Darfri who have to ‘try to understand’, ‘be tolerant and polite’ all to ‘not make you uncomfortable’. It’s impactful, and it has depth and meaning, and Hawke manages it all very well indeed. This book has so much going on that I had to read it twice. I devoured it far too quickly and felt almost drunk on how amazing it all was… so I instantly started it again (not like I’d be able to read anything else for a few weeks anyway) so I could try to take it slowly and appreciate specific bits and characters. And, I won’t lie, cry all over again at a certain part. tl;dr is I loved it, and I want more, and I can’t see what Hawke does next.

  21. 5 out of 5

    mimo

    So that was a pretty wild ride. This sequel to City of Lies ramps up the action and intrigue in all the best ways. Where the threat in the first book was overt, here the antagonist remains shrouded in conspiracy for ages, making for a tense main storyline. The plot also includes more relatable elements for a modern audience: (view spoiler)[an urban drugs problem, terrorist bombing incidents, a public smear campaign targeting Jovan (hide spoiler)] . Overall, the game is being played on a more compl So that was a pretty wild ride. This sequel to City of Lies ramps up the action and intrigue in all the best ways. Where the threat in the first book was overt, here the antagonist remains shrouded in conspiracy for ages, making for a tense main storyline. The plot also includes more relatable elements for a modern audience: (view spoiler)[an urban drugs problem, terrorist bombing incidents, a public smear campaign targeting Jovan (hide spoiler)] . Overall, the game is being played on a more complex and insidious level, and it's thoroughly pleasing to watch it all unfold. Not only is the plot engaging, but it also deals with a number of important issues. Where the first book highlights oppression and the rights of religious/ethnic minorities, here, I was impressed by the nuance given to the topic of gender. The culture clash between Kalina and female characters from the patriarchal society of Talafan gives rise to some insightful but not heavy-handed commentary. And based on the religious dogma propounded by (view spoiler)[the Prince at the end (hide spoiler)] , I'd expect the discussion to continue in any potential third book. Relatedly: in the first book, it felt like a bit of a cop-out to portray a society without homophobia but only depict queer relationships between minor characters. I was pleased here to note the inclusion of (view spoiler)[a new, non-binary character, Sjease, as well as the beginnings of a relationship between Kalina and another woman, Abaezalla (hide spoiler)] . I had some other quibbles with the first book, but I expected the author to improve in her sophomore run and she really did knock it out of the park. The scenes are not structured in a predictable rhythm, as before, and indeed Hawke has done some great perspective work. Plus, the main characters' histories, arcs, and relationships are delved into a lot more. Hadrea's arc felt true to her personality, even as I fretted about some of her decisions. And I shrieked out loud at the dark, defining moments Jovan and Kalina are each pushed to: (view spoiler)[Jovan poisoning Erel moments before he could be restrained non-fatally, and Kalina ensuring Tain is resurrected even though she knows the magic involved is evil (hide spoiler)] . That ending, though. (view spoiler)[Is Tain's life now tied to Jovan's? Is that why he kept rubbing his chest? How has Tain changed, and what about his addiction? What will the characters do to address the revelations about their ancestors' flight from Crede? (hide spoiler)] This story is bursting with exciting developments, and I really want to see it continue!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rekka

    A gripping tale that blends magic and conspiracy, poison and suspicion, love and hatred. The political tension runs even deeper than in the first book, as the council of Silasta tries to show the city has recovered from the civil uprising and are still a beacon of modernity and prosperity. A prideful council ignores our the warnings of our Oromani heroes, refusing to believe there are still enemies lurking in the shadows beyond (and possibly within) the city's walls. Once again, Jovan and Kalina, A gripping tale that blends magic and conspiracy, poison and suspicion, love and hatred. The political tension runs even deeper than in the first book, as the council of Silasta tries to show the city has recovered from the civil uprising and are still a beacon of modernity and prosperity. A prideful council ignores our the warnings of our Oromani heroes, refusing to believe there are still enemies lurking in the shadows beyond (and possibly within) the city's walls. Once again, Jovan and Kalina, with their particularly under-appreciated skills, must untangle the plot to protect the people and the country they love. Their power lies not in extreme competence, but in their dedication to doing what's right — at any cost. Sam Hawke makes you fall in love with her characters and then tortures you by casting them into unrelenting, page-turning peril.

  23. 5 out of 5

    RG

    The mystery level here and tension in the writing just went up 1000% as compared to the first. I wasn't overly fond of the first novel but gave this a go based on goodread reviews. It really had everything the first novel had and more. It still felt like a slow burn at times but the pacing which was my issue with the first had been modified. Characters were even more distinguishable. I felt in the first, both POVs felt too similar but here you can feel the differences. If you struggled with the The mystery level here and tension in the writing just went up 1000% as compared to the first. I wasn't overly fond of the first novel but gave this a go based on goodread reviews. It really had everything the first novel had and more. It still felt like a slow burn at times but the pacing which was my issue with the first had been modified. Characters were even more distinguishable. I felt in the first, both POVs felt too similar but here you can feel the differences. If you struggled with the first like me give this one a go.

  24. 4 out of 5

    C.L. Clark

    This book--and really, both books in this series--do so many things well. I cannot go into them all at the moment, but I will say that I adore the twists and turns, the characters, especially the familial relationships, and the world of poisons in the little vignettes between chapters. Excellent audiobook performance by the narrators as well.

  25. 5 out of 5

    emma

    What the hell just HAPPENED??? That ending was a rollercoaster

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emilie Morscheck

    What a sequel! Probably my top book of the year! Sam Hawke does it again, a mystery that keeps you guessing right up until the end. I loved the expansion of the world-building of Sjon and it's neighbours. The development of the characters was interesting and fun to follow. I can't wait for whatever Sam Hawke follows up with! What a sequel! Probably my top book of the year! Sam Hawke does it again, a mystery that keeps you guessing right up until the end. I loved the expansion of the world-building of Sjon and it's neighbours. The development of the characters was interesting and fun to follow. I can't wait for whatever Sam Hawke follows up with!

  27. 4 out of 5

    debchan

    imagine you're the chancellor of silasta and your best friend in the whole world risks his life for you every single day and that's his whole identity and then he leaves you to save silasta and comes back and saves your life and then proceeds to save your life one more time by binding himself to you i said it last book and i'll say it again: MORE TAIN! plot ooh the plot thickens. after saving silasta from a visible threat, it is plagued by another threat two years later. except this one is bigger, imagine you're the chancellor of silasta and your best friend in the whole world risks his life for you every single day and that's his whole identity and then he leaves you to save silasta and comes back and saves your life and then proceeds to save your life one more time by binding himself to you i said it last book and i'll say it again: MORE TAIN! plot ooh the plot thickens. after saving silasta from a visible threat, it is plagued by another threat two years later. except this one is bigger, badder, and a repercussion of silasta's history which i enjoyed immensely. silasta's problems don't just arise from nowhere to provide the plot with a bad guy - it's a gradual downward slope that has been growing ever since silasta's ancestors fled their home country years ago. but in the meanwhile, jovan has begun training his niece, dija, to be the next proofer. and all the while, the whole city of silasta is coming to a realization of jovan's role as tain's proofer and suspicion is cast upon him over and over again as a paranoid spy lurking in the shadows of tain and slowly poisoning his mind. on the other hand, kalina becomes much more involved in this book and as an ambassador, she is able to smoothly navigate the many other ambassadors that have come to silasta during one of its biggest celebrations. one thing i will say is that this was SUCH a page-turner. in City of Lies i was really interested, but Hollow Empire took that up a notch. i literally could not put this book down AND i was so nervous the whole time reading it, as if i were part of the plot. it was just such a good book. characters jovan oromani: i don't know why no one listens when jovan has suspicions. the man clearly has the best intuition on the whole council. jovan is just such an interesting character and his relationship with dija was so sweet to read. another relationship is with hadrea and it is apparently fra ying because of spoiler reasons. jovan's still the kind-hearted person he always was but this book really tests the limits of his graciousness to others when they threaten the people he loves. and i love the way he attacks people with poison - that's pretty cool. kalina oromani: she honestly had the best chapters. kalina infiltrated the other delegations and ambassadors that arrived in silasta with ease and it was nice to see other cultures and how they viewed women that was vastly different than how silasta treated women. another pretty cool part was her relationship with abae! it was just so perfect - what a power couple. tain iliri: and my favorite character! tain is beginning to hide secrets and act strangely and the oromani siblings know he's hiding something but with all the plots they have to uncover, there is no time to discuss such things. not only that, but he is surrounded by people he cannot trust and he must constantly rely on jovan and kalina, and that strain is wearing him thin. but that one line with jovan when jovan is about to leave - are we supposed to make an assumption about that? as well as (view spoiler)[jovan's chest hurting after they save tain's life??? like seeing jovan being completely empty after tain died - that hurt. and even kalina not being enough to save him. they had to use jovan's blood to bring tain back to life but it also wasn't enough. and then magically tain comes back to life and jovan is rubbing his chest as if it hurts?? did they bind their lives together? are they in love? what's happening, sam hawke?! (hide spoiler)] hadrea: hadrea is beginning to experiment with outside forces to help her magic and apparently is also dabbling in magic that the general public does not agree with. her secrets further divide her relationship with joron. however! they still learn to work together and be an actual power couple to save silasta. i don't know if they'll be as romantically inclined towards each other in the future but i do want to see hadrea using her magic. that part when she faced off the "bad guy" in the end was insanely cool. abae: her love for language was so refreshing and fun to read. the way she's so sweet and is exactly what kalina needs to figure out the plot against silasta! i need more of her talking about what she's passionate about. dija: dija is so smart and capable. she's literally a superhero. at like thirteen, she constantly saves jovan's life and i just think she's neat and we need more books about her. overall, i would have been more satisfied if there was a third book. i know hawke said that it would be a duology BUT how can it end like that?? i need more tain obviously, but also more of kalina and abae being really cool. it would be nice if we had all the answers, because i cannot handle the jovan/hadrea vs jovan/tain battle. beside all that, what an incredible series! i don't think i've ever been so hooked to a plot that i couldn't stop turning the pages. and the characters were such fun to read as well. please please please give us third book!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pile By the Bed

    Australian author Sam Hawke’s debut City of Lies was one of the best fantasy books of 2018. A fact confirmed by its haul of nominations and awards. That book told a complete story of a civil war in the city of Sjona and the role of siblings Jovan and Kalina in not only ending that war but exposing the exploitation that was partly its cause. But there was more to the war that mere civil unrest. Hanging over the resolution of City of Lies was a feeling that Jovan and Kalina had only peeled back on Australian author Sam Hawke’s debut City of Lies was one of the best fantasy books of 2018. A fact confirmed by its haul of nominations and awards. That book told a complete story of a civil war in the city of Sjona and the role of siblings Jovan and Kalina in not only ending that war but exposing the exploitation that was partly its cause. But there was more to the war that mere civil unrest. Hanging over the resolution of City of Lies was a feeling that Jovan and Kalina had only peeled back one layer of the onion. Readers were left satisfied that matters had been resolved but left hanging by all of the questions that were left unanswered. Given that City of Lies was subtitled as “A Poison War” novel, it could only be assumed that this was not actually the end. The sequel, Hollow Empire, opens two years and four months after the end of City of Lies. For those who may be a little hazy on the events of City of Lies, Hawke delivers a recap in an enjoyable and non-exposition way, having her main cast attend a play based on those events (a similar technique used to great effect in the Avatar, the Last Airbender episode “The Ember Island Players”). Jovan, himself trained and secretly employed as poison taster to the Chancellor, has started training his heir and younger cousin Didja, who is thirteen when the narrative rejoins the action. His sister, Kalina, trained in more of the craft of espionage, is slated to be the next ambassador to the neighbouring misogynistic and worryingly expansionist Talafan Empire. The bulk of the action of this book takes place during and just after the karodee festival. Karodee is a week long celebration involving sport, art and masquerade to which Chancellor Tain has invited representatives of all of Silasta’s trading partners. (While maps are overused in fantasy novels, now that the story has referenced so many places beyond Silasta, a map of the world in the next volume might be useful). The chaos and free-wheeling nature of the festival makes it more difficult for Jovan and Kalina to protect Tain from a suspected assassin and there is an emerging feeling that wheels are turning to bring them down especially when an attempt is made to frame Jovan for a drug-fuelled murder. As with the previous book, Hawke does not spare her characters from pain or tough decisions as they struggle to understand the threat facing them and their city. What initially felt a little YA in City of Lies, given the main characters ages and experience, moves into decidedly more adult territory here with drug use, blackmail, gruesome deaths and as the book goes on, some big scenes of destruction and devastation. But there is also plenty of diplomatic manoeuvring and tentative alliance building both within the city council, full of people who still have reason to hate the pair, and with the foreign dignitaries also caught up in the mayhem. This is fantasy more along the lines of the scheming and negotiation of Game of Thrones rather than epic Lord of the Rings-style models – while it is set in a fantasy world and there is a smattering of magic and the calling of spirit forces, Hawke’s primary focus is on people and how they interact with each other personally and politically. Hollow Empire is a great entry in this series. It tops City of Lies for its complexity and its capacity to payoff long running plot threads. Hawke has supreme understanding of her world and how it works, including the various different types of magic and magic users. She also once again delivers what feels like a complete story in which all of the short-term, internal mysteries are solved and some long running secrets are revealed but leaves the danger hanging in the distance and the feeling that there is much more to be learnt as the series progresses.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    *copy from Netgalley in exchange for a review* Hollow Empire is the follow up to Sam Hawke’s excellent City of Lies. And, not to give the game away, but it has all the cool stuff that made me like that book so much, but also manages to bring in a whole bunch of new cool stuff, to make it better. Yes, I’m gushing a bit. But you know what, this book is worth it. It’s focused on politics, on reading people, on small scale actions. On poisonings and looking for the twitch at the corner of someone's e *copy from Netgalley in exchange for a review* Hollow Empire is the follow up to Sam Hawke’s excellent City of Lies. And, not to give the game away, but it has all the cool stuff that made me like that book so much, but also manages to bring in a whole bunch of new cool stuff, to make it better. Yes, I’m gushing a bit. But you know what, this book is worth it. It’s focused on politics, on reading people, on small scale actions. On poisonings and looking for the twitch at the corner of someone's eye that says they know more than they’re telling. On struggling within political institutions, and redefining those institutions. On the conflict between the rural and the urban, and on assassinations in the dark. On what people will do when they limit themselves, and what they can do when they refuse to accept those limitations. And, as ever, on the cost of past secrets in the future. It’s...well, it’s a big book, alright? And there is just so, so much going on. It’s one part political thriller, one part epic fantasy, one part family drama, all parts awesome. The story opens shortly after City of Lies, and once again centres on Kalina and Jovan. Siblings, one a diplomat and consummate politician, one a proofer, secret protector of the Chancellor from poisons, they form the heart of the book. Their relationship is warm, loving, and occasionally fraught. They work hard at being more one with each other, but secrets move behind everyones eyes. They love each other deeply, and that affection is visible and convincing on the page. Its a relationship of shared history, some of it filled with poison and blades in the dark. The banter is as witty and charming as ever, and both of them, in their interleaved viewpoint chapters, serve as smart, incisive commentators on each other. They’re a wonderful pair really, given agency and intelligence to see the threats before them, and working through them with skill and talent - even as they struggle to uncover the mysteries around them, the reader is walking beside them, knowing what they know, struggling to piece things together, as they do, before it is too late. Incidentally, I want to talk about voice. Both Kalina and Jovan have utterly unique styles of thinking, and of talking. The prose given to each is distinct, memorable, and helps shape our view of each of them, and the world they inhabit. Even though they can be in the same room as each other, their perspectives, their lived experiences, can be very different, and that comes out clearly in the text. Both of them read like individuals. Kalina is fierce, ambitious, hopeful, and has a determination borne of injury and a struggle with long term illness - a topic, incidentally, which was approached sympathetically and with deft hands in City of Lies, and continues to be so here. Kalina suffers her pain as the price of her existence, but is not defined by it, and her struggles and vulnerability are very human. Jovan is more paranoid (which, given his occupation is understandable), given to obsessing over details, and falling into spirals of emotional harm alongside insight; but while this is a facet of his character, it is, again, not the only one, and he’s given the room to breathe, to shape and define himself which helps keep him real. Both, both siblings are realised with an emotional depth and intellectual ferocity which makes them come off as heroes. They do have their flaws; underestimating adversaries, trusting where they maybe shouldn’t, or not where they should, impulsiveness, caginess; but those flaws highlight their strengths, too. They highlight a loyalty to friends, a love of city and country, a willingness to do the right thing, sharp minds, and a capacity for love and affection, which mix with their flaws to give us complex protagonists whom we might recognise if we saw them in the street - or, indeed, in the mirror. Incidentally, the City is as delightful as ever. Thronged with a population scarred by war, it;s nevertheless bursting with vitality. You can feel the cultural fusion, the slow mixing of an intra-society gumbo, coming together. There are those appearing from outside the city now, stepping into its streets with caution and optimism both, looking for opportunity, looking to help shape the path of their nation. And then there are the old embedded interests, looking to do not just what’s right for their world, but what’s right for them. And old grudges between aristocratic families of privilege are as liable to flair up lethally as newer ones between the city and the country; and, indeed, one can find odd allies all over. The city though, is the beating heart of the setting - and oh my, does it feel alive. We do see a bit more of the setting this time too; in part that’s an exploration of rural villages, more isolated areas with communities and mores different to those we’re used to. But there’s also other nations entirely, come to see what all the fuss is about in this newly reshaped city state, From towering, expansionist Empires to more sparsely settled lands dependent on co-operation and with a penchant for river sports and log tossing, everyone has sent some observers to see what happens next - and their contrasts with the folk we’re used to, themselves a pretty diverse bunch, are exciting and shocking in equal measure. There’s a growing sense of a larger world, which has its eye on the city, andis making itself more known for the first time. You can almost feel the map unrolling, as the political perspective grows ever wider. The story; I can’t talk about the story without spoiling it, because it’s so good. It’s a delicately woven mesh of moving parts. Character motivations, old secrets, new grudges. Quiet affections and slow poisons. There’s a whole heck of a lot going on. But you’ll walk with the characters every step of the way, trying to work out what’s going on. And I can promise that it’s worth it. There’s murders, and tragedies. Quiet triumphs and some truly epic moments of magic. Reversals, betrayals and unexpected loves. The politics is byzantine, the intrigue compelling, the whole edifice of the story ticking over like a well crafted clock. But it’s the human elements that make the story. You’ll be turning the pages at 2AM like I was, to see what happens to your favourite characters, to see how (or if!) they get out of their mess this time, wanting to see what will happen next, to unmask the villain(s) and cheer on our champions. This really is a thriller, a slow, simmering burn of tension slowly ratcheting up until you’re biting nails at every turn of the page, gasping at every revelation, wanting to see how the story ends, and not wanting it to end. I really enjoyed City of Lies, but Hollow Empire is better, and that’s probably the highest praise I can bring to bear. If you were wondering if this sequel was worth picking up, I can only say this: yes, yes it is. Go and get a copy, right now!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pile By the Bed

    Australian author Sam Hawke’s debut City of Lies was one of the best fantasy books of 2018. A fact confirmed by its haul of nominations and awards. That book told a complete story of a civil war in the city of Sjona and the role of siblings Jovan and Kalina in not only ending that war but exposing the exploitation that was partly its cause. But there was more to the war that mere civil unrest. Hanging over the resolution of City of Lies was a feeling that Jovan and Kalina had only peeled back on Australian author Sam Hawke’s debut City of Lies was one of the best fantasy books of 2018. A fact confirmed by its haul of nominations and awards. That book told a complete story of a civil war in the city of Sjona and the role of siblings Jovan and Kalina in not only ending that war but exposing the exploitation that was partly its cause. But there was more to the war that mere civil unrest. Hanging over the resolution of City of Lies was a feeling that Jovan and Kalina had only peeled back one layer of the onion. Readers were left satisfied that matters had been resolved but left hanging by all of the questions that were left unanswered. Given that City of Lies was subtitled as “A Poison War” novel, it could only be assumed that this was not actually the end. The sequel, Hollow Empire, opens two years and four months after the end of City of Lies. For those who may be a little hazy on the events of City of Lies, Hawke delivers a recap in an enjoyable and non-exposition way, having her main cast attend a play based on those events (a similar technique used to great effect in the Avatar, the Last Airbender episode “The Ember Island Players”). Jovan, himself trained and secretly employed as poison taster to the Chancellor, has started training his heir and younger cousin Didja, who is thirteen when the narrative rejoins the action. His sister, Kalina, trained in more of the craft of espionage, is slated to be the next ambassador to the neighbouring misogynistic and worryingly expansionist Talafan Empire. The bulk of the action of this book takes place during and just after the karodee festival. Karodee is a week long celebration involving sport, art and masquerade to which Chancellor Tain has invited representatives of all of Silasta’s trading partners. (While maps are overused in fantasy novels, now that the story has referenced so many places beyond Silasta, a map of the world in the next volume might be useful). The chaos and free-wheeling nature of the festival makes it more difficult for Jovan and Kalina to protect Tain from a suspected assassin and there is an emerging feeling that wheels are turning to bring them down especially when an attempt is made to frame Jovan for a drug-fuelled murder. As with the previous book, Hawke does not spare her characters from pain or tough decisions as they struggle to understand the threat facing them and their city. What initially felt a little YA in City of Lies, given the main characters ages and experience, moves into decidedly more adult territory here with drug use, blackmail, gruesome deaths and as the book goes on, some big scenes of destruction and devastation. But there is also plenty of diplomatic manoeuvring and tentative alliance building both within the city council, full of people who still have reason to hate the pair, and with the foreign dignitaries also caught up in the mayhem. This is fantasy more along the lines of the scheming and negotiation of Game of Thrones rather than epic Lord of the Rings-style models – while it is set in a fantasy world and there is a smattering of magic and the calling of spirit forces, Hawke’s primary focus is on people and how they interact with each other personally and politically. Hollow Empire is a great entry in this series. It tops City of Lies for its complexity and its capacity to payoff long running plot threads. Hawke has supreme understanding of her world and how it works, including the various different types of magic and magic users. She also once again delivers what feels like a complete story in which all of the short-term, internal mysteries are solved and some long running secrets are revealed but leaves the danger hanging in the distance and the feeling that there is much more to be learnt as the series progresses.

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