Reviews

Hollow Empire, by Sam Hawke

dhee_pa's review against another edition

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5.0

I love it when the big problem is not fixed so easily. Hawke brilliantly takes us back to the city and shows us the after effects of bk 1 and what is left to be done. Our characters are growing, and trying to step up as their world views get bigger. Again, they're not afraid to be wrong and make amends. Ofc signature chaos, and mystery. Hawke takes us to the ends of devastation and loss along the way. (Sounds like an exaggeration but isn't. I was shit scared for my faves.) Adventurous, and emotional. And beautifully written. Con: I thought there was another bk on the way and apparently not. I feel like Hadea's arc and Tain's ending opened up more questions.

hotpinkmess's review

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challenging dark emotional hopeful mysterious reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

cerviallacarica's review against another edition

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5.0

Si sente sempre la mancanza di una mappa, meno rispetto al primo, ma ecco, sarebbe stato bello vedere una rappresentazione di Silasta e dintorni.
Tutto ciò che c'era di positivo nel primo è rimasto, con Jovan e Kalina sempre più approfonditi e caratterizzati. Non sono mancate le emozioni, mi sono commossa in più punti (con City of Lies non era successo), ero in ansia in altri e non riuscivo a staccarmi dalle pagine.
Un paio di cose non mi hanno impazzire ma alla Hawke perdono queste piccole cose dopo questi due libri fantastici.

jennieartemis's review against another edition

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adventurous mysterious tense medium-paced

4.0

TL;DR: Another fun, albeit much messier, instalment of twisty fantasy politics and thoughtful social commentary

Hollow Empire was, for the majority of the read, just as riveting and well realised as the predecessor. Lots of conflicting politics, two great protagonists, and some good worldbuilding. But this book had a more expansive scope, and although that allowed for more ideas (a greater sense of different cultures, with the treatment of women across them a recurring theme), it also left a lot underexplored. The ending in particular feels such a rush, with revelations and climaxes all crushed in. Furthermore, I simply didn't like some of the narrative choices at the end: in the interests of being surprising, the book felt less grounded and meaningful (I again saw the most shocking twist coming, but this time really hoped I was wrong). The villains ended up feeling far more "villainous" than complex political entities - in another fantasy book, this would be standard, but book 1 was so good at showing the complexity of evil. I suspect that this is a duology that should have been a trilogy, and has suffered as a result of being streamlined, which is a shame, but, even so, they are a pair of genuinely modern and entertaining political fantasy books.

7/10 in personal rating system

graculus's review

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4.0

Review to follow.

sugarloaf's review

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adventurous dark mysterious slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.75

Hawke has delivered another excellent installment in the Poison War series in Hollow Empire, which delivers the same well-paced political mystery and suspense that I so loved about City of Lies, and even improves upon some of my critiques of its predecessor despite stumbling on other blocks. 

Hawke continues to find fresh ways to look at the genre. We still follow Kalina and Jovan, who are chronically ill and neurodivergent, and who are proofers who test for poison in the Chancellor's food (as opposed to be assassins, as is more common). Last time they found themselves on the wrong side of a civil war, discovering they were ignorant oppressors, and Hawke now asks the question: what happens when the battle is over? The political rifts and tensions are clear to see; the divide between the recently accepted Darfri and the rich Families is highly realistic and reminiscent of real-world racial tensions. The attitudes which led to the problem have not disappeared overnight, and many people are unhappy at losing some of their power in the shift from the status quo, while others feel that not enough is being done. In a show to the other nations, Sjona has invited representatives from surrounding countries to the Karodee, the world's version of the Olympics, but they soon find there is an assassin stalking and threatening the Chancellor, and possibly threatening the Karodee itself. With so many nations present there is no way of knowing who the threat is, and in addition to that, strange magics are appearing and spirits are being murdered outside the capital Silasta. 

The invitation of other nations to the book was very welcome; one of my previous complaints was how intangible the world outside Silasta and Sjona felt. Here, we are exposed to a variety of cultures and informed of frictions, agreements and trade between Sjona and these nations. Unlike Sjona, many of the other nations are based on a system of oppressing women and I thought this was used to good effect, with meaningful commentary about the roles of women and how these systems can affect them in various ways, without feeling overdone or tired. 

The book also continues to expand on its representation; there is now a non-binary character introduced in the book, Sjease, and one of the main characters is granted a same-sex relationship, rather than being restricted to side characters. Also on the matter of relationships, the character Hadrea was significantly more enjoyable this book; she has the same stubborn, grating demeanour but it's delivered in a less tired way, making her a genuinely complex character this book, and her relationship with Jovan was equally complex. As for new characters, there are a host of them, most notably Dija, Jovan and Kalista's thirteen year old niece sent to the capital to learn to become Jovan's heir. Hawke uses her to partly to underline a subtle theme about trauma (and the role of children in war), which is undermined slightly by the fact that Dija's decision to stay in Silasta after seeing a series of traumatic events is treated as a good thing, but it's good to see that trauma is at least acknowledged in the book, and Jovan and Karina are both loathe to involve her in these events and try and shield her from it when they can. On that note, Jovan and Karina's trauma is present - Karina's near-drowning has stayed with her, the fear cropping up at relevant moments, and Jovan is aware of his own paranoia. But so are their learning experiences from the last book; although they still make mistakes here and there, they no longer feel like kids who don't know what they're doing. 

This book had some pacing issues, with Jovan's side of the mystery being resolved in a slightly choppy and underexplained manner, and the showdown with the villain was disappointingly short for a 550 page book. In addition, magic was a strong theme this book, appearing differently to how it did in the first one, and it's through this new use of magic that the villain both gains power and is subsequently defeated. However, these variations are never explained to us. I get the sense Hawke is holding it back for a third book - it was very clearly purposeful that the magic was breaking the known rules, and the mystery of how it worked was a focal point of this book, but it never delivered. That left one of the book's main mysteries unsolved and the final showdown less satisfactory than it should. The villain also felt a little pulled-out-of-a-hat and, while it makes sense, I felt it hadn't been properly established or a strong enough theme in this book or the previous one. However, overall, I still very much enjoyed this book - Hawke is capable of handling a large cast of fully realised characters and cultures with fascinating and realistic politics delivered at a slow pace that is still just the right speed, unfolding one piece at a time but always moving. She's a master at interweaving various plots and pulling them all together, dropping subtle hints here and there. The plots are massive, but I'm yet to find a legitimate plot hole in her writing (just things that have been deliberately left unexplained). I was able to guess a couple of twists but that was mostly because I have the benefit of knowing this is a book and the characters are all here to serve a purpose rather than because it was predictable or obvious within the story, and I was still delightfully surprised by a number of twists. I very much hope there'll be a third novel!

wordnerdy's review against another edition

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3.0

https://wordnerdy.blogspot.com/2021/08/2021-book-168.html

Parts of this feel slow and repetitive, because they’re having the same arguments as the last book and wondering once again who is a traitor, and parts of this are kind of grim. It’s also very frustrating at times, because the protagonists are justifiably paranoid and everyone treats them like they’re nuts. The solution to the mystery is interesting enough; once again there was a teeny bit of a romance but between two women this time; I like the characters still. I guess I just wish this was all a little bit tighter. I’m honestly not sure if another book is planned in this series or not, the end feels a little ambiguous. B+.

insipidurbanism's review

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adventurous challenging dark emotional hopeful mysterious reflective sad tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

ladyofbooks's review against another edition

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4.0

Set aside for later. I got about 250 pages and I need to reread the first book before returning to this one I think. I'm counting this as read and I will read this in January. 4 ⭐

fantasybooknerd01's review

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5.0

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.