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Empire of the Saviours by A J Dalton

Accused of practising pagan magicks, a young boy flees for his life…

In fear for her life, a woman suffering from a mysterious illness is forced to break out of the mine where she has been enslaved…

An innocent warrior is exiled by the holy man of this mountain tribe and told to make his own way in the world… 

In the Empire of the Saviours, The People are forced to live in fortified towns. Their walls are guarded by an army of Heroes, whose task is to keep marauding pagans out as much as it is to keep the People inside. Several times a year, living Saints visit the towns to exact the Saviours’ tithe from all those coming of age – a tithe often paid in blood.

When a young boy, Jillan, unleashes pagan magicks in an accident, his whole town turns against him. He goes on the run, but what hope can there be when the Saviours and the entire Empire decide he mud be caught?

Last year I read Necromancer’s Gambit by A J Dalton and, although I had some issues with the editing, overall I enjoyed the dark fantasy that the author created. You can’t ever go far wrong with an army of resurrected corpses in my opinion. Recently I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of Mr Dalton’s new novel and I’ve been looking forward to checking it out.

The Empire of the Saviours is a society built around very structured roles and strong religious doctrine. Saviours control the Saints who in turn command the Heroes who maintain order and force the general populace, The People, to abide by their rules. It was easy to picture this set up in a similar vein to something like Clash of the Titans. The Saviours are forever playing a never-ending game of cosmic chess with the Saints, Heroes and People as their pieces. For The Saviours power struggles and petty jealousies are played out over the course of eons.

It’s the strong characterisation that ultimately won me over. Through Jillan, the reader is introduced to a whole host of memorable warriors, townsfolk, heroes, gods and monsters. Jillan himself is still very young and is mostly innocent in the ways of the world. He is forced to learn the rules as he attempts to flee from persecution. Very much a blank canvas when we first meet him there are some nice subtle hints about the man he has the potential to grow up to be.

The villains are all deliciously evil and lead by the twisted Saint Azual. He has been a living Saint for hundreds of years and dreams of becoming a god in his own right. Over the course of the novel, his tenuous grip on sanity slips away and his acts become increasingly violent and unpredictable. Azual’s rage knows no bounds and he will destroy anything that gets in his way. Unpleasant and brutal, he truly is a nasty piece of work.

The other villain I particularly liked, or disliked depending on your point of view, was Minister Praxis. When the reader first meets him he is the religious leader of Godsend, the backwater village where Jillan grows up, and he is driven by a fervent fundamentalism that makes him instantly dis-likable. As the main plot unfolds Praxis is tasked with taking the religion of the Saviours to the pagans and I enjoyed the various predicaments he finds himself in. His smarmy aloofness and strict bearing make the arguments he has with Torpeth, the pagan religious leader, a great deal of fun. Both men are so sure of their opposing viewpoints their constant back and forth regularly devolves into childish name-calling. These scenes, which are already funny, are made all the more surreal by the fact that one of them spends the vast majority of the novel naked.

My favourite character though was an enigmatic being known as The Peculiar. He/She/It features in some of the novel’s best moments. Mysterious and every so slightly smug about it I couldn’t help but like him/her/it. Even now I can’t decide if The Peculiar was evil or good (probably chaotic-neutral thinking about it). I liked the sense of ambiguity that surrounds every action that this perplexing individual makes.

Dalton has written a compelling story that works on multiple levels. There are some well-observed action and classic fantasy battles that are suitably rousing. Alongside that there is some interesting world building to discover and a surprising amount of dry humour to enjoy. Empire of the Saviours is a great deal of fun and certainly worthy of your time.

Empire of the Saviours is published by Gollancz and released on 17th May 2012. A sequel, Gateway of the Saviours, will be released in the future.

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