After the Crown by K B Wagers
A word of warning, After the Crown is a direct sequel to Behind the Throne. With that in mind it is highly likely this review may contain something akin to minor spoilers if you haven’t read book one. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Former gunrunner-turned-Empress Hail Bristol was dragged back to her home planet to fill her rightful position in the palace. With her sisters and parents murdered, the Indranan empire is on the brink of war. Hail must quickly make alliances with nearby worlds if she has any hope of surviving her rule.
When peace talks turn violent and Hail realizes she’s been betrayed, she must rely on her old gunrunning ways to get out of trouble. With help from an old boss and some surprising new allies, she must risk everything to save her world.
Earlier this year, I read Behind The Throne by K B Wagers. It’s an excellent slice of science fiction adventure, with a cracking narrative and characterisation. The sequel is upon us and I can confirm that book one was no fluke. After the Throne is just as brilliant, just as exciting and just as much fun as its literary sibling.
When we last left Empress Hail Bristol, she was still coming to terms with her new lot in life. Key members of her family had been killed leaving her as the new ruler of the Indranan empire. For someone more used to bar room brawls and shady backroom deals, royal life is a bit of a minefield, especially when your empire is coming apart at the seams. Watching how Hail’s character continues to evolve is fascinating. She is beginning to understand the ramifications of being Empress but you can also clearly see that she is relying more and more on her skills as a gunrunner. Turns out the cut and thrust of politics and crime are not that far apart. The weight of responsibility weighs heavily on our heroine, however Hail remains fiercely loyal to her subjects, family and friends. When they suffer, and in some instances, die in her name, she carries the burden of their loss. There is little subterfuge in the new monarch, what you see is what you get. What is most interesting to note is that Hail learns she has to be far sneakier as a royal than she ever had to be as a criminal.
I think the thing I enjoyed most about this sequel was the fact we get to learn more about Hail’s past life as a gunrunner and the people she used to work with. Circumstance finds the young empress on the move, and the criminal underworld she returns to are a genuinely eclectic bunch. There are a whole host of mercenaries, smugglers, pit fighters and big bosses. I warmed to them all immediately. My personal favourite is a character called Johar. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think I have the adequate language to properly explain how kick-ass this character is. You’ll just have to trust me.
On a side note – once the televisual juggernaut that is Game of Thrones inevitably comes to an end, HBO needs to be looking at The Indranan War to fill the gap. Ok, it may not be fantasy (it is most definitely science fiction), but this series it pulls off that Herculean task in having that same massive scope as its genre cousin. Are you listening top television executives? These books are screaming out for development. Hmmm, I need to start pondering my dream cast now. Who would be the best choice for Hail? Or Emmory? Or Zin? This needs some serious thought.
K B Wagers has created an ongoing narrative that works well on multiple levels. Yes, there are epic space battles and frenetic gunfights to enjoy but there is also plenty of social commentary to relish. The gender swapped Indranan society allows the author to deftly explore many of inequalities that still exist in our society.
I think After The Crown has everything I could want in a sequel. More political intrigue, more fighting and more wonderful character development. I didn’t know what to expect when I read book one, Behind the Throne, but I was quickly hooked. Book two is more of the same. K B Wagers has an ear for snappy dialogue and real skill when it comes to crafting vivid action sequences. Built on the foundations of rock solid world building and well-crafted plotting, this makes for something a bit special. Behind the Throne is great, but I reckon After the Crown might be even better. I suppose that is the real trick to a sequel. You up the ante, continue to develop the plot, and make sure a reader ends up caring even more about the characters and their fate. This novel has left me hungry for more, I can’t wait to discover what happens next. This is pitch perfect science fiction that blends action, adventure, political intrigue and more than a little heart.
After the Crown by K B Wagers is published by Orbit and is available now. I can heartily recommend it and its predecessor. The good news is that book three of The Indranan War will also be available at some point in the future. Now all I need to do is try and contain my excitement until that time.