The Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker

Rating 8.0/10
Imagine Ocean's Eleven set in ancient Sumeria... Impressive

I greatly enjoyed and appreciated Tucker's excellent and recently completed Chronicles of the Black Gate saga. I have been looking forward to exploring a new series of his in a different setting since then. After finishing the first entry of the Godsblood trilogy late last night, it's safe to say that the author has impressed me once again. His considerable talents in storytelling, creating compelling characters, building worlds with heavy religious influence, and skillful pacing are all on display again in this exciting new trilogy. 

An adept summary of the plot of Empire of the Dead would be to describe it as being like Ocean's Eleven set in ancient Sumeria. Acharsis, demigod son of fallen god Ekillos, has spent the past two decades as an uninterested and depressed merchant who has no real aim or drive in his life. Twenty years ago the Purging took place and he's been avoiding reality and true existence ever since. After the Empress Irella teamed up with her mother Nekkul, goddess of death, to betray and kill the other gods in the realm, she has turned her empire into a starving, enslaved world where the dead serve as her workforce, and the people are too scared to rebel. This Purging has scattered the Godsblood -- relatives and offspring of the gods -- throughout the entire kingdom. 

The novel begins when Acharsis feels the pull to return to his homeland to apologize to his wife Annara for leaving her so many years ago. Soon after he arrives, tragedy strikes. Something sacred that Acharsis and Annara both share has been taken from them and stolen away to a city rife with grotesque death warriors, hunger, poverty, and ritual sacrifice. (Fun!) Acharsis is compelled to try and retrieve what was stolen, but first, he must make amends with those who want him dead, and carry out an impossible plan to break into a ziggurat teeming with undead warriors, necromancers, chilling deathless soldiers, and perhaps even the gods themselves. 

When we've approached the end of the story, which has a great cliffhanger that will land nicely into the sequel, the world building just starts to scratch beyond the city and adjoining badlands where the entire novel takes place. Even though the setting of the story rarely changed throughout The Empire of the Dead, the lore and history of the world shines through: the glory of the gods of the past, the demigod children and their exploits, the cities and shrines that grant the gods their power, as well as the neighboring empires that surround this kingdom. There is an impressive amount to take in and enjoy in this relatively short novel.

Readers that enjoyed Chronicles of the Black Gate will certainly appreciate more of Phil's work, yet I also recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thrilling caper adventure. There's a frequent amount of strong language and some PG-13 adult situations, but nothing seems too offensive. 

I would like to thank Phil Tucker for sending me an audio copy of this story in exchange for an honest review. It was narrated by the excellent Paul Guyet and he does a wonderful job expressing the wide range of characters, demons, and monsters with his skillful vocal talents. As I was enjoying this narrative so much, I was too impatient to only listen to the book whilst driving, so I bought a Kindle version to read between my work commutes too.

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