We Lie with Death elevates the Reborn Empire trilogy to new heights, amply raising the stakes for its characters without losing sight of its underlying themes of identity and societal acceptance.
Devin Madson’s We Ride the Storm was one of the most welcome surprises of 2018. By now, Madson has firmly established herself as an Aurealis Award-winning epic fantasy mogul, but it wasn’t until WRtS started catching fire among a few fellow bloggers that I decided to give this series a shot. This turned out to be a great decision, as I quickly became lost in a richly detailed world with generations of lore spanning multiple empires. I have been eagerly awaiting the next book in the series and even dove into a prequel novella to learn more about the history of this expansive world. So, I am thrilled to share that We Lie with Death, book two of the Reborn Empire trilogy, successfully ramps up the series’ tension and intrigue while providing plenty of answers to some burning questions that have been brewing since this world’s inception.
There are several distinguishing aspects of Madson’s writing that are once again on full display in We Lie with Death. We add a new POV as Dishiva’s role is expanded, and we now cycle through four viewpoints throughout the story. Every chapter carries substantial weight; each passage is like a short story unto itself. The novel is steeped in symbolism, as the onslaught of the much-ballyhooed rain season stimulates constant change and growth. The name of the Reborn Empire itself has taken on a double meaning; the empire is being restructured and reborn, but it also references the various reincarnated souls and their growing importance to the saga.
Although Rah is immersed in a strange new land, he remains stubborn to the point of naiveté. His story remains compelling due to his constant struggle to protect his fellow clansmen from the evils of enslavement and the temptations of abandoning their long-held values. Yet Rah’s story is also frustrating due to his refusal to allow himself or his people a chance to adapt to a new way of life. Rah’s chapters once again feel like the backbone of the story, as his journey comes full circle in this volume – both figuratively and literally.
“A God. Of death. He rides with us. We are branded in his name that he may always know our sacrifice. We are the Swords that hunt so your hands may be clean. We are the Swords that kill so your soul may be light. We are the Swords that die so you may live.”
Miko is also running out of options, friends, and safe spaces. She is an Empress without a kingdom and all her alliances are in question, so we see her get paired up with some very unlikely companions. Her story is unpredictable, tense, and quite often amusing. Madson instills dark comedy into some of the more harrowing events of the story, and the situational humor that lies just below the stress and violence is both welcome and refreshing.
This mix of humor and horror also carries over to my personal favorite character, Cassandra, the assassin whore who got a two-for-one deal in the Souls department. Her cliffhanger from the end of We Ride the Storm was a corker, and her story rattled around in my head the most during the interim months. I’m happy to report that Cass’s story not only features some incredible character pairings, but also kicks open the door & revealing what she really is, and the truth behind many lingering mysteries. I was genuinely surprised at how much we learned about how souls and religions truly work in this world, and what its implications are for the future. (Hint: big.)
“I had only ever been proud of a job well done, my entire worth connected to the pleasure and death of others. Perhaps it was time to be proud of something else.”
As much as I enjoyed the story, there were a couple of observations I noted in comparison to the first book of the trilogy. There’s a fair bit less action in WLwD, but there is much more intrigue, and as stated above, ANSWERS. Lots and lots of them. Some were even cleverly foreshadowed yet flew right by me at the time. Also, while Dishiva is a necessary POV to allow the reader to witness important scenes, her characterization felt a bit too close to Rah’s to entirely distinguish her on her own merits. Nevertheless, her chapters were some of the most exciting, especially towards the finale, and she wins this book’s coveted How Can You Leave Us Like This? Cliffhanger Award.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one the most interesting, suave, and charismatic minor characters I’ve ever encountered in print, fiction or otherwise. The brave and brilliant soldier Swiff is a man of few words – too few, I’d say – but his impact on the story is nothing short of earth-shattering. Never have I fallen so hard and so fast for a character that exudes the essence of wit, personifies the heart of grace, and devastates all admirers across such a small measure of pages. I applaud Madson’s boldness and ingenuity in creating such a memorable character that is sure to rock the foundations of literature itself.
We Lie with Death elevates the Reborn Empire trilogy to new heights, amply raising the stakes for its characters without losing sight of its underlying themes of identity and societal acceptance. Madson writes with a powerful narrative voice that continues to resonate after the last pages are turned. Fans of prolific world-building and the clashing of discordant cultures will find a lot to enjoy with this series, one of my recent favorites.
Note: I received an ARC in exchange for an honest, completely unbiased review. Or, I gave it my best shot.
Adam Weller, 8.5/10
Back in December 2018 I read We Ride The Storm, the first book in The Reborn Empire series by Devin Madson and I LOVED it. It was my book of 2018. Fast-forward to December 2019 and I finished the second book, We Lie With Death, and also massively enjoyed it!
This second novel picks up soon after the first one ends. The empire of Kisia has been conquered by the Levanti, and they’re settling in. The new emperor, Gideon, is doing his best to keep his Levanti people together while also attempting to get the conquered Kisians on side by adopting some of their practices. The Chiltaens are licking their wounds back in their country, and there’s one person who is back in Kisia – even though they already died... The Kisians are reeling from the invasion, and different factions are plotting their revenge.
The story is told from four point of view characters. The captain Dishiva is loyal to Gideon, but also to her roots. The Levanti are horse people who ride in herds across the plains. So, the niceties and etiquette of the Kisians is a complete contrast to what she knows. She’s suspicious about the back-from-the-dead person who Gideon seems to favour, but every effort she makes to uncover the truth is thwarted. This makes her even more wary of their intentions and more determined to discover what secrets this resurrected person is keeping.
We also hear again from Rah e’Torin, the banished captain of the Second Swords. He upholds the Levanti honour code to the bitter end, and that has got him into some trouble with the new emperor. He’s cast out from the herd and must find his way again – is he what the Levanti need in Kisia or should he head back to the plains? He pairs up with an unlikely ally and spends a lot of time with a dog in the rain pondering what he should do next.
The ousted Kisian empress Miko is in hiding, she’s attempting to gather allies to her to retake her throne. But getting anywhere in the Kisian rain is a bit of a nightmare – and then people she thinks she can trust, betray her – or die. She knows who she needs, but he’s inconvenienced in the new emperor’s dungeons.
And lastly, we hear again from Chiltaen whore and assassin Cassandra – my favourite! – who is now in the care of a Witchdoctor who is studying Cassandra’s strange ability. Cassandra wants the second voice out of her head, but discovers the alternative could be worse, much worse. She ends up partnering with the last person you’d imagine she’d end up with and their adventures – often at crossed purposes – is fun to witness.
I love the writing style of this author. I got swept along in each of the narratives and could read for hours without tiring. The imagery is vivid and unique and the turn of phrase of the Levanti is distinctive. The dialogue naturally flows and the internal dialogue of each character is authentic.
Although I really enjoyed this, I didn’t quite love it as much as book one. I found Dishiva’s narrative a little slow and Rah and Miko both spend a lot of time floundering in the rain (there’s a lot of rain in this book!) on long journeys. Cassandra was the only character who, for me, had lots of action and intrigue and interesting twists.
So, although the pace wasn’t as fast as book one, it’s still a brilliant read and I can’t wait for book three. This is a great read for those who love Asian-inspired fantasy, grittier reads with multiple POV characters and beautifully crafted prose.
Rosalyn Kelly, 8/10
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