Book of the Year 2016 (see all)
It is important to realise that no one has ever consumed any media in a vacuum. Whether it be TV, a movie, opera, or book, no one has ever consumed it separated from their own history, personality, likes and dislikes, fears, and psychological-makeup. Some people proclaim that they are able to do so, but they are lying to themselves – they are, whether they like it or not, still humans, with all the past mistakes and glories and dreams that are inherent in being a human. Just because they say they have come at a story with no preconceptions, they have nevertheless consumed that story through the lens of who they are.
--This is even more important to realise if one chooses to review said stories (or whether you want to attack said reviewer). We might profess to be unbiased in our reviews, or impartial to anything but objective metrics, but the reality is that art is not objective – it is not math, with a right and a wrong answer.
There is simply no objectivity to art.
Minor spoilers for The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler follow.
This might sound like an unnecessary (and even oft-repeated) tangent for a review of a single book – and you’d likely be accurate (on both accounts). My response, however, is simply to say, I can’t offer you objectivity, but I can at least be upfront. As such, I will say that I suffer from anxiety and depression, and have always been overly sentimental and sensitive. I have detachment and abandonment issues which I will likely carry with me through to the grave, and which influence far too many of my decisions.
They also over-influence my consumption of stories – especially stories penned by authors as brilliant as Django Wexler.
Wexler is, in my own humble estimation, one of the best of a new breed of fantasy authors which have sprung up over the last five to ten years, following in the footsteps of authors like Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb, and James Barclay (who themselves followed in the footsteps of Robert Jordan, Ursula Le Guin, and David Gemmell). In fact, Django Wexler stands as one of my favourite ever fantasy authors, and most definitely ranks as one of the top three authors that I await a new book from.
His The Shadow Campaigns books hit me from out of nowhere, and introduced me to some of my favourite ever characters – Winter, Cyte, Marcus, Raesinia. In the fourth book in the series, The Guns of Empire, we are introduced to the fact that the series has so far taken place across a relatively short amount of time, but it nevertheless feels like I have known these characters all my life. I have experienced heartache and joy with them, visceral emotions that leap off the page and draw you, the reader, deep into the folds of the narrative.
Django Wexler may not have the intricate battlefield techniques of a Miles Cameron, or the expansive narrative of a Brandon Sanderson, but he weaves together a story that is all the more personal and intimate for the focus he places on the characters, rather than getting too bogged down in a particular skillset (which inherently hides a lack in another skillset).
The Guns of Empire continues the adventures of the numerous characters that Wexler has introduced over the series, and pushes events forward to what is shaping up to be a world-spanning, cataclysmic showdown.
And yet – as I explained to Django Wexler over Twitter as I reached the end of Part 2 – it could be that the author has clung too tightly to the idea that a writer must “kill your darlings”.
Don’t get me wrong – I understand the premise: A writer’s attachment to a character must not exceed reality, and subsequently bring them through all and sundry unharmed. However, as with everything, there are equal and opposite reactions, and I think some authors tend to veer too far the other way, killing off anyone who moves in a heartfelt but unnecessary (and sometimes distracting) effort to ensure they are being “realistic”.
As a result, The Guns of Empire left me feeling, repeatedly, emotionally desolate. I freely admit – and it’s why I began this review as I did – that I am bringing my own emotional baggage to the table. But because Django Wexler writes in such an intimate and character-driven manner, I am less able to deal with the far-too-frequent major- and minor-character deaths throughout this book. Glen Cook and Steven Erikson, too, have this penchant for wilful destruction of their dramatis personae, but they don’t write quite so close to the characters as Wexler does, and as a result, I can’t help but walk away from The Guns of Empire feeling not only as if I’ve lost friends, but as if they died unnecessarily.
I’m well aware that is likely the point – is in fact the point of authors such as Glen Cook and co. – but because Wexler invested me so deeply into his characters and their lives, I also feel as if I can see both the deaths as unnecessary in life as well as in this fiction.
Nevertheless, my own abandonment and detachment issues aside, The Guns of Empire nevertheless only serves to further cement Django Wexler as one of the best authors currently writing, and his work as truly spellbinding. I am as excited and eager for the next book in the series as I am any author’s work, and am secretly pulling for a deus ex machina plot twist to save at least one of the characters from being stone dead (see what I did there, Django?).
Review by Joshua S Hill
9/10 from 1 reviews
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