The Fifth Empire of Man by Rob J Hayes (The Best Laid Plans #2)

I received a review copy of The Fifth Empire of Man in exchange for an honest review. I'd like to thank  Rob J. Hayes for his generosity. This is the second and final book in the Best Laid Plans duology. It continues the adventures experienced in Where Loyalties Lie which is a current semi-finalist in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off competition.

This may very well be the best grimdark book I've ever read.

I couldn't wait to rejoin the often humorous, often gruesome piratical action with the Pirate King Drake Morrass, the gentleman pirate Keelin Stillwater, and formidable headstrong captain Elaina Black. I'd been looking forward to this for a while. The characters are the true standout element here. Within two relatively short fantasy tales Hayes has created a depth and intrigue that rivals huge name authors with 4-plus series of books. One of my only negatives is that I wish this completed tale was longer. I'd have happily read 7 books in this world. A great number of side characters become engrossing, exciting, and fully-fleshed this time when they were mainly operating on the sidelines in the previous book. Notable mentions go to Captain T'Ruck and mage-like Nerine Tsokeil. The ensemble is amazingly original and enticing and each character has a defined past, present and (hopefully) a future. Hayes has sculptured all his players with expert fashion. Like much grimdark, a few characters are scumbags and are only out for themselves, but everyone has motives, opinions or vendettas that drive them in sometimes strange and colourful directions.

The Fifth Empire of Man was exactly what my reading diet required. Complex, brutal and amazing featuring gigantic sea-battles, shadow demons, unspeakably grotesque Resident Evil-esque creatures, intricate magic and malevolent Gods. Hayes hypnotised me under his spell of this world’s awesomeness. This book still utilises the 'Point of Ship' perspective which is Hayes' sneaky way of using any point of view character perspective he wishes to entice drama and keep the tale flowing as fluently as possible. For the first time in the duology we are witness to a point of view from one of the enemy vessels. This aids to manufacture an engrossing, 360-degrees and 3D atmosphere building up to the inevitable epic confrontation. There are so many standout set-pieces throughout. Stilllwater, the best sword in the Pirate Isles crosses paths with his brother, arguably the greatest swordfighter in the world. We find out about Drake's hidden past experiences at the hand of the enchantingly manipulative Drurr. Also, exploits divulge interesting details regarding Kebble's seeming immortality.

The Fifth Empire of Man is amazing. Intricate with stunning dialogue. Expertly edited (I noticed one tiny mistake in these 400-pages). It's surely only a matter of time before one of the big-5 fantasy publishers knocks on Hayes' door. In my mind, Hayes does grimdark better than Abercrombie with characters just as memorable. Be one of the cool kids who reads this series before it gets popular because I guarantee it will. Oh yeah, it's about pirates, mate!

9/10 This may very well be the best grimdark book I've ever read.

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