Hollow Empire (Poison Wars #2) by Sam Hawke
Published by Tor Books
Adult, Mystery Fantasy
Official Release Date : 26th November 2020 (UK) & 1st December 2020 (US)
Poison was only the beginning…. The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina’s skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination.
“You never get used to poisoning a child.”
TW : death, gore, violence
ARC provided by the publisher TOR Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
An intoxicating sequel to end all sequels I’ve read this year; Hollow Empire is the stunning continuation to a fantastic debut City of Lies by Sam Hawke, the story raises the bar with its mystery and conspiracies that will pull you in as we follow Jovan and Kalina to save Sjona once again.
Hollow Empire is the follow up to Sam Hawke’s fantastical debut book, City of Lies. Before I start my review, I am aware that I am late to the party. As much as I wished to post this review before the book is released it didn’t happen because of certain circumstances. I would like to thank NetGalley for providing the ARC and for being the sole reason I found out about this series. It is quite rare for me to jump right in to the second book of a series as soon as I finished the first book. The end of City of Lies left a huge impact on me emotionally that I just have to pick up Hollow Empire straight away. I would like to point out that the cover of this book gave me the impression of an ominous aura to the story.
The story in Hollow Empire picks up two years after the events of the first book. In City of Lies, Silasta lay besieged by a mysterious army that is aiming to destroy the city and its people. As Silasta’s Chancellor and his trusted adviser is poisoned, Tain, the Chancellors nephew, inherits his seat extremely unprepared under dire circumstances. With Jovan, Tain’s best friend, whose family’s honor and life is dedicated to protecting the Chancellor, is propelled into the role of advisor. Together with Kalina, Jovan’s sister, the three of them tackle the mystery surrounding the appearance of this army and unravel the reasons of such aggression towards their neutrally peaceful city.
We don’t forget. We are patient. We are coming.
Silasta is recovering from their past traumas, all the while preparing for their biggest event yet. The city is hosting an annual celebration with honored guest from various countries with an array of backgrounds and cultures. This setting makes for a good chance for certain individuals to take advantage of the situation to wreck havoc. Because of past experiences everyone is on high alert especially our main characters, Jovan and Kalina. Throughout the novel the general mood of the story is as though someone is trying to jump on you when you least expect it. Hollow Empire delivers a much more intense plot driven story than its predecessor. Just when I started to doubt this sequel, Sam Hawke blindsided me with more conspiracies and assassinations on a much bigger scale. There are more poisons mentioned and used within the story that I find intriguingly exciting. With each new chapters readers are given a snippet of a certain poisoning case written in the Oromani’s Proofer Book. Reading about previous cases that the Oromani proofers encountered is a good touch to a new chapter in the novel.
The author didn’t hold back in terms of mystery to challenge their characters. Sam Hawke surely elevated the circumstances and stakes for the characters. Jovan and Kalina are both desperate to keep up with the twist and turns of each lead they find that brings them closer to catching the invisible enemy. This invisible enemy seems to always be ahead of Jovan and Kalina no matter how hard they try to out smart them. Sam Hawke weaved plot after plot into the story without it seeming confusing or diluted. It is easy to follow for readers, full of twist and turns that will make you second guess every character and every incident. The way the author sneaked in “signs” or small instances that I brushed over as meaningless came back tugging at the edge of my brain. It is cleverly done and will keep you on your toes as you flip from page to page. Personally, I’ve grown to like Sam Hawke’s style in storytelling and I find her style fascinatingly original.
One of the key aspects of this series that I’ve grown to cherish and love with all my heart is the characters. The characterization from the first book did not drop in quality instead the characters exploded (yes, I said exploded) with vivid and vibrant personality. In City of Lies, I felt that Jovan and Kalina had similar voices that left me slightly confused while reading. The author clearly improved and gave both main characters time to shine equally during their own predicaments. While reading City of Lies I wanted to see Kalina being more involved instead of being the weak character. Kalina did impress me in the last chapters of the first book but it only left me wanting more chapters of her. And again Sam Hawke delivered. Most of my favorite chapters in Hollow Empire are from Kalina’s POV. Her role in this book is much more deeply involved in solving the mystery. It is a sin that I ever thought of her as weak and I want to apologize personally to Sam Hawke that I ever viewed her that way. Another thing that impressed me about the author’s characterization is how Sam Hawke depicts disabilities. Not once that Jovan’s anxiety or Kalina’s chronic illness is ever viewed as a weakness. There isn’t one instance, even during the tougher moments when they are in a bind, that Jovan or Kalina appeared helpless with their disability. As someone that has anxiety reading about characters like Jovan is like a fist bump to my heart. Besides that I also cared for the side characters as well. Specifically, Dija and Tain. Both of them are characters that made me want to instantly protect. Without spoiling anything, they left a huge impact in the story that I could not even explain why they are so impactful while writing this review. The enemies that they’re up against are illusive that from start to the moment of the reveal I could not pin point where the arrow is gonna point.
But also . . . . there were other magics in this world, other things we didn’t fully understand.
The well detailed world building in Hollow Empire expands and it doesn’t feel too cramped even though the setting mostly still takes place within Silasta walls. With an array of honored guest from various countries coming to Silasta, they bring in their customs and culture into the mix. The author shows the world surrounding Sjona through characters from different countries. It is well written without being info dump-y for readers to understand. If we have to compare the other countries to Sjona, Sjona is a much more progressive in culture and customs. There are clear distinctions and the new cast of side characters didn’t hinder me from enjoying the story. Kalina’s POV helped me understand the relationship between Sjona and its allies. As someone that studies international relations for three and a half years, I enjoyed every bit of the interactions Kalina has with the delegates from each country. The political dance is amusing to read, not to mention that politics has it hands in the plot as well. It is hard to explain without mentioning any spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. Another thing to love about this book is the mind blowing explosive action sequences. It literally gave me goosebumps as I read this book. In City of Lies, we didn’t get to see any magic up until the end. Hollow Empire served us more scenes involving magic. There were many instances when Hadrea, a Dafri speaker and Jovan’s lover, showed wondrous talent and growth since the events of the first book. The way the author interlaced magic into the mystery is refreshing, magic plays a big part in the plot of the story that adds an edge and elevates the story to a new level of fantasy. Sam Hawke definitely created a new kind of fantasy with Hollow Empire.
I will conclude my review by saying that if City of Lies left you breathless and utterly flabbergasted, say no more, pick up Hollow Empire, NOW! Especially since it’s already released by the time I publish this review. It is one of the best sequels I’ve read this year and I don’t know how I will functioning after this. With heart warming familial relationships, good representation of disability and mental illness, a variety of characters, engaging plot with endless twist in mystery and deceit, this book is a must read if you’re in the mood for mystery but make it fantasy. All the long chapters, that I normally would dislike, is well worth it when you reach the end. Hawke knows how to play with your emotions and pull at your heart strings at just the right time to make you comeback for more. Trust me, prepare tissues and don’t read it at work. I learned that the hard way by sobbing like a lunatic during my lunch break.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.