Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Sometimes I wonder why authors decide to write sequels to a story that has already won a major award and gained acceptance by the reading public. I suppose some writers cannot help seeking more and more recognition. Others become slaves to their own publicity. (I wonder what drives Nora Roberts). In Sam Hawke’s case, she feels the need to satisfy the urge to connect. City of Lies brought her fame, and an army of fans. With raucous noise they demand a follow-on from the first book or, quietly, individuals wonder in fan mail when the next book will appear.

City of Lies introduced two young people with secrets: Jovan has spent years learning how to detect, concoct, and withstand the effects of, poisons. Kalina seems frail but follows a path of secrets and lies that would destroy a lesser person. Tragedy strikes, but Jovan and Kalina are up to the challenge. Their success becomes limited by a new world of unexpected treachery, whipped up by ancient spirits that are angry and begin to interfere in the ways of men.

This is the scenario upon which the sequel Hollow Empire is constructed. Ostensibly at peace and enjoying prosperity, the city of Silasta is, in fact, wallowing in complacency. Hawke shows that times are peaceful, primarily through the use of dialogue. Where her first book had a plot that twisted and curled, and was supported by language that was unpredictable, all wrapped up in parameters that were always visible, the second volume fails to maintain the pace and ferocity of the first. Jovan and Kalina enter into the spirit of saving the city that means so much but the reader struggles to stay with them. Kalina, in particular, is called on to negotiate a path through visiting dignitaries who, to a man, claim the unacknowledged title of King of Verbosity. To approach a point of rudeness, I was bored. The author has not been able to identify where action, and talk about action, are finely balanced.

A world has come into existence, but I cannot conceive of it. Like a poorly cared-for garden, both plot and dialogue have succumbed to weeds.

There are assassins and witches, all the expected ingredients of a fantasy novel. Several threads that normally form the skeleton on which to hang the flesh of the plot can be seen, appearing and disappearing beneath the overly obese covering of the plot. If she can find her way through to the events that make up the basic idea of the story, the reader can recognize a logical argument. Who in these days when instant satisfaction is seen as a right, is going to take the trouble?

Sam Hawke has trained in law. I would have expected better.

Hollow Empire

(2020)

by Sam Hawke

Bantam Press

ISBN: 978-1-787-63105-2

$32.99; 560 pp

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