Review: The Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker

These two are going to cause some shenanigans, for sure! Acharsis’ face just screams ‘I am going to cause trouble!’

I picked this one up on its release day, being a pretty big fan of Tucker’s Chronicles of the Black Gate series. This one intrigued me because it was described to me as “necro-Sumerian Ocean’s Eleven fantasy” which, let’s all just be honest here, sounds badass AF. Who could resist? Certainly not me.

It has been two decades since the daughter of the death goddess enacted her cruel betrayal. Two decades since the other nine gods were slain, their semi-divine progeny murdered, and the disparate peoples of the Riverland forced to bend knee to their new empress and her armies of the dead.

But when bandits kidnap a youth at the edges of the empire, two aged and broken heroes emerge from obscurity to attempt an unlikely rescue. Neither man relishes confronting the forces of their dread empress, but when they learn that their quarry is being held for sacrifice in the imperial city of Rekkidu, they reluctantly begin gathering a crew of uniquely talented criminals to attempt an impossible rescue.

A rescue whose failure could have shattering consequences. For they are Jarek and Acharsis, the last of the demigods, long thought dead and whose return could shake the very foundations of the empire.

Unpredictable, fast paced, and packed with memorable characters, The Empire of the Dead is a gripping tale of revenge replete with demons, ancient magic and a high stakes heist.

“Why deliver ourselves to her? Why face an eternity of slavery?”

“Why? Because it’ll be fun.”

Our story starts out with Acharsis returning after a sixteen-year-long leave to apologize to Annara, the woman he left behind all those years ago, and Jarek, the friend that he betrayed on the day that all the gods but one died. On that same day, Annara’s son Elu is kidnapped and taken away to be sacrificed in the imperial city. So, naturally, Jarek and Acharsis, our two remaining demigods, along with Annara, follow the kidnappers to the imperial city of Rekkidu, where Jarek once ruled, and put together a crew of shannanigators (which is a word I just made up) to save him and thwart evil!

I really enjoyed this story! It was action-packed and well put together. The heist was well planned out and not too predictable. I loved the characters, and how some of them were quite witty and made me laugh. It should be said that the phrase “Damn it all up Nekuul’s netherhole” wins at curses for being both crass AF and culturally appropriate. I chortled at more than one of Acharsis’ and/or Kish’s curses. It also helped that these curses didn’t straight up replace the good ol’ F-bomb, but instead were used as comic relief.

The idea that demigods lose their powers when their divine parent dies is an interesting one and it makes a lot of sense. Acharsis and Jarek are much less powerful than they were before the day of betrayal, but as Annara points out, they’re still more powerful than the average human being. So, perhaps the gods aren’t dead, exactly. Perhaps they’re just asleep. They both seem to have changed from the men they once were. Twenty years of hiding out from the empress seems to have done that. Jarek even seems to suffer some legit panic attacks, which was kind of interesting, for the son of the god of earth and stone. He’s supposed to be strong by his very nature, so it was interesting to have that trope somewhat subverted in a way that I can actually sort of relate to.

While I did love Acharsis and his quick thinking, Kish was my favorite character of the bunch. I couldn’t help but love her right from the get-go. I love a good strong female character that doesn’t take any shit from anyone and that’s why I also love Kethe from the Chronicles of the Black Gate series. Tucker knows how to write a kick-ass lady, which is awesome. All the female characters in this book are strong willed and kick-ass. They know what they want and they take it.

It’s like this, only with decidedly more necromancers and ziggurats…. and ladies.

This one was quite a bit shorter than Tucker’s other books, but it didn’t seem too short. It was the perfect length for a day and a bit of light reading. I’m excited to see where the story goes. Excited for more zany Sumerian Ocean’s Eleven action. 5/5 stars!


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