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An uneasy peace has existed since the fall of the Awakened Empire centuries ago. Now the hybrid Avān share the land with the people they once conquered: the star-born humans; the spectral, undead Nomads; and what remains of the Elemental Masters.
With the Empress-in-Shadows an estranged ghost, it is the ancient dynasties of the Great Houses and the Hundred Families that rule. But now civil war threatens to draw all of Shrīan into a vicious struggle sparked by one man’s lust for power, and his drive to cheat death.
Visions have foretold that Corajidin, dying ruler of House Erebus, will not only survive, but rise to rule his people. The wily nobleman seeks to make his destiny certain—by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the arcane science needed to ensure his survival, and by mercilessly eliminating his rivals. But mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Näsarat, stands most powerfully in the usurper’s bloody path. For it is Indris who reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace.
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Review by Travis Starnes
The first book in the Echoes of Empire series, The Garden of Stones is an epic story of a civil war, a madman’s vicious path to power and the noble warrior that stands in his way.
The description of the book made me eager to get a copy and start reading. I have to say from the outset you can tell how intent Mark Barnes is to build this world. It is obvious on every page how much care and detail he put into the world, the politics, the people and the language. Generally I admire when an author really builds out the world the story is set in. For me it is what elevates The Lord of the Rings from a good read to an amazing novel and the keystone all fantasy books should follow.
Unfortunately, Barnes does not successfully pull of the world building the way Tolkien did. In Tolkien’s work the world building was layered in as a backdrop. He showed you just enough to let you know there was a world there but not too much to overwhelm you. Barnes on the other hand drowns you in it.
There are a lot of new words thrown at the reader with very little attempt to acclimate you to the world or even really explain any of them. It makes the book extremely difficult to read and all but impossible to actually care about the characters. You are given frequent chunks of information about the world, but again in jargon so thick it that it makes it hard to maintain interest. There also seems to be word substitution going on without much of a point, just language building for the sake of language building.
It’s not all bad. The way magic works in this world is interesting, and in a more readable book it would probably be a highlight. Barnes does a good job describing the magic in use and you can almost feel the ethereal way it sometimes worked.
Also, Indris seems like an interesting character. I can tell she has a lot of potential, although there are enough sections of the book where you would jump to another character that was notably less interesting. I am usually a fan of politics in books and love political intrigue, but the history and dense text made it less intriguing and more flat out dull.
This book had some potential, and I really wanted to like it, but it was next to impossible to read. I barely finished it and gave up the thought of punishing myself with the sequel. This might be a case of too much of a good thing.