Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

39866780“Quiet moments? I don’t know them”
― Empire of Light, probably

The author says they write “queerness with a chance of explosion” and – for this book at least – that’s such an understatement. This is probably the most frenzied book I’ve ever read.

Empire of Light is the first book in a very queer futuristic sci-fantasy series. This first book felt like a fast-paced dystopian focused on a m/m/m love triangle to me, but I think that as the series goes on, “dystopian” could become a restrictive term to describe it. I love stories that blur the lines between genres.

As I mentioned before, what stood out to me the most about this book was how it never slowed down. The characters were almost always getting shot at, and when they weren’t getting shot at, they were having sex. I haven’t seen so many shooting and explosion scenes since Zero Sum Game, and just like I said about that book, I think Empire of Light would work well on a screen. However, as this book tries to pull off a lot of plot twists – some better executed than others, I have to say – the “getting shot at” parts got somewhat confusing sometimes.
I could say that this book would have benefited from slowing down, but every pacing choice has its own advantages: I’m in a slump, and I flew through this, and I managed to do that because Empire of Light is the kind of book that doesn’t let you breathe. In spite of that, it manages to not become soulless like too many plot-driven, action-packed books do, because the main relationships are developed, dynamic and interesting.

This novel is mainly impossible to sum up because of spoilers and the amount of political intrigue, backstabbing and twists there are, but I can say that it is about Damian, an assassin for hire, as he grows apart from Aris, his higly-unstable magical lover, and gets closer to a mysterious revolutionary named Raeyn. I found the development of Damian and Aris’ relationship fascinating. I have read many (and still not enough, because the “many” isn’t “most”) books that have an interesting storyline following two characters who get together, but I have never read a story about a relationship falling apart that felt so real and compelling at the same time.

However, I can’t say the same about the side characters, and the aspects in which this book fell flat to me are all related to the side characters. They were flat, underdeveloped, and I didn’t feel anything about them when they inevitably died.
Also: I really appreciated the diversity and I’m glad I found another mostly-queer if not all-queer book, with a demisexual main character and prominent supporting characters who are polyamorous no less, but… the fact that the queer black girl died sacrificing herself for the main character didn’t sit well with me. The main character is a queer person of color himself and there are trigger warnings at the beginning which explicitly tell you that’s going to happen, but I kept thinking that wasn’t necessary at all.
Also, at some point I was really annoyed by the fact that all women were either evil or dead, and while that got somewhat better by the end of the novel, I’d like m/m books to remember that it would still be nice if they passed the Bechdel test sometimes.

My rating: ★★★½

4 thoughts on “Review: Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

  1. This sounds so interesting! I love how the cast is mostly queer, that’s so great. ❤ I'm glad to hear the main relationships were very well-developed, but it's a shame that didn't quite follow to the rest of the characters! Characters are so important to the story ahah. Lovely review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It really was a shame, I would have liked this book a lot more – I’m always looking for mostly/all-queer casts – if only the characters who weren’t part of the love triangle had felt like people too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read the book and feel similar. It was really fun and exciting but it was so fast that I think it missed being as good as it could be. I would have loved it to slow down and show me some thoughts and emotion more.

    Liked by 1 person

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