Set within the same universe as the authors previous novel Tribes, Shades of Empire follows the ex-soldier Alexander Napier, merchant starship captain Madeline Pallestrino and a host of other colourful characters.
Alexander still reluctantly wears the marks of his servitude to the Emperor but it's the ones that don't show that count the most. Adrift in space he's rescued by Madeline who balances her mercantile payroll with a bit of weapons smuggling when she can, assisting the rebels on the Empires capital - Gaulle. At the same time she is fighting a growing attraction to one of her crewmen, the seemingly autistic savant Thaddeus who routinely handles six dimensional mathematics and yet is unable to hold a conversation.
Back on Gaulle the Count Peter Barranca is one of Madeline's legitimate customers, an honourable man amongst a ruthless ruling class headed by the inbred du Plessis family. The book follows each of these lives as paths cross, alliances are formed and secrets uncovered, split into a number of of different threads; some of which seem only distantly related and yet all gather together in a very clever way towards the end of the story.
While there are a number of romantic elements to the plot there are some much more serious aspects at play to, including rape, the dangers of a brutal monarchy and that of the corruption inherent in those who have absolute power, not to mention the subjugation of women. Some pretty serious subjects I think you'll agree and in the wrong hands ones that could prove a story-breaker, luckily we are in good hands and the author manages everything in an intelligent and effective manner without once coming across as gratuitous or over the top. Some of the scenes are nevertheless a little graphic and as such this isn't suited to the younger reader, or indeed those who don't like to read about that sort of thing.
So it's not a book for everyone however it is a very well crafted tale that blends some really creative characters into a multi-threaded plot without losing the reader anywhere and the way these are all brought together is excellent.
As with the authors previous novel the use of technology is very much understated, more of a tapestry upon which the characters and plot are drawn and as such it reads much more like an intrigue romance than any scifi novel. Shades of Empire is a well crafted, engaging story and one which is very enjoyable despite the occasionally graphic scene and serious subject matter. Perfect for anyone who likes a bit of romance in their reading.
Written by Antony, 19 August 2012.