Anthony Riches’ Empire
Where do I start with The Leopard Sword? Strangely, with a comparison.
You see, I’ve been a fan of Tony’s books since the first Empire novel, but to me there is a definitely change between the first three books and this fourth one that makes a comparison viable. I have recommended the first three novels to numerous people since I started them (and bought copies as presents for some) but the target audience for that recommendation was fairly specific. The Empire books have been distinctly miltary in nature, bloodthirsty (aka not for the faint-hearted), rude (in an entirely appropriate way – The Romans has a fairly crude sense of humour and let’s face it, the military is pretty similar throughout history.) So I’ve aimed my recommendations at people with an interest in that area and who I know will appreciate the style.
The Leopard sword has lost none of these things. Everything that a fan of the first three books enjoyed is here. You will enjoy it. Believe me.
But more than that, Empire IV has taken Tony’s writing (and most particularly, I think, his planning of novels) to a whole new level. I will recommend TLS to people who I would baulk at the thought of reading the first three. It shows not only a natural progression from the first three but also a maturity in style that I adored.
Moving from a 90% military plotline to a new and exciting mix of military, whodunnit and thriller, TLS had me guessing almost to the end, with its constant twists and surprises. Every time I thought I’d nailed part of the plot it evaporated like smoke. I could enthuse about this at length and give some fantastic detail, but I will NOT risk spoilers, so enjoy that aspect and be glad I didn’t ruin it for you.
The first three books, for me, were very much a trilogy, and I worried, after the fairly definitive and enormous end of the third, whether Tony could really pull a fourth out of his hat. He’s done that, and made me wish I’d given his earlier books a lower rating so that I could adequately express my high estimation of this one.
As well as the continued ‘real’ feel of the military seen in his earlier books, there is also a much more personal element to TLS for several characters. There are some new and impressive folk to meet, and the bad guy in TLS will rank among my top historical villains. From his very introduction, he exudes style and mystery. Oh, and one of the previously more ‘supporting’ characters has really come into his own in this book and taken a limelight role – not before time.
This book also has a far more complex and intricate plot that its predecessors, and a real feel for the time and the local environment, which play a very important role in the plot itself. The interwoven threads are so neatly tied, it pleased me immensely to see not a hint of a loose end.
Moreover, I feel that Tony may have shifted a tiny amount of his focus so that there is less concentration on the battle and viscera (though don’t panic as there’s still plenty of ICK!) and more on subtle plot twists and character growth. All in all, it’s a subtle move in style, I think, but a welcome and mature one which loses nothing, yet gains everything.
Simply: I love it. Buy it. And – and I rarely will say this – even if you’ve not read the first three or don’t fancy them, buy this anyway. You’ll love it too.
Roll on The Wolf’s Gold (now out in less than a month!)