Now, I don’t always succeed at this, but my 5 star reviews tend to be reserved for books that move me in some way, be that through character development or plot or the prose itself, books that make me nostalgic, or books by authors that I adore. So, in order to get 5 full stars from me (unless it’s a classic novel, which I rate differently), a book needs to either be deep and philosophical, have gorgeous prose, bring me back to my childhood, or be written by someone that I’ve loved for years. Very seldom do I give a book 5 stars just because it entertained me and kept me reading late into the night, but that’s exactly what I’m doing here.
I really enjoyed the first half of this duology, Where Loyalties Lie. It introduced interesting characters, unique locals, and a magic system intriguing in its mystery. The main reason I accepted the ARC request was because PIRATES. I love pirates so much. I have a road sign pointing toward Tortuga in my living room. Pirate stories aren’t something I could just read nonstop, but it’s a niche I heartily enjoy on occasion. That is, when I can find one that works for me, one that’s actually well-written and compelling without feeling cliche. And Where Loyalties Lie worked for me. It was engaging and fun and exciting, and it always felt original. It was a solidly good book.
But Hayes upped his game in the second half of his duology. The Fifth Empire of Man is one of the best follow-up books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down. It made me gasp and laugh out loud and tense up as I read, which I’m pretty sure is the best compliment a reader can give an author. It was just so darn entertaining, and the brevity of the chapters made it hard not to decide to read just one more when you really needed to put it down to eat or sleep or do laundry or walk your dog or help your sister-in-law with your new niece. The rest of my life suffered just a little until I finished this book, which is unusual for me. That addictive readability is why this book earned 5 stars from me. That and the fact that some of the writing choices that Hayes made in Where Loyalties Lie either weren’t present or weren’t noticeable to me. (Also, no brutal rape scene! Yay!)
Hayes yet again told the story from varying perspectives, each falling under the heading of whichever ship they called home. And once again those main perspectives were: Captain Drake Morrass, the wily and charming instigator of a rebellion, set on seeing himself in a crown; Arbiter Beck, Drake’s lovely and confusing and scarily badass partner; Captain T’ruck Khan, still obsessed with the adage that bigger is better; Captain Keelin Stillwater, a better man than he thinks but with a past that haunts him; and Captain Elaina Black, daughter of the most dreaded pirate in the Isles and hellbent on carving a name for herself outside of that relationship. But there are other characters whose perspectives we get on occasion, though they’re still linked with the ships of their captains.
The scope of the story felt larger than that of its predecessor, and that broadening of scope worked marvelously well. There were new locales that were weird and lovely and honestly terrifying. We learn a little more about the vast and varied magic running like veins beneath the surface of Hayes’ world and are exposed to creatures beautiful and wild and deadly that are imbued with or spawned from that magic. I was completely caught up in this world, and I really enjoyed my stay.
And then there’s the battles on the open sea. You haven’t lived until you read about someone sword fighting with a severed arm, let me tell you. I have a hard time staying engaged in battle scenes, but these were fun. Even in the midst of carnage, I was just so entertained. The variety of perspectives helped, as well. I do have to say, there was a plot twist that caught me completely off-guard, and I’m still surprised by it as I type this review.
One last thing I really want to applaud Hayes for is how well he wrote strong women. There were a handful of women in the book who were very central to the plot, and they were all strong and honestly kind of scary. Beck and Elaina are both awesome, but my favorite was actually a supporting character, Lady Tsokei. She’s one of the scariest, coolest women who ever boarded a ship. I would love more of her story.
All of the above gushing boils down to this: Rob J. Hayes has crafted one of the most entertaining duologies I’ve ever read in Where Loyalties Lie and The Fifth Empire of Man. This is not a tome littered with lovely prose. It’s not deep. It’s not a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. That’s not the type of story he set out to write. And I’m thankful. Sometimes you just need to read something fun and action-packed that will keep you reading late into the night, long after your eyes should have closed. That’s exactly what Hayes produced here. If you like your fun littered with pirates and carnage and more than a little vulgarity, I can’t recommend this duo enough.
Thanks for giving me such a swashbuckling adventure, Hayes. It was a wild ride.
I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. While I appreciate the gift, the giving of it in no way influenced my view of the book.