The year is 3157 B.C.E., and human civilization is beginning to blossom into the Bronze Age. More and more, people are making the shift from nomadic wanders to farmers, merchants and craftsmen building communities in villages and cities. In doing so, they also become easy prey for those who still live by the old ways, barbarians and warriors who ride the land pillaging and murdering all who stand in their path. Eskkar had been one such barbarian. Now he rules the great city of Akkad on the banks of the Tigris River, his former slave turned wife, Trella, at his side. Even though Eskkar saved the city once from the fierce warriors, the Alur Meriki, by building a wall around Akkad, he worries that the warriors could return, and if not them, someone else. To secure his reign, he leaves Akkad in Trella’s care and splits his forces, sending many of his troops to the south while he takes the remainder north to help settle the land and rid it of bandits and thieves.
Wise before her years, Trella is more the true ruler of Akkad than even her husband. While he’s gone, she strives to continue making the city safe, not just for herself and the people, but for the child she’s carrying, Eskkar’s heir. When, Korthac, an Egyptian warrior under the guise of a gemstone trader, enters Akkad, Trella’s instincts flare with warning. She knows there’s something not right with the man and sets her spies on him. Too late, she learns the full extent of how dangerous Korthac is. As Korthac takes control of Akkad and enslaves its people, Trella knows their only hope is Eskkar, who now must find a way past the very walls he ordered built if he is to save his wife, their child, and the future of their city.
As the sequel to author Barone’s debut novel, Dawn of Empire, plenty of backstory is given in Empire Rising to refresh readers with the events of the first book, or to make it so that they don’t have to read the first to understand all that took place. It is still advisable to begin with Dawn of Empire before venturing into the sequel; the two books are deeply connected, and the reader will gain a full appreciation of the characters, their history and their struggles. Empire Rising picks up where the first left off, with Eskkar secure in his leadership of the city and working to rebuild it.
Empire Rising can really be divided into two parts. The first half of the book is concerned mostly with Akkad, its plights, and the intrigue of Korthac as Trella seeks to uncover who he is. The second half is all action and fighting. Each are deeply interesting in their own respects, though other than a few skirmishes and taking a new lover, Eskkar appears seldom in the first half. In actuality, Eskkar and Trella don’t interact much at all in this story. More intimacy, tenderness and emotion is shown between Eskkar and his new mistress than between him and Trella, causing him to struggle with his growing feelings for his mistress and the love his already has for Trella. On Trella’s part, perhaps because she’s not seen much with Eskkar, she comes across more concerned with the power and protection Eskkar provides than with him personally. She’s a wonderfully powerful female character, calculating in seeing her ends met and more intelligent than the men around her. Yet perhaps because of the power she wields, deep emotions never fully emerge from her. By the end, the reader is left with a sense that Eskkar’s mistress loves him more honestly than Trella.
With the second half of the book, it’s battles galore as Eskkar returns to reclaim the city. Chapter after chapter of fighting ensues, and for the most part, each fight stays fresh and exciting. This is accomplished because the story bounces from one character to another and their individual battles. In one scene, readers will be with Eskkar, in another Korthac, then one of their commanders and so on. One thing must be said about author Barone: he knows how to write a good battle. The details are rich and graphic; nothing is spared, showing the full violence and brutality of warfare during the Bronze Age.
On a whole, Empire Rising is a very gratifying read and a great sequel. With the vivid characters Barone has created, there’s much hope he’ll continue bringing the Bronze Age back to life through his rich writing, and thrilling readers with his riveting battle scenes.