The Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan

February 23, 2023

Please note The Tyranny of Faith is the second book in The Empire of the Wolf trilogy. If you haven’t read The Justice of Kings then what follows will likely contain minor spoilers. Consider yourselves duly warned!

A Justice’s work is never done.

The Battle of Galen’s Vale is over, but the war for the Empire’s future has just begun. Concerned by rumors that the Magistratum’s authority is waning, Sir Konrad Vonvalt returns to Sova to find the capital city gripped by intrigue and whispers of rebellion. In the Senate, patricians speak openly against the Emperor, while fanatics preach holy vengeance on the streets.

Yet facing down these threats to the throne will have to wait, for the Emperor’s grandson has been kidnapped – and Vonvalt is charged with rescuing the missing prince. His quest will lead him – and his allies Helena, Bressinger and Sir Radomir – to the southern frontier, where they will once again face the puritanical fury of Bartholomew Claver and his templar knights – and a dark power far more terrifying than they could have imagined.

The Justice of Kings was a first-rate fantasy thriller and one of my favourite novels from 2022. Its sequel has been released this week and the good news is Richard Swan has delivered once again.

The Tyranny of Faith picks up shortly after the events of book one. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is summoned to the nation’s capital, Sova, while the embers of revolution still smoulder. He has spent years on the road, attempting to avoid the political machinations of the ruling classes, but the Emperor’s whim cannot be ignored.

As before, the novel is narrated by Helena Sedanka. Sir Konrad Vonvalt’s often conflicted law clerk sits at the emotional core of the narrative. Lofty ideas like justice, fairness and equality mean everything to Helena. It is fascinating to watch how the harsh realities of life are often at odds with exactly that. Helena is young enough to still have principles and she has placed her employer on a bit of a pedestal. The only danger with doing that is more often than not people never live up to your high expectations of them.

The Tyranny of Faith digs deeper into Vonvalt the man. In The Justice of Kings, Vonvalt came across as something akin to the living embodiment of the law. I viewed him as a fantasy-infused Judge Dredd.  There was a standoffish quality that purposefully kept him removed from everyone else. In this new novel, we get to see a peak behind the curtain. We learn how Vonvalt the man differs from Vonvalt the justice. The foibles and failings we see help to humanise the man, adding additional layers of depth to his character. There is also the odd revelation or two that make you realise how he has become the person that he is. I love to see this kind of growth in a character as a series develops.

Every good protagonist, no matter how flawed, needs a suitable adversary. Vonvalt’s nemesis, Bartholomew Claver is one of those self-absorbed narcissistic types who is utterly convinced he is in fact the hero of his own story. There is a supremely confident air that surrounds him. Doubts are meant for the little people not for the likes of Carver. Within about five minutes of his appearance I want to smack him upside the head. I’d hazard a guess that is the sort of reaction you’re always going to want when it comes to a villain. There is going to be a reckoning. We’re heading towards it at a rate of knots. The ultimate, inevitable showdown between Vonvalt and Carver is going to be a case of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. That’s bound to be loads of fun.

I think one of the things I like most about this series so far is how the actions of a small cast of characters have such far-reaching consequences. There are decisions that Vonvalt has to make that will shape nations for decades. What started out in The Justice of Kings as something like a fantastical police procedural has morphed into an insightful political thriller that just happens to have some fantasy elements.

There are some cracking action scenes in the novel as well. Helena and Sir Radomir find themselves in the midst of a battle at one point and Swan’s writing expertly captures the frenetic chaos of the encounter. I’m a big fan of balls-to-the-wall, all-out action fantasy but I’m glad when a story comes along that manages to be all that and has brains to boot. Based on how much I’ve enjoyed these first two novels I can confidently confirm that the author has earned himself a lifelong fan. I reckon that is just about the best compliment I could ever give.

The Tyranny of Faith ends on a suitably downbeat note. Things do not end well for Vonvalt and his motley band of loyal retainers. What this does do is set things up perfectly for what promises to be a quite spectacularly finale. The Tyranny of Faith has delivered everything I would want from a sequel. The world-building has been expanded upon, the tension in the plot has been turned up a multitude of notches and everything is still left to play for.  I shall be waiting impatiently from now until book three arrives on my doorstep! I must know what happens next.

The Tyranny of Faith is published by Orbit and is available now. Highly recommended. Please promise me though that, if you haven’t already, you’ll read book one first.

As ever I’ll round off my bookish musings with a musical recommendation to accompany this novel. In this case, I’ve chosen the soundtrack to The Pale Blue Eye by Howard Shore. It’s just occurred to me that if they ever adapt The Empire of the Wolf for the screen, based on his performance in The Pale Blue Eye alone, Christian Bale would be an excellent choice for Sir Konrad Vonvalt. I would watch the hell out of that.


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