Michaelbrent Collings usually writes horror, so I’m not super familiar with his works in general. Child of the Empire, however, is solidly in the epic fantasy genre. I don’t know if he considers it young adult, but the story feels like that’s what it is.
The protagonist has no name at the beginning. She is a dog, a child sent to the kennels and trained to fight or to be sold to the brothels. After a surprising turn of events during a fight in which she uses a knife to deflect bullets, a mysterious young man about her own age rescues her from the kennels. He then takes her and she becomes a fighter as one of the Blessed: supernaturally gifted people who fight directly for the Emperor. She becomes Sword.
Collings has great talent with character development, and he makes Sword immediately sympathetic and interesting to the reader of Child of the Empire. As she trains, she learns more about the Empire she serves, and Collings takes the reader along for the ride. The characters we meet along the way become important through the eyes of Sword.
The world in which Sword lives is rich in detail and feels very real. Collings does an amazing job visualizing the world in such a way as to make the world a living, breathing character in its own right (albeit a very mysterious and deadly character, shrouded in clouds and wonder). Everything that happens in the story occurs on the top of five mountains/plateaus, and that world feels simultaneously cut off and extremely vast.
There are elements of low technology used by some of the characters, but these do not feel out of place. Instead, they add to the peculiar detail of the world. It feels simultaneously familiar and exotic. For example, the religious order introduced in Child of the Empire feels very much like many found in this world, but it also has practices and aspects which give it a unique flavor.
The narrator, Danielle Cohen, has an easy cadence that carries the listener along with the flow of the story. She reminds me of how I read books to my kids, changing up the voices a bit, and knowing just which words to emphasize so the story carries that extra punch that keeps it interesting. She did an amazing job reading the book.
There are mildly graphic bits of violence here and there (perhaps the only hint of his predilection for horror), and a brief discussion of a brothel. For those reasons, I recommend Child of the Empire to teens and above. I enjoyed the audiobook so much, I also purchased the print version. For my first time reading/listening to a story by Collings, this was a thoroughly amazing experience. I very rarely enjoy self-published stories this much, and I look forward to reading the rest of The Sword Chronicles series.
Review copy kindly provided by the author.
Release Date: November 14, 2016 (USA)
Narrator: Danielle Cohen
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (very brief mention)
Sexuality: 1 (very brief discussion of a brothel)
Violence: 2 (some brutal violence, fighting, murder, assassination, death)