Lost in the Desolate Empire

I took my Kindle to Cambodia and there I finished Book 3 of Christina Ochs’ Desolate Empire series, The Hammer of the Gods. I started reading them because I was searching for books like my Light Funnel series (which they’re not really), but kept reading them because I enjoyed them and the rise and fall of the fortunes of the varied characters.

The obvious comparison is with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, or A Game of Thrones as it’s possibly now more commonly known, thanks to the television series using the name of the first book for the whole series. Similarities are a sweeping historical narrative, a subtle introduction of fantastical elements, many characters and the story being told from the perspective of a subset of those characters.

The similarity is superficial. I’ll take each point separately.

Martin used the Wars of the Roses as one of his inspirations and certainly the weapons and tactics are those of the late fifteenth century. Christina Ochs is inspired by the Thirty Years War which was in the middle of the seventeenth century. This gives her access to firearms and a completely different mental picture. She also uses Europe as the inspiration for her world, then reshapes and renames countries to suit.

While A Song of Ice and Fire begins with the Others, we’re not deluged with hobbits, orcs and elves. Instead, they find their way into the story in small doses so that they are easier to accept in the richly drawn and realistic world he’s created.

Christina Ochs takes this even further. Three books in and we have occasional premonitions and communication through dreams, and a dark supernatural ritual with unnatural consequences. But that’s it. I’m assuming there’s more to come.

As far as telling a story from multiple viewpoints, George R. R. Martin hardly invented that, although he is a master. Christina Ochs has fewer storytellers and a smaller cast (although it’s still large enough for the list of characters to be useful).

A mark of a successful subplot is that it would work on its own. I believe Ochs could have told stories solely focused on each of the viewpoints, but they are all the richer for being woven together.

The other thing about Christina Ochs’ characters is that there are more of them who are easy to like without being unrealistic. Don’t get me wrong, I love Martin’s multi-faceted characters, but it’s a pleasant contrast to be in a world inhabited by more likeable people.

That brings me onto another major difference. Martin graphically draws a very violent and violently sexual world. He pulls no punches – and neither does the TV series. The horror of war is not so graphically drawn in the Desolate Empire, but it is still there.  Peasants and townsfolk are often shown being the innocent victims of marauding armies.

One thing Ochs’ series shows is the impact that personalities and relationships of a very few at the head of politics can have on millions of others. You only have to read about a few recent national leaders to know this to be true.

So, I’m looking forward to reading the last three books in the series. I understand the final one is in the last stages of being written. It remains to be seen whether we’ll ever see the last two books of A Song of Ice and Fire, although I’m hanging out for them – along with millions of other people!

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