Author: William Ray
Publication Date: 2017
(I received a copy of his book from the author in exchange for an honest review)
Gaslight, elves, goblins, secret societies, kidnapping, detectives, and black-powder fantasy. All of these come together as William Ray continues his Tales Of The Verin Empire series with The Great Restoration. Where Gedlund, the first book in the series was a mix of black powder fantasy mixed with sword and sorcery while on military campaigns at the boundaries of the empire, for this installment Ray took a different approach. In fact he kinda went with a slightly different sub-genre. The Great Restoration is a detective-mystery story set within both the heart of the empire and one if its recently acquired territories.
As this is book two in the series there may be minor unavoidable spoilers for Gedlund.
“Traitors to humanity, the Wardens were an ancient order of men and women seeking to once more enslave their own people to the Elves. With the rise of rifle and iron rail, Elves were finally driven from the world, but in secret enclaves, the Wardens speak of the Great Restoration, which will return their masters to power…
Nearly a decade after the war in Gedlund, Gus Baston has found work as a private investigator in the Verin Empire’s crime-infested capitol. He makes his living at the edges of society, and when the Wardens suddenly emerge from obscurity to kidnap a prominent engineer, Gus must rescue him or risk being blamed for the crime himself.
But why would Elves want an engineer? And why have the Wardens suddenly shown themselves again, after forty years in hiding?”
The Great Restoration is told in varying degrees from three different points of view:
The primary pov and protagonist is Gus Baston. Readers of Gedlund will remember Gus as the former color sergeant in the imperial army who fought in Rakhasin against the goblins, and in Gedlund against the Lich King and his undead. Gus is not the jovial carefree man he was before the Gedlund campaign. Now he’s beset by bouts of depression and suffers from what we’d describe as PTSD, both a result of his days in the army. He turns to alcohol and women to keep his demons at bay. Upon returning home from the war and riding an initial wave of notoriety for his part in the inquisition following the Gedlund Campaign Gus fell on hard times and took up a career as an detective. Not an offical government sponsored inspector but a privet investigator.
Emily is Gus’ assistant who runs the office. In fact she’s the one who lately seems to be drumming up all the business. Emily is smart, resourceful, and seemingly the one person who keeps Gus in line and on task…almost. Emily also has a past that is gradually revealed, a past that allows her many contacts useful in her new job, but one that most would look down upon. It is her religious faith, work ethic (for lack of a better description coming to mind), and sense of purpose that motivates her to rise above the societal obstacles in her way.
Dorna is one of the Wardens, the secret society bent on restoring the elves to power. Dorna’s character is interesting because she is a human who believes the elves are the true lords of the world when most humans look upon the elves as slave masters. Some of the most interesting character development happened with Dorna’s character as she struggled with reconciling her faith and her past with her present reality. Dorna’s character is interesting because she isn’t really the antagonist of the story. That role would go to the Master she serves if anyone (a character who remains very secretive throughout). Instead Dorna is the deuteragonist (secondary main character). She opposes Gus, but her story, dreams, desires underlies the entire narrative without which there is no conflict to be resolved. Ultimately it is her story Gus has to unravel in order to solve the case.
Even though The Great Restoration is set within the heart of the empire and not its edges like Gedlund, Ray expands upon his world-building. Glimpses into the politics and life in neighboring nations either not mentioned or barely mentioned in Gedlund are repeatedly noted in news snippets at the beginning of each chapter, giving the reader a wider vision of what else is happening in the world simultaneously with the events of the story. There are workers party revolutions, intrigue and assassinations, monarchs in exile, threats to newly won territories, and crime on the frontier, all of which allude to the wider world in which the narrative occurs.
Where we really see world-building however is in the detail and attention given to Gemmen, the capital of the empire, and Khanom, a growing industrial city in Aelfua, the territory taken from the elves when they disappeared from the world. With Gemmen Ray is influenced by what seems to be 19th century London with its imperial culture and society in flux within a new industrial age. With Khanom we find a new youthful city built among some of the few remaining elven ruins, hoping to make a name for itself within the empire and overcome its backwater status.
Another area Ray builds upon in this book is that of religious faith. This isn’t something that was addressed much in Gedlund, but here we discover something of the pantheon of the gods, old and new, and the ways in which they are worshiped. Religious belief is changing in the empire but still important for a number of people. What we find now is conflict between old beliefs and the new industrial age on one hand, and a faith it the elves as godlike immortals on the other.
Writing And Pacing
Ray’s writing style is similar to what it was in Gedlund. It’s still pretty straight-forward and told in the third person but from the pov of Gus, Emily, or Dorna. What’s really different though is this is a detective story and Gedlund was a war story. What we don’t have are the immersive battle scenes that drew me into that book. In The Great Restoration the pace is slowed down for the sake of the mystery. But that doesn’t mean it lacks action, it’s just interspersed throughout the narrative and lacks grand battles. There’s kidnapping, assaults, murder, gunfire, explosions, you name it. The slower pace allows the mystery to be drawn out and provides ample opportunity for the world-building to come to life setting some of the tone and atmosphere for the book.
One of my favorite pieces of writing in the story was the kidnapping scene. It’s a mix of both slow and fast pace. Its told from the point of view of the Wardens who are set to kidnap the architect (I haven’t given anything away here that isn’t really in the blurb above). It really begins with the planning stages, how they choose their hideout, route, accomplices, and other details. Then as it shifts to the actual kidnapping the pace picks up and everything is a mix of excitement, adrenaline, and confusion. I just thought it was well done and gave an added sense of intrigue and suspense to the story.
My least favorite aspect of the writing was actually right at the climax and may be part of why it only got 4 stars from me. There was a bit too much of the villain giving away all the information at just the right time for my taste. It wasn’t horribly done or anything, but just seemed a little too convenient for what occurs. It does resolve a lot of the conflict however so I see the necessity for it, I just would have liked it to be done another way.
Like in Gedlund, each chapter begins with a news snippet. In Gedlund it turned out those news articles were related to the resolution of the book and involved the characters even if we didn’t know it at as we were reading. Ray continues this device in The Great Restoration but instead the news pieces don’t pertain the the specific events of the story. Instead they offer glimpses into both current events within and without the empire, and into its societal make-up.
Prominent throughout The Great Restoration are interwoven themes of class and gender, and the struggle with social mobility. This is a world where industrialization has burst upon the scene and the accompanying struggles of class differentiation and gender roles have come with it. New industrial wealth in the hands of people rising out of the lower class comes into conflict with old inherited wealth. Women are entering the workforce in roles (like secretaries) that previously were only to be had by men. Yet there are still professions (like being an investigator) that are looked down upon and found to be unseemly. These serve to provide tension and conflict in the narrative as the characters struggle with class and gender roles while trying to root out the kidnappers.
Religion and faith is also a recurring theme in the book. Beyond what I already mentioned in the world-building section there’s a dual faith perspective found in Emily’s and Dorna’s characters. Emily’s faith is sure and true in her belief in the gods. Dorna’s is somewhat different in that her faith is placed in the elves as godlike beings and saviors. We see the evolution of Dorna’s faith throughout the narrative as she struggles with with both a lack of faith and assurance of it. Then there’s Gus who really doesn’t have faith in anything other than the people he knows and trusts. The theme of faith and in whom/what it is placed provides significant conflict and character development throughout the book.
Ray also expands upon what he started in Gedlund with the idea that this ongoing fantasy story isn’t one that looks back in longing at some heroic mythical past but one where the empire is on the cusp of great advancement and is instead looking forward to the adventure to come. There are hurdles to overcome and great travesties that occur to both residents of the empire and the people they come into conflict with as they conquer new lands. The characters struggle with that tension of advancement in a new age while seeing and experiencing the impact of that advancement upon the world and indeed the negative impacts it’s had on themselves. Some like Gus and Emily find ways to cope and adjust to the new order, while others like Dorna and the Wardens attempt to return to old ways, setting them all up for a collision with the machinery of change.
As you’ve seen by my rating I didn’t like The Great Restoration as much as I did Gedlund. But that in no way means I didn’t enjoy it. I think the difference is really one of taste for me. I enjoy a good mystery or detective novel and really enjoyed this one but I probably prefer a war story. I’ve also never read a detective/mystery in a fantasy setting such as this one which makes the experience somewhat different. I applaud Ray for taking the risk and changing up the sub-genre and style from book one to book two. He succeeded in something that would be difficult for many authors.
The Great Restoration can be read as a stand alone novel but many of the details and character nuances will be better enjoyed if you’ve read Gedlund first. I can’t say exactly how I’d rate it if this was the first of the two I’d read. My gut is to say perhaps a little lower because I’d lack some of the background but I really can’t be sure. It gets a higher rating from me now though because of the ways it does build upon Gedlund in terms of the larger story Ray seems to be attempting to tell. I’m really intrigued by his idea of writing a series that explores the difficulties and conflicts inherent in an expanding fantasy based industrialized society coming to terms with itself and its neighbors. There’s more coming from Ray according to his afterword with yet another sub-genre change, this time something of a western bringing back another character from Gedlund.
As a stand alone story The Great Restoration is one I believe you will enjoy. It’s mixture of blackpowder, gaslight and high fantasy provides a setting any fantasy lover should enjoy. The detective story with its mixture of mystery and suspense coupled with the overarching themes of industrialization, class conflict, gender roles, and faith provide a cauldron in which the story is able to come to a boil, before simmering a while until the the fires are stoked for its dramatic conclusion.
If you enjoyed Gedlund I recommend you pick up The Great Restoration as well.