In Memories of Empire, Django Wexler creates a fantasy world with both depth and breadth, pitting numerous nations, factions, and personalities against each other in a setting that oozes with a "lived-in" feel. This ambitious debut novel primarily follows the story of Veil and Corvus, an escaped would-be slave and a seemingly unstoppable mercenary, and the story of Kei and Kit, a pair of drake-riders sent to escort an arrogant noblewoman as she hunts a rebel sorcerer.
Wexler lays out a profusion of plot threads and then leaps between them deftly, braiding them into each other one by one until the novel reaches its climax. While it can be a bit of work to keep track of who's plotting what against whom, the characters are all strongly-drawn and easily distinguished from one another. The "big picture" doesn't become clear until the endgame, when no fewer than four factions collide in competition for what are finally revealed to be colossal stakes.
It's all a bit dizzying but, as with Steven Erikson's books, the individual characters make it work. Wexler makes it easy to cheer for Veil or Kei to get out of various tight corners, even if the reasons they were in those corners to begin with are rarely clear. While there are plenty of standardized fantasy trappings in evidence, Wexler provides more than enough twists and surprises to keep the whole endeavor from feeling overly-familiar. And if it's hard to keep track of what's happening when it happens, the ending does an excellent job of revealing who's been doing what to our heroes and why.
It has its flaws, to be sure. The characters' motivations can come across as murky and arbitrary; in the early going, Veil in particular seems to be "going thataway" just for want of anything better to do. And with this many main and ancillary characters roaming the landscape, I do wish Wexler would have chosen names that were as easily distinguishable from on another as the personalities; witness the scene involving Kit, Kei, and Karl.
Most troubling, however, is the wretched condition of the text. This is, without question, the most poorly-edited novel I have ever purchased. Medallion Press is a legitimate small publisher, but based on the standards of line-editing represented by Empire, one could be forgiven for thinking they're a vanity press scam-house. The text is liberally sprinkled with obvious misspellings, spaces in the middle of words, random punctuation and capitalizations, and absent carriage returns.
The typos are merely annoying and unprofessional; it's the missed section breaks that can yank the reader violently out of the story to pause and figure out just what the hell is going on. The text does no favors in helping the reader keep track of Wexler's numerous plot threads; way too many scenes arbitrarily blur into one another. The most egregious mistake happens during what were clearly supposed to be a pair of short scenes showing Kit and Kei waking up at their campsite, and then flying above the countryside on their mounts. With the section break missing, it reads as though the two riders somehow have set up bedrolls and a campfire while in the air.
For the sake of both Medallion Press and its authors, one would hope that the editor responsible for this debacle has been fired and replaced by somebody who knows how to read.
Still, warts and all, Wexler's debut outing is a worthwhile read. Fans of George R. R. Martin, Steven Erikson, or Japanese anime will find plenty to enjoy. If you have a taste for Byzantine magic-powered scheming, if you like to see larger-than-life heroes prowling a landscape populated by powerful, cunning spirits and well-developed cultures that feel like they exist even when the reader isn't watching, give this novel a look.