The Levanti have overthrown their Chiltaen masters, and Gideon, First Sword of the Torin, now sits on the Kisian throne. In the chaos, factions move to oppose or control the new emperor. Gideon appears beset on all sides.

Imprisoned for a failed challenge on Gideon’s leadership, Rah e’Torin can’t leave his one-time brother to face the scheming Kisians. Regaining his freedom, Rah travels the wartorn country, believing Gideon can be saved from his enemies and himself.

But Gideon, and Rah, must contend with Miko, who will not give up her throne that easily. The empress-in-hiding is searching for allies to retake her throne. She knows it will take more than pretty words and alliances to regain the empire; it will take action. But with different factions searching the countryside for her, Miko may not survive long enough to convince anyone to follow her.

We Lie With Death by Devin Madson

We Lie with Death is the second book in Devin Madson’s The Empire Reborn quartet. At its heart, this is a story about remaining true to your heritage. Most characters consider what part of their traditions they will lose if Gideon remains emperor, and no one is happy about it. The Levanti are already dispossessed of their land because they refused to bow to missionaries preaching the word of the One True God. Every decision Gideon makes takes them further from their old life when all they want to do is go home. The Kisian are also worried about their future with a ‘barbarian’ on the throne.

Although this conflict runs throughout, Madson gives us a glimpse of a different future when Rah and Miko travel together. Neither Rah nor Miko speak the other’s language and must find other ways of making themselves understood. Initially, Miko and Rah are full of contempt for one another, but over time, they come to respect one another’s beliefs through their action.

Madson also builds tension in these chapters by having events happen to one character while in the other’s perspective. When Miko is captured, the events occur from Rah’s point of view. His grasp of her language is minimal, meaning we don’t know which of the groups looking for Miko have found her. This clever technique kept me reading long after I should have gone to bed.

Cassandra’s storyline is still separate from the main events, yet it gives us the most answers for the overarching plot. Under the control of the Witchdoctor, we finally understand why Cassandra has another voice in her head and what really happens when that other voice goes into a dead body. As Cassandra grows to accept her powers, we learn how Leo Villius returns from the dead. I won’t say any more to avoid spoiling it for you, but the reveal was so exciting, I immediately downloaded the third book in the series, We Cry for Blood, so I could get straight back into it.

We Lie with Death is one of my favourite reads of 2021. It blends fast-paced action and political intrigue with tender moments of mutual respect and heart-breaking decisions. Its bold characters stay with you long after finishing the book, and the explosive ending leaving you screaming for more.