Book Review: Empire’s Bard (Oraiáphon, Empire’s Reckoning) by Marian L. Thorpe

Empire’s Bard

Series: Omnibus Edition (Oraiphon, Empire’s Reckoning)

Author: Marian L Thorpe

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Book Description:

Courage comes in many forms.

The northern invaders are defeated, but the price is high. The Eastern Empire, gone from these lands for generations, now rules. For Sorley, the young lord of Gundarstorp, the war and the treaty he signed have stripped him of both his lands and the chance to be a scáeli, a bard. Now it threatens to take Cillian, the man he loves.

Reluctantly accepting a diplomatic role, desperate to stay at Cillian’s side, Sorley is torn between promises: to his country’s leader; to his oath as an envoy; to his closest friend. Taking refuge in his music and the arms of another man, he finds a fragile peace – only to have it shattered by secrets revealed. But there is more than one side to a story, more than one song to be sung – if Sorley is brave enough to listen to his heart.

Book Description: Thought-provoking, Emotional, Deep characters

The Short Review:

These two books feel like two, even when read in an omnibus edition, more so than the three books of Empire’s Legacy felt like different books. Yet they also fit together and inform each other very closely. I don’t know how much it matters what order the series are read in; I found that getting Sorley’s perspective and story informed on the other characters so much (as these two are written entirely from Sorley’s perspective, while Empire’s Legacy is entirely from Lena’s perspective). Both the novella and the novel, because of whose perspective they are written from, but also because of when and what they are written about, inform and pull together many things suggested or glanced over in the Legacy novels. Sorley is in love with Cillian and his interactions with Cillian go way back, and the whole drama of Oraiáphon is related to Cillian, more or less directly, so at times the story feels as much about Cillian as much Sorley – both Reckoning and Oraiáphon. But we also get a view of Lena we couldn’t get through her point of view.

Sorley’s relationships, loves, and feelings are really deep. Sorley’s voice is direct and deep.

And here are a few words from Lena, in Oraiáphon. Sorley has loved Cillian since he was a boy, and Lena is Cillian’s partner. ‘He’ is Cillian. With this, I end the first review. So much of these books could be considered spoiler, and thinking about what is and isn’t won’t help me write.

“It is all right, Sorley,” she said. “I need you to love him, and to tell him that you do. Maybe with two of us loving him so much, we can keep him in this world. Maybe the gods will see, and take pity on us.”

But I will mention before I move into the spoiler review proper, that part of what makes this review especially difficult to write is how much this book roused and spoke to my emotions, and provoked thoughts on my own part about what I thought and felt, and where I was. In these books, one really sees the character’s lives and feelings, and almost lives with them, day to day, but that does not distract from my feelings and thoughts about the situations and choices, and what those situations and choices provoke in me. If anything, they bring it out, and this one provoked a lot of deep thought that’s hard to describe but makes writing the review confusing.

The In-Depth Review (with as many Spoilers as want to come):

In Oraiáphon, Cillian lies at death’s door from wounds suffered in the recently-won war that has ravaged the Empire and brought the Empire into treaty with the greater, eastern Empire from which it came long ago. Sorley and Lena love him desperately and try to bring him back, Sorley playing and singing for him, and in the end, believing he must die, they open the windows to let his spirit pass unhindered. And then Sorley sings something, soft and soothing, that he might feel as a child again, safe and secure. That, if he must die, he might die loved, accepted, safe, unhindered, free. And that is when he starts to come back to life. That act of love and acceptance.

Then follows a long recovery, for Cillian is desperately wounded, and he will never be the same again. Meanwhile, arguments and agreements are underway, negotiations about the governance of the Western Empire, now a province of the Eastern one, and the new Emperor, Casyn, is struggling desperately without Cillian’s help to try to keep their way of life from being completely overrun by something that is not evil in all the same ways, but isn’t really better either. Cillian is drugged and detached and cannot do much, and neither Sorley nor Lena have his mind nor know all he did.

Enough about Cillian for the moment. Sorley, I said, is direct and deep. Even when it comes to his own motivations, Sorley seems to be quicker to understand and tell his struggles and wants, his feelings. About love, about betrayal, about his oaths, about his feelings. At this point, keeping the two books straight is probably going to get hard, since Empire’s Reckoning has two timelines, one of which starts soon after the end of Oraiáphon. Whereas it takes Lena a very long time to recognize her inner, hidden motivations, I won’t say Sorley is never confused, but it seems to me like in some ways he’s a little faster. But ‘fast’ has the wrong feel to it.

Then there’s this moment, which just grabbed me into it.

Asking Callan to acknowledge me was not the betrayal,” Cillian said, looking away from the fire, into the dark. “No man, nor prince, nor foreign power has sway over me, and my loyalty is to the people of Linrathe, and the land beneath my feet.”

For context, that is the oath sworn by the toscairen of Linrathe, those who are the ambassadors or envoys, whether from the Teannasach to the people and the people to the Teannasach or from Linrathe to another country. They are the only people exempted from swearing loyalty to the Teannasach, except in the case that the Teannasach refuses their oath because he doubts their loyalty. (And this is just one part of what makes this review hard, for my emotions are all hot, and somehow I can’t even think about this book without experiencing my emotions so strongly: for it rouses fierce fury. No man – or woman, whatever – should ever be coerced or obligated to swear an oath! If something is not to be broken, it must be free! Else! And all the people who don’t know they have a choice, no matter what comes of it or they expect to come of it! And never, never, never. I …)

This scene makes me wonder: is Cillian more open since his ordeal with death and still-ongoing recovery, or has he always been open with Sorley in a way he isn’t open with Lena? For this is said to Sorley, with only Sorley around.

There’s so many characters, Sorley, Druisius (Sorley’s lover, from Casil, another musician, who helps greatly in Cillian’s recovery), Cillian, Lena, all seen from Sorley’s perspective, it makes this really hard to write, never mind my emotions as we probe and slowly uncover how Cillian became forsworn and see his feelings (and there is this point where Cillian implies to Sorley that he is welcome to read his private journeys, but he doesn’t say it, because Cillian, and Cillian when he’s not drug-fogged is like that, and then Sorley reads some of the private journals and thinks he has betrayed trust with Cillian). Because that first oath Cillian foreswore was the toscaire’s oath, and it was for Sorley’s sake, because someone threatened him with uncovering that Sorley is channadarra, or a lover of men, which is taboo in Linrathe, and Cillian wouldn’t let that happen, so he worked as a toscaire for someone else. And his role in that was part of the events that have taken such a terrible toll on Linrathe and Sorham (the country north of Linrathe, sort of part of Linrathe, from which Sorley comes) and the Eastern Empire, now to be called Esparias. I found that journey into Cillian and the forswearing that scarred him to be very provocative – in thought, as much as in raw feeling.

I suppose I won’t try to tell all of it, since I can’t, but there’s a lot here: questions about what it means to love, to betray love, what sort of love with one is a betrayal of love with another. Sorley’s relationship with Druisius, how they work that out around Cillian, who is Sorley’s love in a way Druisius isn’t, yet there is something between Druisius and Sorley, and is it a betrayal? Sorley’s fear and pain, since for a long time, while he is pining desperately for Cillian, he believes Cillian loves him back only as a friend or brother, not a romantic partner (since I don’t want to say lover and I hate the way we use that word). Even though Cillian has implied it, but Sorley isn’t good at reading Cillian’s implications. And so there is Sorley’s flight, and then his struggle and how he sorts some things out after being beaten and left for dead, and then trying to make his way back, appearing so poor and wretched. There’s how he finally becomes a scaeli, since no way can be scaeli and toscaire at once, for toscairen must lie and obscure the truth, and the scaeli‘en are sworn to speak no falsehood. But it can be hard to talk about Sorley for some reason.

And here’s Sorley’s song for Cillian, about the night he fell in love and more, that I have to share:

My true love’s eyes are darkly gleaming

In candlelight and music’s lure.

One night alone, at spring’s fair dawning

To keep me longing through the years,

To leave my soul bereft and mourning.

You danced that night with grace unfettered

A glance my way, a touch bestowed

Your dark hair swept by supple fingers.

Too soon the day, the calling road,

The shaken head when asked to linger.

A long, long path, and distance boundless,

Years of sorrow and empty days

Till chance or fate together brought us,

So far from home, in summer’s blaze,

With war behind and war before us.

The gods and time have blessed us both

With love’s reward for all our years

Of wandering on lonely ways;

A respite offered for our cares,

A soul to hold ours, all our days.

But candlelight and music’s memory,

Dark eyes gleaming over wine

Revive that youthful love and longing

For graceful fingers touching mine

For kisses left at day’s first dawning.

My life’s companion loves me truly

My heart is his and his is mine,

But older love is not forgotten

There is, by fate, or god’s design,

A yearning still for paths untrodden

You danced that night with grace unfettered,

A glance my way, a touch bestowed.

Your dark hair swept by supple fingers.

Uncharted ways might be explored,

Still dreams this wistful, loving singer.

And one thing more: Empire’s Bard satisfied a lot of the impulses and desires I had while reading Empire’s Legacy. In Empire’s Reckoning, we get to see Cillian and Lena, happy at the Ti’ach, as was their dream, Cillian the Comiádh, and Perras’s chosen successor. We get a glimpse of that life together, in a way sort of like how in the first book of Empire’s Legacy (Empire’s Daughter), we get a glimpse of life in the woman’s villages, how it goes from day to day. And we are introduced to Gwena, Cillian and Lena’s daughter, for that is what the second timeline is: Sorley answering her question as to why there are so many secrets in her family.

There’s more I’d love to explore and detail in the review, but, skies, if I go down all those paths, how am I ever going to review this book?

Marian L Thorpe’s Website

Review for Empire’s Legacy

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Empire’s Bard (Oraiáphon, Empire’s Reckoning) by Marian L. Thorpe

    1. That’s pretty neat! I probably won’t listen though, as I seem to be your opposite – character art I will make (though if anyone wants to not look at it, and leave my characters to their imagination, I don’t mind), and I enjoy seeing others’ character art (though I don’t mind when there is none, either!) but music I like to leave open-ended, to imagine the way it feels and sounds to me. Still, it is tempting to know how you hear it. So maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

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