Overview (No Spoilers):
Crown of the Sundered Empire brings to life a fascinating literary realm with a detailed backstory that interweaves magic, conflicted empires, and expansive legends. Much of the tale revolves around several princes and princesses who have recently come into adulthood and are struggling to balance their families’ expectations with the desire to forge their own paths. Weighing most on the minds of these youthful royals is the conflict that arises from opposing paths proposed by heart and duty, something that is further complicated and tangled when their sense of honor is also wrapped up in the mix.
Tomas’ adventure, however, commanded my curiosity far more than the chapters that focused upon the royals, as their plights seemed paltry in comparison to the perils faced by our rather unlucky fisherman. In many ways, Tomas’ storyline can be viewed as largely separate from the rest of this novel, with the two arcs only overlapping by the slimmest of margins. Being isolated in a village his whole life, his world gets upended quite abruptly with devastating consequences, but this ultimately leads him to explore forgotten ruins and ancient magic not experienced by anyone in ages. I kept expecting his story to connect more concretely with the other dramas taking place throughout the realm, however they never quite merged.
While the world Kang created is detailed and multilayered, the characters, by comparison, seem one-dimensional as they each fit into formulaic roles and stereotypes, making their actions quite predictable: the wild Princess who chaffs at the regimented expectations of ruling, the Prince with the forbidden lover who is bound tightly by duty, the ambitious heir with corrupt morals, and the talented spy who sees everything. Complex backstories are alluded to that would have added significant depth, but, given the predicaments, there wasn’t a chance for these layers to be fleshed out.
Overall, in Crown of the Sundered Empire, Kang has pieced together an intriguing, rich literary world with characters whose oversized ambitions threaten to plunge the balance into chaos, delivering an entertaining fantasy read with danger lurking around every corner.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- The prologue is from the perspective of a dragon, Aravax, in human form. However, the only other mentions of Avarax are in passing in Chapter 18 when Alaena references his legend in a comparison to the salt-infused state of her clothes, and by Tomas in Chapters 26 and 30. Does Avarax still live? Kang does have a separate story, A Dragon’s Guide to Hatching a Rebellion, revolving around Aravax. Perhaps if I’d read this story prior to Crown of the Sundered Empire, Aravax’s references would have had more meaning.
- Tomas’ explorations of Lydath’s Golden Bowl were by far my favorite sections of the book. I found it interesting that instead of embracing the magical eye that was forced upon him, due to his rural roots, Tomas equated the powers it offered with those of a demon. Really, the concept of Tomas living in the shadow of the ancient ruins throughout his whole life and being the first person in generations to be able to explore its depths was delightful to read.
- Behind Tomas, my second favorite character was sweet Aelward. I loved his mannerisms and accent. How will he and Alena work out as they are such opposites, with one at home at sea and the other most comfortable in the woods? What was Aelward’s mother’s backstory?
- I enjoyed Jie’s character as a strong, talented female spy. I wanted to know more of her backstory and the trials of the secretive school she attended.
- Was Aryn as dumb as Jie thought he was? Along those same lines, hidden depth was hinted at regarding Karyna, but we only were granted glimpses of her grit.
- Koryn mentions his forbidden love over and over again throughout this novel, but we are not given any further details regarding this secret romance. By the end of this novel, the reader could piece together that Koryn probably had a male lover, but this was never specifically addressed. Learning more about Koryn’s history would have given his character more depth other than the rigid, duty-bound Crown Prince role that he played flawlessly.
- Antonius was positively insufferable. He could have fallen from the cliff too without any significant loss.
- What is Fleet’s backstory? Why does he serve Koryn’s family?
- In many ways, the ending of the Crown of the Sundered Empire feels like a prequel, with the true story just beginning.
Aberrant: straying from the right or normal way
Sentient: responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
Avast: a nautical command to stop or cease
Pliant: easily influenced