Plot: Empire Paladin: Realm of the Dead, a book that marries the physical and spiritual world, finds value in its intertextuality. With an opening excerpt from Paradise Lost, allusions to Augustine’s City of God, and copious Biblical imagery, Valdez allows readers to approach his story through these texts for a richer appreciation of the storyline.
Prose/Style: The book's sentences unravel in a short, tidy manner that leaves no room for trudging through words. The fast-paced plot grips the reader, as one's eyes travel quickly across the page.
Originality: In a plot woven with good and evil, the author’s story parallels the infamous tale of the devil, a rebellion in the face of rejection. Valdez provides a unique perspective that shows how easily emotions can rule the mind.
Character Development/Execution: While the book involves a few main characters, the author seems to use his protagonist Camila to deconstruct Romans 13—what it means to practice God’s authority when it is mediated by man. The book hurries through the emotional complexities, but the characters and their moral struggles feel real.
Date Submitted: April 01, 2021
Readers will feel each character’s trials and anguish as Valdez shows how far they will go in pursuit of their beliefs. Malleus lived his life in God’s service, and when he feels that God has wronged him, his torment and anger quickly turn to deep irrationality. Camila believes that she speaks for God and the laws of men are irrelevant to her; no matter how cruel the punishment she doles out, she believes it is acceptable because God gave her the power to do it. The parallels in their stories are powerful, illustrating the necessity for checks on power no matter how well-intentioned the wielder is.
Valdez effortlessly drops readers into the middle of fierce, often gruesome battles, as paladins and magicians fight a giant army of undead and demons. As fireballs fly and weapons clash, Valdez emphasizes the fears and anxieties of the people who are fighting for their lives as well as for a greater cause. Each location is clearly painted, each demon horrifyingly detailed, without bogging down the heart-pounding story. The mix of bloody action, inner torment, and potent faith will reward any reader of grimdark fantasy.
Takeaway: Fans of dark historical fantasy will be drawn to the emotional turmoil and gripping action in this novel of the paladins of the Holy Roman Empire battling demons and the undead.
Great for fans of Rex Jameson’s Age of Magic series, K.J. Parker.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
"Whether it is blood and guts, the lush imagery and unique characters, or the fireballs and maniacal laughter - fans of action-driven historical fantasy are bound to find something to love about EMPIRE PALADIN: Realm of the Dead." - IndieReader
"Over the course of this violent fantasy tale, Valdez effectively keeps the action moving along." - Kirkus Reviews
"A staggering read. The development of the time period and paladin hierarchy is done seamlessly, such that it is difficult to tell where historical fact ends and fantasy fiction begins. This is a high-caliber novel about a unique time in history, and the inimitable protagonist has a Joan of Arc aura that carries this entire drama forward. Writing with delicacy and emotional sensitivity, while also blowing a reader over with visceral imagery and palpable tension, this is a difficult book to classify, but it should be near the top of your reading list." -Self-Publishing Review, ★★★★½