BOOK REVIEW: Empire of Lies, by Phil Kelly

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  • Book Two of Farsight
  • Focuses on the T’au
  • Published by Black Library in 2020
  • Space Opera
  • 392 pages
  • ⭐⭐⭐

The t’au have put a stop to human expansion along their border, but the war is far from over. A second threat has emerged as orks attack t’au worlds en masse. Worse still, there is something else stalking the t’au. Something very, very old . . .

Phil Kelly’s second Farsight novel is a much leaner beast than its predecessor. Granted, there’s only a single page in it, but Empire of Lies flows so much more cleanly. The stock antagonist space marines are thankfully out of the picture, the focus is on the t’au’s first forays into interstellar empire building, and we’re all having a good time. As before, there’s more than just Farsight’s point of view. Again, we have resident Inquisitor Vykola (who may or may not be dealing with a daemonic possession of her own), and her confessions shed an interesting light on just how seductive the t’au philosophy can be. Honestly, Vykola’s slow defection might just be the most fascinating part of this entire series. I wish we’d had more of it.

What we get alongside Vykola and Farsight is a new enemy. or rather, an old one. Yes, the orks are back. Now, between Mike Brooks’ two orky offerings, I’ve slowly come around to accepting the orks as a part of the broader Warhammer 40,000 universe. Give them a little time, and they’ll have you laughing. But in Empire of Lies, they fall back on the aspects I don’t enjoy. They’re well-written, but are such a jarring tonal shift from the slow, creeping paranoia of the rest of the book, I was more frustrated than entertained every time the perspective shifted into the green.

This is a book with a lot of action. Which to be fair, is what you expect from Black Library. In terms of being a fun space opera, Empire of Lies has a lot going for it. The t’au are still a fresh and relatively unexplored faction, so everything this book does feels like breaking new ground. Even if, on a broader scale, this is the sort of story we’ve seen dozens of times already. But the real cost of all that action is what it takes the place of. So much of what I liked about Crisis of Faith is absent here. The orks are a fairly monotonous enemy, you see. No matter how many there are, victory is achieved by blasting them. There’s none of the duplicity and propaganda that the t’au employ against more intelligent species. Their ability to bring others under their influence is easily the t’au’s selling point. Take that away, and you just have soldiers in fancy armour.

Having said that, there is one aspect that Empire of Lies does very well, and that is showing the t’au encountering daemons for the first time. It’s the most fantastical aspect of the setting coming into direct conflict with the most rigidly technological, and it just works. The fact that the t’au initially treat daemons as regular aliens is not only delightful, it makes perfect sense. For all their scheming, there’s a certain naivety about the t’au. Naivety that is stripped away as Farsight uncovers the horrible truth of the galaxy he lives in. if only there had been more of this, I’d have enjoyed the book a whole lot more. The orks were fine as an antagonist, but the daemons are where the meat of the story is to be found.

There’s no sign of another Farsight novel on the way, but this doesn’t feel like the final act of a story. If there is another volume, I’ll definitely pick it up. I just hope it holds more insights than pulse rifles.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also like:
Brutal Kunnin, by Mike Brooks
Crisis of Faith, by Phil Kelly
The Book of Martyrs, by Phil Kelly, Danie Ware, and Alec Worley

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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