THE FIFTH EMPIRE OF MAN is the Warhammer 40K-esque titled novel about a very different sort of subject: pirates! It is the sequel to Rob J. Hayes incredible work WHERE LOYALTIES LIE that follows fantasy conman and pirate Drake Morass in his attempt to forge a pirate kingdom from the disunited thieves of the Pirate Isles. Rather than do a trilogy like his TIES THAT BIND series, Rob J. Hayes brings things to a complete close in only two books. I'm kind of sad about that because as much as I hate Drake Morass, it's a love to hate relationship and I would have enjoyed another book about his contemptible scheming alongside his more likable cohorts.
The premise of the sequel is Drake Morass has managed to successfully get the beginnings of his kingdom together. Unfortunately, the cracks are starting to show already as he got them together on promises he could never hope to keep. Drake intends to force the various kingdoms of the world to acknowledge his new realm but first they need allies and to also defeat the mammoth navy being assembled to destroy the fledgling nation.
The biggest threat to Drake's new kingdom may be closer to home, though, as the book makes no secret of the fact both of his lieutenants are better qualified to be king than him. Keelin Stillwater the world's only actual gentleman pirate knows politics, diplomacy, and possesses a great sense of leadership as well as nobless obligation. Elaina Black is a superior pirate all round and commands the genuine respect as well as loyalty of those around her. Both of them have enemies which Drake might well be willing to throw under the bus to achieve his dream with.
Despite my focusing on the politics of the book in said description, this is actually a multi-genre novel with romance and an Indiana Jones/Pirates of the Caribbean-esque section where they explore strange ruins that wouldn't be out of place in one of Robert E. Howard's works. Rob J. Hayes manages to make it all fit and really creates a wonderful epic fantasy that feels simultaneously grounded as well as grandiose.
I think it says how much I love this book that in a story based around pirates, undead, politics, and murder, I actually really enjoyed the love triangle between Keelin, Aime, and Elaina most. It's a realistic romance with the fact Keelin wants to be with the steady and dependable Aime but he's actually a terrible match for her. He's a lot darker person than he gives himself credit for and would fit better with Elaina but has insulted her by trying to leave her for someone he finds "respectable." That's something the pirate princess won't forget, particularly when Drake wants her to be his pirate queen.
The action in the book is great with people dying in various horrible but exciting ways. There's also the wonderful "big huge naval battle" that easily blows away the ones in the most recent pirate movies. Black Sails the television show had several such battles where good, bad, and indifferent characters die all around the heroes but this one ups them. No one comes out unscathed at the end and some of the deaths surprised me.
This is an incredible book and fantasy fans should check it out. From the beginning to the end, this is a series which entertains as well as impresses. Rob J. Hayes should mentioned with Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and even George Martin or Rothfuss.