Michael Johnston's Soleri was published by Tor Books in June 2017.
Michael Johnston was born in 1973 in Cleveland, Ohio. As a child and a teen he was an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy. He studied architecture and ancient history at Lehigh University and during a lecture on the history of ancient Egypt, the seed of an idea was born. He earned a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University, graduating at the top of his class. Michael worked as an architect in New York City before moving to Los Angeles. Sparked by the change of locale, a visit to the desert, and his growing dissatisfaction with the architectural industry, he sought a way to merge his interests in architecture and history with his love of fantasy. By day he worked as an architect, but by night he wrote and researched an epic fantasy novel inspired by the history of ancient Egypt and the tragic story of King Lear. After working this way for several years, he shut down his successful architecture practice and resolved to write full time. He now lives and writes in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
The Amber Throne #1
by Michael Johnston
The first in a new epic fantasy series inspired by ancient Egyptian history and King Lear
The ruling family of the Soleri Empire has been in power longer than even the calendars that stretch back 2,826 years. Those records tell a history of conquest and domination by a people descended from gods, older than anything in the known world. No living person has seen them for centuries, yet their grip on their four subjugate kingdoms remains tighter than ever.
REVIEW: SOLERI BY MICHAEL JOHNSTON
Michael Johnston's Soleri is the first novel in The Amber Throne series of epic fantasy novels, which have been inspired by William Shakespeare's King Lear and ancient Egyptian history. It is epic fantasy as it should be: complex, deep, gripping and highly entertaining.
I'm pleased to say that Soleri took me by surprise with its strong story, intriguing characters and excellent worldbuilding. The story's Egyptian and Shakespearean aspects intrigued me a lot and I found myself enjoying the unfolding story with its political machinations, ancient secrets, intrigues and betrayals.
There's something about this novel that kind of reminds me of novels written by George R.R. Martin, Daniel Abraham and David Anthony Durham. Its finesse and delicate attention to details and secrets is partly reminiscent of these authors, but the story arc and the way the author moves the story forward makes it different from their novels. The story has both depth and style, which is vital in this kind of fantasy fiction.
The worldbuilding is exquisitely detailed and compelling. Although there's a lot of history to the world, nothing feels heavy or cumbersome. The author has managed to weave a story that is rich in history and lore, and he gradually reveals many things about the world. The rites and elaborate rituals that are described in the story bring depth to the world and enrich the reading experience.
Soleri tells of a world where the ruling family of the Soleri Empire has been in power for nearly three thousand years. No living person has seen them in ages, but their control and grip on their four subjugate kingdoms remains tight. They're believed to be descended from gods. The world of Soleri is a brutal place. Ever since the War of the Four and losing to the Soleri, many people from the lower kingdoms are sent to serve as slaves to Sola and the ruling families have to sacrifice their children: the sons are sent to serve at the Priory of Tolemy and the daughters are matched in marriage by the emperor. Happiness is not easy to find in this world, because power is often being used without mercy or tenderness to control the population and suppress mutinies.
The story focuses on these five characters:
- The Harkan king Arko-Hark Wadi is a ruler who must bow and show his respect to the emperor. Despite knowing the effects of his actions, he sets off on a hunt and shirks his duties, leaving his family to deal with the repercussions of his deeds. Soon, he receives news and is forced to return from the hunt and meet the emperor, which means that he'll die soon.
- Merit, the king's oldest daughter, is married to a gay man. Secretly, she has managed to find a way to marry the man she truly loves, but there are obstacles to her happiness. She needs her sister's help in getting what she wants, but knows that Kepi may prove to be difficult to handle due to her stubbornness. She wants to have power and become a real queen instead of being merely a queen regent with little power.
- Kepi, Merit's sister, is a sixteen year old young woman. Her arranged marriage to a Feren, who abused and mistreated her, has affected her in many ways and she has honed herself to become a skillful and formidable sword-fighter. When she finds out that she is being forced to marry again without her consent, she is not willing to do so.
- Ren is Arko's son, who is being held captive at the Priory of Tolemy. He has suffered a lot at the hands of his captors and has had to endure harsh and inhuman conditions, but has managed to survive. When he is suddenly released, his life begins to change and he finds himself on a journey back to his homeland where he may not be welcome anymore.
- Sarra Amunet, Mother Priestess of the sun god's cult, has abandoned her husband, Arko, and her family to become the Mother Priestess. She yearns for power and wants to become the First Ray of the Sun, which is the highest post any mortal could attain. She is in rivalry with the ruthless and treacherous Amen Saad, the Protector of the empire, who also yearns for power and will do anything to achieve his goals.
These characters have fascinating story arcs. The author writes excellently about how the characters have coped with the changes in their lives, paying sufficiently attention to details and avoiding heavy-handed underlining of the characters' emotions and feelings. Each of the characters feels intriguingly vibrant and alive. The complexities of royal life and alliances between family members are fluently brought to life by the author, because he reveals how fragile they can be and how drastic changes in the characters' lives affect them.
The relationships between Merit and Kepi is handled especially well, because Merit uses Kepi to advance her own needs and allows a rift to form between them. The author also writes well about the suspicions surrounding those who have been sent to the Priory, because they are considered to be loyal to the empire and not to their homeland.
The author touches upon such themes and issues as poverty and slavery in a fluent way, and he fleshes out how people are treated by rulers. He also writes excellently about secrets and lies that have been kept safe by a handful of persons who use them to their own advantage without hesitation.
I consider Michael Johnston to be a skillful storyteller. What I like perhaps most about his way of telling the story is that he keeps the story on the move with little effort and hooks the reader with the events and deep characterisation. The political machinations and schemes are very entertaining and there are many secrets that shed new light on the events and make for a fantastic read.
One of the best things about this novel is its complex yet powerfully flowing story that is filled with details and nuances. The story is epic and captivatingly brutal, but ultimately humane, because it's a tale about survival and ancient secrets, the knowledge of which gives power to those who are aware of them.
Unlike many other modern epic fantasy novels, the story in this novel feels balanced and is devoid of filler material. I respect the author for not filling the story with unnecessary and cumbersome elements that have nothing to do with the overall events, because it truly makes a difference. I like his way of gradually revealing things while firmly keeping the story in motion.
By the way, I think it's good to point out that this novel is aimed at adult readers who are used to reading complex stories with adult material. The story has a few slightly disturbing - and also violent - scenes that may be upsetting to sensitive readers and younger readers.
While reading the story, I noticed occasional signs of the author being inexperienced in writing epic fantasy, because there were a few moments where a more literary approach to the prose would've benefited the story and a few scenes could've been slightly more polished, but these elements didn't bother me. Despite these tiny flaws, I highly enjoyed the story and found it captivating and look forward to reading the sequel (Silence of the Soleri) as soon as possible.
If you're in need of an entertaining and unputdownable epic fantasy novel to read that is seething with twists and turns, I highly recommend Michael Johnston's Soleri. The author delivers a compelling and well-created story that leaves you wanting more.
Excellent fantasy entertainment!