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The Great Hearts II: A Game Of Gods by David Oliver (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Information
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OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: David A. Oliver was born in the British Isles and currently lives in England with his lovely partner. David was introduced to fantasy at quite a young age thanks to the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. After an extended, multi-year fantasy binge David decided to write a book and The Great Hearts is his debut novel. A fantasy novel that takes the reader on a whirlwind adventure featuring monsters and mayhem. He hopes any new reader enjoys it as much as he liked writing it!

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Calidan Darkheart has survived monsters, men and the first years of the Academy, but will he be able to survive a higher power than his own?

As a young student at the Academy and freshly dealing with the loss of a dear friend, Calidan must endure a new trial; one that will test every fibre of his being. If he survives, he will be forged into something new and be one step closer to his ultimate goal. Revenge.

Alone in the dark, Calidan the Imperator has so far managed to avoid the clutches of a rampaging beast but now seeks to escape and fulfil his lifelong dream. Intent on saving his best friend Cassiusand heading deeper into the barren wastelands, he seeks a prey that will eclipse all others.

He might find that the reality is more than he can handle.

David Oliver’s second novel in the Great Hearts series brings back the dual adventures of past and present day Calidan, following the protagonist’s journey from earnest youth to a cold and forbidding Imperator.

Brutal combat, terrifying magics, dark secrets and the antics of a certain panther lay within.
FORMAT/INFO: A Game Of Gods is 408 pages long divided over thirty five titled chapters (spread over three sections), with an epilogue, and seven “present day” interludes. Narration is in first person via Calidan Darkheart in both timelines and some other characters in the past timeline. This is the second book in the Great Hearts series.

March 1, 2021 marked the e-book and paperback publication of The Great Hearts II: A Game Of Gods and it was self-published by the author. Covert art and design is done by J. Caleb Clark.

CLASSIFICATION: Combining Sword & Sorcery elements with a hefty dose of Grimdark, The Great Hearts series is very much in the vein of Blood Song with a solid dose of Indiana Jones-esque action adventure and topped off with some fantastic SF elements.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: A Game Of Gods is the insanely awesome sequel to The Great Hearts. I loved The Great Hearts when I first came across it over three years ago. The debut was a dark concoction of action, fantasy, adventure and an alluring dual timeline set plot. For me, I was just too excited when I first got an ARC for this book. I dove in with heavy expectations and the book didn't disappoint.

A Game Of Gods is a sequel that again features Calidan and Cassius as both adults and their teenage selves. After the cliffhanger ending of The Great Hearts, we immediately open with Calidan and Cassius in the subterranean mine. In the past timeline, Cassius, Ella, Sophia, Scythe, Rikol & Calidan return from their adventure in the new land. They are brought back to the academy nearly four months after they left and are plunged in to the happenings at the academy. There is subterfuge, politicking as well as ruminations about what it truly means to be bonded with a great heart. There's also the fourth year test, which is the big pivotal thing that occupies the main plot in the past timeline.

It is a test that differs every year and no one knows what exactly happens in it other than it is taxing in every way and previously imps have died. The present timeline deals with Cassius and Calidan being on the tracks of the beast that destroyed their childhood. Both these plots and timelines showcase extreme danger for our protagonists and there's quite a few worldbuilding details interspersed within.

The best part of all within this book is the added POV episodes from other characters such as the other imps and this was a crucial move within the past timeline. Because of the fourth year test, we get differing views in to the happenings of the test conditions and how it envelops all the characters. I loved how the author was able to expand on the action-adventure feel of the first book. Moreover, with the previous locale being that of a sandy desert, it was refreshing to see the exact opposite this time around.

The action levels within this book are amped up even more than the first book and as much as I enjoyed that in the first, I doubly enjoyed it here. Not only within the fourth test but there are further adventures with another Great Heart-Imperator duo. This was an excellent counter and I loved what this meant for the future. The author also does his best to up the ante with the creature quotient and it's very visible with the awesome cover art.

Characterization was solid in the first book and with this book, David Oliver shows his skills as we get characters of different genders. The biggest draw of the book was how much it focused on the Emperor and his machinations. He has been the biggest enigma of this series and within this volume, we get a solid taste of his power and cruelty. He is someone who keeps the darkness at bay but he's also not to be trifled with. I cannot wait to see gets revealed in the future installments about him and Charles. There is also a lot more spycraft afoot and I loved that aspect of military academy storyline.

Overall this book was just what I wanted with its mix of adventure, plot twists and insane action amidst a fantasy world. David Oliver uses plenty of fantasy tropes but fuels them with his own twists and give this story just the hyper-charged boost that it needs. Overall this fantasy story is one that mixes genres but still manages to differentiate itself beautifully.

CONCLUSION: A Game Of Gods is the explosive sequel to The Great Hearts, with more action, more revelations and a lot more of what made The Great Hearts such a special debut. David Oliver continues to mightily impress with his mix of dark fantasy, exciting characters & action-adventure.

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