Empires by Nick Earls

Published 2021. 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Penguin 3. Diorama of the retreat of Napoleon. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

There are five parts to this story. Firstly, in 2018, Mike is a man living in Alaska. Next is 1978 London, and Simon is a teenager living with his mother, father and younger brother Mike. The 1928 thread is about an American Senator’s interview concerning his association with the Russian Imperial family in 1916. In Vienna in 1809 during the Napoleonic War, an Irish teenager is on the run from the law in his own country. Lastly, the brothers Simon and Mark are reunited in 2019, after years of estrangement. Common to all stories is a Napoleon-like toy tin soldier.

“It hung there between us. Fate.”

BOOK SNAPS: Each of the five parts are engaging stories separately, but this reader had difficulty tying all the threads together. It’s a book that probably needs to be reread because it is so detailed. The Guardian refers to an uneven writing style between each part but ”it’s not fatally so”, and the Canberra Times thinks that it is ”a highly unusual novel which will engage most readers but will cause quite a bit of head-scratching.” Also, this reader found the reason given for Simon’s estrangement from his family as incongruous.


“He’s standing, wearing a cocked hat, and a greatcoat with a sword hilt protruding from it. His legs are smooth and black to the knees but pale and creased above them, suggesting he’s wearing boots. In his right hand he holds a small cylinder – a broken weapon or perhaps a bottle.”

Author: Nick Earls

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