Fantasy Review: The Emperor's Railroad by Guy Haley

Falling somewhere between King's The Dark Tower saga and Brooks' Shannara series, as seen through the achingly vibrant lens of Discovery's Life After People, The Emperor's Railroad is a remarkably unique approach to post-apocalyptic fantasy. While I felt the choice of a 12-year-old narrator put some unfortunate constraints on the tale, and held it back from realizing its true potential, I am genuinely excited to see where Guy Haley goes with his Dreaming Cities series.

Here we find some of the best post-apocalyptic world building I have come across in quite some time. Every step of the journey reminds us of what's been lost, and what remains of our 'modern' civilization. It's not just window dressing, either - in addition to the visual scenery we have a cultural shift in society, a very different sort of political era, and a whole new world of monsters and mythologies. There's so much depth to it that you almost feel the series could continue on indefinitely.

As much as I would have preferred to experience the tale through the eyes of Quinn, Knight of the Dreaming City of Atlantis, the narration itself is my own quibble with young Abney. He is, in fact, a very well developed young man, in a story that captures his fears just as well as his sense of wonder. His relationship with his mother rings true, and it's through her that we really get a sense of just how much the world has shifted in terms of culture and society. Yes, there is a sentimental aspect to the tale, but it's an honest one, and it helps ground the sense of the fantastic that surrounds Quinn. He's a quiet man, confident and self-assured, with a clear purpose in life, but not so focused on the epic quest that he cannot lend himself to a mother and her child.

The story starts out slowly, allowing us to become comfortable in the vast concept that is the Dreaming Cities, but quickly begins to pick up pace once we get moving along The Emperor's Railroad. It's a story that has a tarnished sort of faery tale feel to it, with architectural ruins, mechanical monstrosities, swords, guns, zombies, angels, knights, and dragons. Yes, dragons. Clearly, there's a much larger story being told here, but this chapter is a complete story in and of itself, entirely satisfying, with real closure for Abney and his mother. With The Ghoul King coming this summer, and introducing a little more sci-fi to the mix, the Dreaming Cities is a series to get hooked on now.

Published April 19th 2016 by

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.


  1. I sort of forgot about this novella, but your Dark Tower comparison makes me want to take another look.

  2. yeah, a 12 year old narrator is not what I would expect. Definitely some differences getting a perspective that young.

  3. I like the sound of The Emperor's Railroad. Will add it to my TBR list.


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