The Will of the Many is the first volume in James Islington’s Hierarchy series.
The Hierarchy, for all its flaws, is exceptionally good at conquering other nations. Former prince Vis can attest to this, as three years before the book opened, his native Suus was brutally crushed by the Hierarchy’s armies. To survive, Vis has hidden amongst his enemies, doing what he has to do to avoid death or worse.
Not only does the Hierarchy has “worse” in abundance, they have based their economy on it.
Will, life-energy, fuels the machines of the empire and provides the upper classes with superhuman abilities. Those lower in the pecking order are forced to cede Will to their superiors. Those who are especially unfortunate are consigned to the sappers, machines that efficiently and painfully drain Will without quite killing their victims.
Vis has managed to avoid ceding Will. There are costs. A minor, he is consigned to an orphanage. By day he works in a sapper facility. By night, he entertains his betters as a gladiator of sorts. It’s a tiring and dangerous life and only buys him time. When he becomes a legal adult, he will be legally forced to cede Will to a superior or placed in a sapper.
Quintus Ulciscor Telimus visits the sapper facility, using a false name. He is there ostensibly to interview a prisoner. During the interview, Vis inadvertently touches the machinery, revealing that he is immune to its effects . Vis hopes this went unnoticed. Ulciscor is an observant man.
To his astonishment, Vis finds himself being adopted by Ulciscor. Nobody in the Hierarchy does anything for charity — the very idea of helping others without getting more back in return is close to heresy for the Hierarchy — and Ulciscor is no exception. He needs a spy in the school where his brother died. Vis is the right age and he may even be able to survive the Catenan Academy.
The Hierarchy has three governing pyramids: Military, Governance, and Religion. Ulciscor is a senior Military senator. Religion, specifically a man named Quintus Veridius Julii, runs the Academy, training the Hierarchy’s potential elite. Ulciscor is convinced that Veridius is hiding something important related to Ulciscor’s brother’s death, perhaps having to do with the ancient pre-Hierarchy relics held on the Academy’s island.
Ulciscor is not the only person hoping to use Vis. Suus still has the allegiance of an organization of freedom fighters/terrorists, the Anguis. The Anguis are determined to enlist Vis in their effort to bring freedom to an unfree world … or at the least, punish all those who facilitate the Hierarchy. Vis believes their approach is wrong. At the same time, he knows they can expose him. Cue occasional blackmail.
The Academy is designed to transform those who survive it into the merciless exploiters who rule the Hierarchy. Vis should not expect to find allies there. But it turns out that the student body contains a surprising number of young people who are bitterly unhappy in the Hierarchy. It further turns out that Vis has a rare talent for encountering them.
Vis’ superlative abilities and his growing army of allies may not be enough to survive what’s hidden on the island.
Hilariously, the Hierarchy is so good at being evil conquering bastards that they’ve managed something Rome and other empires like it never managed. They’ve recently run out places to conquer. Since the economy is based on relentless expansion, this will no doubt have consequences.
In addition to being a fantasy thinly based on Rome and a parable about power, there is also archaeology. The Hierarchy is blithely digging up and using the relics of a dead civilization, one whose fall was so violent that nobody has any idea who they were or what led to their fall. Presumably, part of the series will reveal what triggered the cataclysm.
Ceding Will is unpleasant and shortens lifespan. Being strapped into a sapper is much worse (even being around the machines is debilitating for anyone not named Vis ). Most people are able to determine that bad is better than much worse. Accordingly, they cede some Will to avoid having almost all of it drained from them. This is making the best of a bad situation.
Anguis has a different point of view, which that by playing their small part in the system, the little people make the system possible. Therefore, the little people are just as culpable as their leaders. As such, they are fair game. It turns out murdering job lots of peons does not endear the freedom fighters to the masses. However, Anguis does not particularly want to win hearts and minds.
This book should have been right up my alley. Yet it wasn’t. Partly this may be due to the length (600+ in paper, but over 1100 in ebook). Not only was it long, I was sure that it could have been much tighter. As well, the novel features so so many convenient airducts. I could not help but notice . For an empire based in ruthlessly evil efficiency and relentless scheming, it’s surprisingly easy for would-be freedom fighters to meet and organize without being infiltrated, also for Vis to eavesdrop on important conversations that one would think would have been tightly secured.
Pretty much every other reviewer likes this novel more than I did. Kirkus liked it more than I did. Maybe I was just in a bad mood or maybe I am being unjustly judgmental. If you’d like to decide for yourself, the novel is easily acquired.
1: Why Vis is immune to the sapper is not explained. As yet. In this book, the characters can only speculate.
2: See footnote one.
3: Team Evils love to equip their unassailable fortresses with large airducts lacking even the rudimentary security systems to be found in the University of Waterloo’s service tunnels. Generally, these airducts run from the fortress’ exterior directly to wherever it is the heroes need to go.
4: Note that Chapter’s search engine helpfully returned this message: search has been corrected to “the will of theory”. Searching on the author worked. Why is Chapters in trouble?