Monday 24 October 2022


Book review: The Empire by Michael Ball [blog tour]

Michael Ball is a legendary British musical theatre performer. Well-known for originating the role of Marius in the London production of Les Miserables, playing the titular character in Sweeney Todd, and taking over the role of Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, he's now turning his hand to writing. The question on everyone's mind, of course, is whether he is a quadruple threat (adding writing to his list of talents), or if he should stick to performing on a physical stage rather than creating one within the pages of his debut novel The Empire.

The Empire is a grand theatre in Highbridge. When owner Sir Barnabas Lassiter passes away, change is afoot within the walls of the performing space. Barnabas' second wife, the much younger Lilian (former showgirl turned Lady) inherits a 51% share in the theatre, alongside his oldest son Edmund who inherits the remaining slightly smaller half. Lilian and Edmund don't see eye-to-eye on the best of days, so going into business together is doomed before it has even begun. 

And then there's Joseph P. Allerdyce. He is the owner of many other entertainment venues in the region and has a plan to let The Empire fail under its new management so the new owners become desperate to sell and he can add the building to his list of conquests.

Amidst all this change and turmoil, Jack Treadwell returns to Highbridge after spending time in France following serving in the first World War. His parents passed away while he was gone, but the last note he got from his mother said to go to Lilian. When he arrives at The Empire he meets Grace, undervalued and underpaid assistant to the theatre's manager who is far smarter and accomplished than her boss. She's the one running the show behind-the-scenes, while he's off doing who-knows-what.

It doesn't take long for Jack and Grace to partner up with various other employees of The Empire to try and defy all odds and continue Sir Barnabas' success. But with family feuds, a rival wrecking havoc, and even the local criminal underworld involved, will they be able to keep The Empire on its feet before the curtain falls?

This book was an utter stagey delight. As a huge fan of the theatre (alongside books), it was wonderful to immerse myself into the behind-the-scenes of this world more than I have ever been able to before. Michael Ball takes readers on a real backstage tour of the theatre, showing them the inner workings of the the various nooks and crannies as well as what goes into putting on a successful production. It was incredibly fascinating and, given its fictionalised nature, also hugely entertaining. 

There is a fairly large cast of characters, which meant that the story and the world of The Empire felt very lavish, like those rare occasions where a theatre production has a company of more than 25 people on stage and a full orchestra in the pit. While some characters were more front and centre than others, each one was unique and well-developed – and they all had a part to play in saving The Empire. Take, for example, actor-manager Ivor French and doorman Danny Moon. They're a seemingly unlikely pairing, and yet they were the heroes of an intriguing sub-plot towards the end. 

The Empire is an absolutely smashing debut novel by actor Michael Ball set amidst the glittering, glamorous, and – surprisingly – cut-throat world of regional theatre. With a rich cast of characters, hidden identities, and a 'locked-room' style setting, this has all the elements of a murder mystery from the golden age but without any dead bodies dictating the plot. Instead it's a more character-driven story, with just a touch of mystery to keep readers on their toes and second-guessing characters' motivations, background, and true agendas. It all made for a very engrossing and fast-paced read. 

If I could give a standing ovation to a novel, I would do so for this one. I already cannot wait for more stories penned by actor-turned-author Michael Ball!

The Empire by Michael Ball is published by Zaffre Books and you can now buy a copy from your favourite book shop!

Blog tour stops for The Empire by Michael Ball

This review for The Empire is a part of the official blog tour for the launch of the book. Make sure to check out the other stops too!

Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me by the publisher for the blog tour, but this has not impacted this honest review.

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