Poisoned Empire (Mages of Oblivion #1), by Elyse Thomson

12 Jul 2023

The Book

Poisoned Empire
Series: Mages of Oblivion
Pages: 400
Age Group: Adult
Published on 12 Jul 2023
Publisher: Two Laurels Press
Fantasy Romance
Available on:


Cinderella (feral) meets The Lies of Locke Lamora in this lush romantic fantasy set in a world inspired by the Eastern Roman Empire.

Black-marketeer Selene has poison magic and the cynicism to match. When she and genius metals mage Iliana are arrested by the same scheming, noble fathers who tossed them out at birth, they suspect apologies won’t be forthcoming. Forced to either impersonate their half-sisters or die, the friends are stuffed into fancy dresses, packed off to the capital, and thrust into the perilous, glittering world of the imperial court.

Traitors lurk in Prince Belisarius’ court, and only his loyal strategos Marduk is above suspicion. As noble-born villains siphon away the souls of their daughters to magnify their magic in secret, Belisarius plots to expose them all—by inviting every noblewoman in the empire to compete for his hand in marriage. But two infuriating imposters in attendance quickly become his bane.

When the friends are discovered, they expect imprisonment—not a deal. Vast riches are on offer if Selene poses as fiancée to the handsome prince while Iliana simpers for the towering strategos—a ploy to lure traitorous enemies to the capital. Yet even as they help secure the throne, false affections flirt with real passions, and Selene and Iliana are convinced they’ll either lose their hearts… or their heads.  

My Review

Every day, Lethe, the Empire of Mages, teetered on the brink of chaos. Some days, Crown Prince Belisarius was required to do no more than soothe the ruffled feathers of a few nobles or distribute extra grain. Other days, maintaining the balancing act required drastic action.
Today was not a good day.
Prince Belisarius’ heart raced as he read the reports in his hand, covering his dread with a grim scowl and a finger tapping impatiently on his desk. His dark eyes met those of his trusted praetor, Nicephorus, the highest-ranking minister in Lethe’s sprawling bureaucracy. Nicephorus’ own expression was carefully closed.
“You’re certain?” Belisarius asked, praying it was a mistake.
“As certain as I can be without having each one examined.”
Hopes dashed and bile rising, the prince took a deep breath. This needed to be contained. Quickly.

Poisoned Empire is the first novel in the romance fantasy series Mages of Oblivion, written by Elyse Thomson. A secondary world inspired by the Eastern Roman Empire, characters that you will either love or hate, and a conspiration that threatens to destroy the fragile peace that keeps Lethe united are the elements that make this novel a highly enjoyable read.

Selene is a poison mage whose tongue is as sharp and dangerous as the poisons she sells in the black market; when she and Ilena, her partner, a metal mage, get arrested by the same scheming, controlled by the same noble parents that tossed them when they were children. As their only option is to impersonate their half-sisters, they are packed to the capital, where they will be forced to play the court games, which they are not prepared for.

At the same time, prince Belisarius' court is full of traitors and conspirators. He cannot trust many people outside of his strategos Marduk; nobles are trying to get control over Lethe, and won't stop at any limit, even if they need to perform bloody rituals in order to enhance their power.
In this situation, Belisarius decides to expose the nobleman complot, by inviting every noblewoman in the empire to compete for his hand; and our two imposters are forced to assist. They get discovered, but instead of being incarcerated, Belisarius decides to work with them, offering riches and safe passage if Selene poses as his fianceé; meanwhile, Ilena starts a relationship with the strategos.

“Are you certain all those poisons haven’t rotted your brain? I, for one, have my doubts.”
She held back a snort. Insulting a man to his face had never been so much fun.
“If my brain is rotted, darling, what does that say about the man who wants me for his bride?” She blinked up at him.
“Don’t let the momentary status go to your head. I’m not sure your ego would be able to fit in a ballroom as paltry as this.” He rolled his eyes.
The ballroom comfortably entertained a thousand guests, of course, but she’d landed a blow. A prince rolling his eyes? It tasted like victory.

Talking more about the characters, we can remember how one of this book's pitches was Cinderella (feral), and trust me, Selene is exactly that. Decided, with a sharp tongue, she only wants to keep Ilena and herself safe, while using her ability with poisons to get an income. And seriously, don't anger her, because she will take vengeance as soon as possible and in the most disgusting way (usually not killing them). I can't imagine a better way to define Selene, and probably that's why I loved her.
Ilena is a little bit more moderated, and her ability with metals draws her close to Marduk, Belisarius' strategos. She makes a good pair with Selene, being the moderate counterpart of our decided Cinderella.

A trickle of sweat ran from Iliana’s hairline down her neck. Her hands touched the blade in front of her, her magic pulsing through it, remaking it as though it were being forged anew. Even quality metal like this could only handle a few enchantments in total before crumbling or shattering. Her magic was, as most magic, a matter of willing it into existence and endless practice. For enchantments in particular, her specialty, it meant giving an object precise, simple instructions—if this, then that. And every metal and alloy spoke a slightly different dialect. Iliana prided herself on knowing them all. 

Belisarius is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of power; after his father Darius (the emperor) decided that drinking was a better life than governing the empire. He aspires to keep the empire in peace, but can't trust anybody than Marduk; stopping the conspiration from the nobles will need him to use all his intelligence, and getting Selene as a partner in the plan is a godsend, even if he gets a little bit upset with how unpredictable she is.

While Thomson hasn't written the most complex plot, I have to say that it is a really enjoyable one: spicy and fun, keeping your attention glued to the page until the end. Romance fans will enjoy how love and relationships are presented in different shapes and forms, and even our characters will start confusing their feelings and who they really love.

Gods knew Lethe could ill afford another generation lost to war, famine and unrest. Even now, it was rare for any noble to have a grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin, and few commoners who survived it had done so without wearing the indelible marks of violence and starvation. 

Worldbuilding is another of the elements that I personally enjoyed most, as Lethe is an empire based on the Eastern Roman Empire, and Thomson isn't shy about taking many historical details and names. She has created a rich world, full of details that you can enjoy while not reading about the last Selene's adventure; I hope we get to explore more of it in the sequels.

I can say that I personally loved this book, even if it wasn't my usual genre, but Elyse Thomson has shown her ability as a story crafter. If you like books that mix epic fantasy and romance, you should give Mages of Oblivion a try.

The Author/s

Elyse Thomson

Elyse Thomson

Elyse Thomson writes steamy fantasy full of court intrigue, daring heroines, magical mayhem, swoon-worthy romances and worlds inspired by ancient history.

Elyse graduated from University of Toronto with a Bachelors in History and Classics and currently resides in Canada's capital where you can find her binding antiquarian books, playing Dragon Age or snuggling with her husband or her neurotic terrier.