Empress: Bloody, violent, and creative

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Karen Miller Godspeaker 1. EmpressEmpress by Karen Miller

Karen Miller’s novel, Empress is shockingly different from her previous duology, Kingmaker, Kingbreaker. Empress shows us the rise of a barbarian warlord in a culture like the ancient Assyrian or Babylonian empires, with their city states that eventual become powerful nations. The society of Mikak is violent, worshipping a scorpion god who craves bloody ritual sacrifice. The godspeakers are the only people who are able to hear the god. They perform sacrifices and are a police force and a political entity separate from the warlord’s control. But Hekat, a runaway slave girl, upsets that balance when she discovers that she can hear the god as well. Believing herself special, Hekat begins a slow climb up the social ladder of Mijak, seeking power both to satiate her lust for it, and as protection for herself. In the meantime, a fellow slave, Vortka is also making the climb into the realm of the powerful, but through a slow process, unlike Hekat’s clawing. For better or worse, there lives become intertwined.

Empress is a violent novel. Sacrifice and blood drinking are part of the ritual. Some people swim in pools of blood as they seek the will of their fickle, unforgiving god. All “magic” comes only through the god’s power, and while it gives power and knowledge, just as often it arbitrarily won’t. It is seen as an impersonal force by its supplicants. Hekat revels in it, and although at the beginning of the book she is a sympathetic character, by the end we want to hate her. Yet for all her success, she is a small child inside; her emotions are stunted and all she can feel is fear or hate. Besides being very violent, there are liberal does of swearing and a few sex scenes (including a rape of a man!) in Empress, so anyone offended by that ought to avoid it.

Empress is also extremely long, and the style of writing can get annoying. There’s a lot of ritual dialogue which gets repetitious. Phrases like “may the god see you in its eye” or arrogant words that tell of the speaker’s triumphs or skills tend to wear after a bit. The reader would do well to take this novel in slow spurts, rather than trying to read it all at once.

But for all that, Empress is creative and different enough to make it enjoyable. The story is fascinating because Karen Miller has created a culture that is difficult for modern people to understand — a culture where religion rules much of everyday life. And yet, while Miller doesn’t tell us what the origin of the religion of Mijak is, there is the hint that it could actually be a twisting of a natural phenomena.
It was also fascinating to read how an evil warlord comes to be an evil warlord through a long slow process as a result of very human traits. Thus, Empress shows the real human emotions behind what we call “good” and “evil.”

I did not enjoy Empress as much as The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage perhaps because there was no character I was really able to root for, but I still want to know what happens to them. I recommend this novel, with the few caveats stated above, and look forward to seeing how its sequel portrays the enemies of Hekat.

FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.

Godspeaker — (2007-2009)  Empress is also published as Empress of Mijak. Publisher: When a scrawny unwanted girl is sold into slavery, a chain of events is set in motion that will have a profound impact on all the civilized world. Hekat is taken in chains to Mijak’s largest city, home of the warlord Raklion. She is sold into his service and learns all she can about power — its wielding and its uses — as she fetches and carries and cleans and serves. She grows into a beautiful woman, and through ambition and manipulation Hekat becomes powerful enough to take over the rulership of Mijak… and then sets about making it into the greatest Empire ever known.

Karen Miller Godspeaker: 1. Empress 2. The Riven KingdomKaren Miller Godspeaker: 1. Empress 2. The Riven Kingdomfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

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JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

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