Rhine's novel Empress of Dreams is the third book in the series Temple of the Traveler - the first book in the series is Doors to Eternity, the second is Dreams of the Fallen. This is one of my favorite series of his so far, and it combines mysticism, magic, dreaming, and a pantheon of Gods in a such a creative way that all of it seems new - never written about before, in a world wholly his own. While there are people called wizards, they do things far differently than your average cloaked and pointy hatted fantasy trope wizard does. You will find nothing stale here, no elves or dwarfs either, just an exotic world after a cataclysm caused by a God. This is the last book in the series, which wraps up the ends of things quite nicely. This is a landmark series you will always remember.
THE PLOT: When we left out heroes, they were closing the last Door to Eternity, so the Gods could no longer get through, and mankind would get a chance to rebuild their own world without interference from above. Jotham, the former priest of the Traveller, while closing the last door, ended going through it, and came out Pagaose, the Emperor - with Jotham's face, but a totally new Imperial body, which was very tall and had six fingered hands of the Imperial race. Anna the Brewer, was the first to declare him Emperor, as he came out of the door in the Imperial City. The story is about his testing and investiture as Emperor, his dance of purity to select a wife, as well as the war with the Pretender and Humi Kragen on one side, and everyone else on the other. Sarajah and Tashi have their own story, as do Pinetto and Sajika. Overall, it was tightly plotted, well executed, with many surprises along the way, with the biggest surprise being who the Empress of Dreams turns out to be. For plot, I give the novel, a 9/10.
CHARACTERIZATION: As in all Rhine's works, the characterization is in-depth, he continues this trend with this novel. While we think we already know Jotham, Tashi, Sarajah, Pinetto and Sajika, we find new facets to their characters even now, in this third novel. For example, Sarajah truly finds her own strengths and footing in this novel, and becomes the thing she deserved to be all along - a Queen of her own domain, where she gets to define the rules and laws for both religion and life. She is a strong character that I truly enjoyed watching in this novel. Jotham, as Pagaose, too, blossoms into his ultimate form of Emperor, using his skills and prescience for the greater good. Pinetto instead of a student is now creating new types of magic and is head of the Imperial College of Teaching - where he passes on his unique knowledge of magic to Imperial wizards. All the characters evolve in this novel, even Serog the dragon goes through quite a change over the course of the novel. The new characters were equally strong, and a good match for the existing cast. For characterization, I give the novel a 10/10.
IMAGERY: As ever, Scott uses every tool in his tool box to put together rich imagery so that you can see every detail of what is going on. Whether is it a comment about a dress, a description of a room, a lustful look at a well formed thigh, or an action sequence that goes on to describe the buff body parts as they move and flex gracefully, he simply does an amazing job of using everything to build those images without resorting to excess adjectives and adverbs. Because this book was set in the Imperial Palace for much of the time, everything was sumptuous. The rooms, the clothing, the transportation, the dreams, the food - literally everything was over the top in grandeur, and it came through loud and clear in the images that Scott provided. His mind must think like a director, because his prose is written that way - highlighting those details that you would if you were creating a movie instead of a novel. For imagery I give this novel a 10/10.
THE GORE SCORE: Though there was some violence in this book, it was minimal, and was not described in detail. It was not gratuitous in the slightest, and so the gore score for this book will be low. The gore score for this novel is 2/10.
DIALOGUE: Rhine uses dialogue to add wit and humor to his novels along with adding to the imagery and characterization, plot and basic passage of information with his dialogue. He has quite a cast of characters who all speak in this novel, and each has his or her individual voice, which is quite a big job. He makes it look easy, which is the sure sign of a good writer. Because of all the sneaky plotting and stealth in this novel, there is much innuendo, and double entrendre in the dialogue, which makes it more entertaining. At one point, they have to keep all his future prospective wives virgins, before the dance, so the double entendre gets pretty thick, because they can't physically do anything before the dance - though they can talk dirty in an off-hand way. It is so funny, and the Emperor gets so flustered he resorts to cold showers. For dialogue, I give this novel a 10/10.
PACING: This novel did not barrel along at the speed of light like most of Rhine's other novels, more like the speed of sound - just a bit slower than light speed. It was definitely a page turner from beginning to end. I read it in a single sitting - completely immersed in his world. If worldbuilding was a category, he'd get a 10 for that too. You move from one character to another so smoothly, that it's almost like you are the one in the dream world, as the pages fly by, you don't notice that your actually reading, you are so immersed in the story itself, my thumb just automatically hit the arrow to turn the page (ebook version) so that I could continue on my journey until I reached its conclusion. This book builds dramatic tension throughout the entire book, until finally at the end, things seem to speed up, but that is only because I was reading faster to find out what was going to happen to my favorite characters. For Pacing, I give this novel a 9/10.
THE ENDING: The ending of this book came as a total surprise to me, never did I once suspect that Pagaose had this planned, there were clues in the novel, if I had cared to think about it deeply, but I was so caught up with what was going on in the story I did not stop and contemplate what these things might mean. Instead, I kept reading because I could not stop myself, the prose and the story were just too good to stop. I was enjoying myself immensely, and frankly, how many novels come along when you completely leave yourself behind, and lose yourself in the story. I have been lucky this year to have found a number of novels that have done that, and a quite a few have them have been by Mr. Rhine. The ending tied everything together and answered the question: Who is the Empress of Dreams? This is what endings are meant to do, make the book complete, wrap things up, and if they are really good, leave you with a smile on your face, while making you think about them for weeks afterword. They don't always have to be happy endings, but the thinking part is essential. For the ending, I give this novel, a 9/10.
THE UPSHOT: I loved this novel, in fact I loved this whole series. It was equal mixes of a new religion, a new world, a new magic system, a new people, and a new history. Mix that all together and shake, and what you have is an intriguing set of novels that do not depend on old tropes for support, but create completely new systems of Gods, magic, religion, and government to populate the post cataclysmic world. Now put in uniquely, well-defined characters a goal of independence from their capricious Gods, and the former government and you have one powerful story - especially when these characters are strong and have unique powers of their own, and the Gods are trying to stop them. All in all, this was a wonderful series, and one of my favorite of all time. There are no parallels to other books that I've read, and I've read over 3K books, so it's definitely original in it's concept and execution. The final score for this novel is 57/60, a high 5 stars, and truly deserved.
MLB SCORE CHART
50 - 60 5 STARS
40 - 49 4 STARS
30 - 39 3 STARS
20 - 29 2 STARS
10 - 19 1 STARS
00 - 09 0 STARS