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A difficult book
on 6 September 2008
Empress tells the tale of a girl, Hekat, a she-brat, sold into slavery (which comes as a relief to her...), who escapes, believing herself to be a chosen tool of the gods, and, in the city of Et-Raklion, first with her skill with a knife, then her seeming power as a tool of the gods, rises and rises in power and status ... until she ends up as Empress, the most powerful person in the world. The humble-origins-destined-for-greatness them is explored in Empress, but with a lot of twists as religion is thrown strongly into the mix, too. Magic very clearly comes from the gods, or at least agencies that present themselves as gods, and Godspeakers -- priest types -- are very powerful people ... except that Hekat, a slave girl with a strange amulet, can survive a pit of scorpions -- the totem animals of the gods -- where the priests cannot...
I don't like Hekat. It's taken me a while to decide that, and I expect it will probably be true of a lot of readers. Where Asher was an affable friendly type, Hekat is the opposite: secretive, ambitious and, perhaps, every so slightly scary. She determinedly believes that she has been chosen by the gods to lead her people, steals, kills and is generally cruel to those around her; she's also quite insane (at least, by modern standards), I think. It's not hard to see why she's like that, of course, and one thing that I really liked about Empress was it's harsh unflinching take on her life, and it seems that throughout the novel, Karen is deciding just how much damage she can do to one character! From a life in a squalid village, where the term "father" is replaced with fearing "the man", where slavers come to buy their children. So much cruelty is thrown at Hekat -- and is expected in that world -- that it's easy to see why Hekat is such a damaged creature.
But I still don't like her, and I can't identify with her.
While it was interesting to read about her exploits, to be slightly taken aback at her constant vehemence, her madness, and I don't think her story could be told without those things, I still think it's a problem when I feel nothing for character. For me, that was a bit of a disappointment. Miller stayed away, though, from the strong-female butt-kicking, clad in leather, rolling around in mud with mercenaries type, and indeed a lot in Empress is stuff we don't always see so often in fantasy. It's definitely at the gritty end of the spectrum, indeed, but I think moments of levity were needed and not always provided, though Karen did say that moments of lightness and warmth were more abundant in the latter two volumes of the trilogy.
And so, the final line, with me not really knowing what to say. I did enjoy Empress, but it's a tough read. I still think that I enjoyed the Asher series more, and I really think it's due to getting on better with the characters, enjoying the time reading them more, but Empress, nonetheless, has proven a strong start to this new trilogy, and from what I've heard, it looks like I might have more fun reading the next volumes.