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3.4 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on 2 October 2009
Having read all of the reviews here (like a good little anorak) I took a chance on this book and have to say I loved it. The sheer fact alone that so many people hated Hekat shows she's rather well written and the blood and the gore and the mess...lovely! It saw me through the school holidays with a smile on my face! Yes Hekat is nuttier than a snickers bar in a peanut butter dip, yes she is colder than a naked polar bear, is she a zealot...absolubtely! She is difficult to relate to simply because she is bonkers, she does have a blood lust that would have made Ghengis Khan quail in his furs, and she is relentless in her oppression, ambition and belief.
I enjoyed it and have ordered the next book and even though I know it's meant to be more along the lines of traditional fantasy I'm curious to see where the author takes us next. On a lot of reviews people say they felt there was too much blood and gore and if we look back in world history there's plenty of races and eras to compare this writing to, so this is a great read if you can unlatch your civilised mind and leap into barbarism neck deep.
My one gripe with this book has to be how many times Hekat goes on about being precious and beautiful and the slayer of.... even to her husband who took her on knowing all of this, like us, I'm sure he didn't need reminding every five minutes of her greatness. It was a good job really that this character loved herself, because it seems that nobody else does.
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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2009
As I've said in a number of comments to other reviews... I think the problem with this book is that its dramatic purpose really doesn't become clear until a revelation at the end of the second book (and an observation a particular Et-Raklion resident makes to himself during it). While at first everybody naturally feels repugnance to such an unlikable and irredeemable character, and wonder why on Earth a whole book would be dedicated to her narcissim and sadistic lust for blood vengeance, in context of the further plot Hekat's story actually becomes a pretty powerful one of corruption, inherently bad systems, zealotism, the inability to differentiate between God's will and your own, and of how a corrupt system can further corrupt already damaged individuals. Of course, I can't discuss that for fear of spoiling anyone, so I suppose I'll have to go write a review for the second book too! The problem I feel is that people are so used to heroes, or even their villains being given the token redeemable feature, that some may have little patience with characters they don't like - even though people you don't like can still make for interesting reads.

Even without the benefit of the second book, I was intrigued by this one. I admired such a bold move and Karen's incredible ability to create a world and its unique dialect/rhythm of speaking. Although utterly unlikable, the story of people and societies such as these and how they can come to be so bloodthirsty is hard to stomach but fascinating, if you can get over the (I feel erroneous) notion that protagonists have to be sympathetic. Not all real people are sympathetic or redeemable either.

That said, I don't think Hekat's as one dimensional as she's been accused of in some of these reviews. I think you can clearly see how a glimmer of hope for her after a brutal upbringing was snuffed out and allowed narcissism and self delusion to take over, finally culminating in the formation of a tyrant. That to me isn't one dimensional, it's progression. Her affection for Zandakar too is a glimmer of some better thing that might have once dwelled within the evil heart.

So yes, while this book was hard work I felt it was worthy hard work that pays off at the end of the second book and sets up for an exciting third.
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on 3 September 2008
If you thought that Empress would be written in the same style as Miller's previous Kingmaker/Kingbreaker series, think again. Whilst having their darker moments, those two books read like candy floss compared to Empress.

Empress is hard, cruel and bloodthirsty. Mijak is a world ruled by fear of a God, interestingly referred to as "it", rather than he or she. In this world however the God does not appear to just exist in the minds of the populace but uses its Godspeakers to strike down those who do wrong.

Coming to this book as an atheist, I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it or not based on the reviews I read. Having finished it, I still can't say I "enjoyed" it, that's just not the right word. But it was a riveting read and often had me turning the pages way into the small hours. There is little or no respite from the cruelty in its pages and you almost have to distance yourself, or perhaps become immune, to the gory details.

Most readers will say they like to warm to the main character, and usually I would agree, but it's not a requirement of this book. The story is compelling enough.
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on 17 May 2008
I disagree strongly with the 1-star review.

Although the main protagonist will be seen as 'evil' by some readers, the moral disposition of a character should never be the reason for giving such a low rating.

Empress is much darker in tone than the Kingmaker/Kingbreaker duology, so don't expect the typical brave-hero-defeats-evil-enemy type fare you get from most books in the genre. The protagonist lies, steals and kills with no compassion for her victims; all in the name of her god.

Personally i quite like Hekat, even if she is evil and possibly insane. But even if you really can't relate to her at all, its easy to admire the way she does things.

This was a very enjoyable read and in my opinion much better than the previous series. Don't be put off by the one-star reviews of people expectng a 'goody two shoes' main character.
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on 13 June 2008
I am surprised to see reviewers writing that this is an interesting look at a brutal society and the effects. That might be what she's trying to do but quite frankly, it's two dimensional and simplistic. The main protagonist is sub humun in her obsessive belief in the god and her inability to differentiate between her desires and the god's. And that's a legitimate character choice. But the other characters are almost all equally two dimensional. Raklion warlord is not much more than a man pushed around by his priests who occassionally stands up for duty and honor. Miller attempts to provide glimpses into his thinking and how he got to where he is - his suggestion that he was not ready to be the heir when his brother died, his love for Hekat - but it's not clear and it's all premised on a similar obsessive interest in his god.

The story is repetitive and simplistic. The concept is excellent, but somehow, it doesn't carry itself off well with very little sense of any genuine movement in the story.
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on 24 September 2012
WARNING, SPOILERS INSIDE and also, READ THE WHOLE SERIES, this book is not meant as a standalone!!!

I would like to start with the fact that this is the darkest book I have ever read and many will hate it or completely miss the point. GRRM's ASOIAF has nothing on it. Hekat is the most deeply crazy and disgustingly arrogant being ever written about, she is the super villain of all times! She is more evil and horrible than the Governor in The Walking Dead. This aside many forget this is the first in a series, and Karen has written these books strangely, she starts off by telling you the full, unabridged story of the main villain and introducing the main good guy (also happens to be the big bad's son) without even introducing the rest of the good guys.

Karen has set her main antagonist(the books protagonist) in a whole-ly unimaginable world (for most) where the people live in such fear of their deity that every single moment of their short, depressing and chained lives is spent trying not to piss it off or get killed by it. In fact their god is a blood thirsty demon about as bad as Khorne from Warhammer (if you know any of the Lore). Many cannot grasp this book because fantasy novels generally contain some form of magical baddy and a medieval superman in plate-mail not spandex. Here we are shown the horror that is Hekat evolve into the most disgusting example of a human being possible through other-worldly religious zeal to a demon and the most disgusting arrogance possible in a human.

I enjoyed the book, it wasn't my fave in the series. I disliked the repeating use of God..., and everything in the dialect, but she is writing it more as a verbal story board for a psychological horror play than a book, and it made sense for the story.

So yeah, read the rest, this is basically the longest prologue in the world and only focuses on the antagonist and her life before the main story.

Thanks for reading my review, hope it helped.
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on 9 November 2009
I'm surprised to see so many people giving this book bad reviews because they didn't like or identify with the main character because that is exactly what appealed to me. I've been reading fantasy about as long as I've been able to read and I've come across dozens of different formats for heroes, many of them re-used many times over, but I've never before seen a character like Hekat and I found myself fascinated with her.

I originally picked this book up on a whim in the store, read the first chapter and put it back. But over the next couple of days I found myself thinking about it a lot. This girl was so strange, so different from most protagonists that I wanted to know what was going to happen to her, and what the rest of her world was like. Next time I was in a bookshop I made straight for Empress.

The rest of the book, in my eyes, did not disappoint. By the end I'd say Hekat had definitely made the shift from hero to villain but it just makes me more interested to see what happens in the rest of the series. Rarely do we get such an insight into a villain and even at the end I found myself with a lingering sympathy for her (after all her world is hardly conductive to healthy and sane development, especially for a girl) which should add an interesting extra dimension to the rest of the story.

In short I found Empress to be a refreshing change from the usual fantasy template and an excellent setting for the rest of the series.
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on 4 August 2008
I am surprised by the number of mixed reviews on this. Personally I found the book thoroughly enjoyable with a number of unexpected actions to keep the reader entertained.
The main character Hekat is unpredictable, changing over the course of the book as she becomes power-obsessed and convinced of her unquestionable link with her god whose plans seem to have an exceptionally strong correlation between her own. Often the question arises as to whether the plans are those of an ambitious, self obsessed and self righteous woman, or a war hungry god. In this way Karen Miller explores ideas present in our own world, of those hiding behind laws, beliefs and gods simply to further their position in life and gain greater power.
Hekat is exceptionally well drawn and Miller creates a truly sinister character. Some relief from the injustice and depression (reminiscent of Hobb's books) can be found in such characters such as Vortka and Zandakar, and the contrast between the natures of these men and Hekat strengthens their depth of chararcter.
I would recommend this book, not only is it unusual, it is interesting and has potential in following books as well as having a wider and more varied scope than The Kingmaker books.
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on 26 September 2012
I always know I've enjoyed a series when I've read it for a second time, and it may have been a year or two but yes I have just finished all three books for the second time and enjoyed it more for doing so.

The reason it has taken so long is really this book. Although an excellent story, this is not a happy journey; it details Hekat's rise to power from her neglected origins through the favour of her dark, bloody god. She doesn't do tears or self-pity (which is refreshing), her only want is to please the god (this usually involves a lot of death, blood and killing).

It begins with a really barren, harsh setting (I remember thinking, do I want to continue?) but it is well written and I did have trouble putting it down after the first couple of chapters. There were plenty of high points to keep my interest going. Though "hard", it is a good (and necessary) start to the series and worth reading just to the brilliance that book two brings.

Overall, this was a much more serious departure from Karen's Innocent Mage series*. It just seemed that the story had been distributed more evenly between the books (although I did get annoyed by the characters having the same argument again and again (to no end) in book 3). But generally, I found it well worth reading!!

*I loved the first two Innocent Mage books, but didn't think it needed dragging out to 4 (I got sick to death of reading "I am frighted" in the last two, but that's another review)
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