This review contains major spoilers.
Book Name: Empress
Author: Karen Miller
Series: #1, Godspeaker trilogy
Format(s): Mass market paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Release Date: April 1, 2008
Usually when I’ve read books in a series one right after another I like to review the series as opposed to individual books, mostly because I have the advantage of reading what comes after a book and the things that happen in it that may not have been tied together so nicely in just a single volume really come together in a series. In the case of Empress and the “Godspeaker” trilogy there are so many things going on that aren’t originally as they seem to review the entire series in a single post might be as long as one of the books itself. It’s also because Empress is so intentionally unlike the other two books in the series a review of all three might make little sense to the reader.
The entire premise of Empress is an odd one: in the end you’re supposed to hate just about everyone in it. It’s a daring concept by Karen Miller to write a book where you first have tremendous empathy for Hekat, a nameless young girl from the outskirts of the empire sold into slavery, and then nothing but hatred for her at the end. The descriptions of Hekat’s journey to Et-Raklion as she still doesn’t realize she’s a slave are heartbreaking. At that point in the book, and up to her escape from slavery, Miller makes Hekat into someone you really want to root for. Only Miller diverts from the usual “slave escapes to take on the overbearing establishment” premise and has Hekat become the eventual ruler of Mijak and continue the massive social exploitation of her people through religious tyranny. She considers the voices she hears in her head to be divine instructions, and follows them mercilessly.
There is one redeeming character in Empress, Vortka. He and Hekat meet in their youth and as Hekat moves up the military ladder Vortka becomes a priest of Mijak and eventually becomes High Godspeaker. When her husband Raklion, warlord of Mijak, cannot father a child Hekat seduces Vortka (before he is High Godspeaker). Zandakar is the result of that union. Years later after being named warlord and conquering almost the entire known world Zandakar hears voices saying that there should be no more warring, and takes a wife from people his army had conquered. Zandakar returns to Et-Raklion, and in a fit of insane rage Hekat has the woman and her unborn child killed and orders Zandakar into exile. Vortka essentially saves Zandakar’s life by hiding him and then secreting him away.
Hekat then names Dmitrak, her second son borne after essentially forcing then High Godspeaker Nagarak to impregnate her, as warlord. When Zandakar was warlord he used a magical weapon called “The Hammer of God”, and after its first use Zandakar’s hair turns blue. When Dmitrak used it, his turned red. While Zandakar had enough of war, Dmitrak thrives on it.
In the end just about every character in the book is pretty much despised by readers, and it has taken some readers a long while to realize they aren’t supposed to love (or even like) any of the main characters. Once they realize this, Miller has them right where she wants them. The battle scenes in Empress are bloddy, as are the large number of scenes of ritual sacrifices being made. But these are not gratuitous, they are written with a singular purpose in mind of showing how evil the people in the story are and what their blind devotion to the gods is doing to them.
Miller took a gigantic risk writing a book people would be inclined to not think positive about when they were finished reading, and really knocked it out of the park with the attempt. There are a significant number of negative reviews for Empress. Do yourself a favor and read the entire trilogy and then read the reviews for Empress. It will be worth the laugh.