Magic and murder engulf the realm of Kelewan. Fierce warlords ignite a bitter blood feud to enslave the empire of Tsuranuanni. While in the opulent Imperial courts, assassins and spy-master plot cunning and devious intrigues against the rightful heir.
Now Mara, a young, untested Ruling lady, is called upon to lead her people in a heroic struggle for survival. But first she must rally an army of rebel warriors, form a pact with the alien cho-ja, and marry the son of a hated enemy. Only then can Mara face her most dangerous foe of all--in his own impregnable stronghold.
At the beginning of this year I embarked on my Big Riftwar Read/Re-read, starting with Magician and the rest of the Riftwar Saga. Part of the reason I’ve been so enthusiastic about this so far is because I couldn’t wait to revisit one of my favourite series of all times: the Empire trilogy. The trilogy is a stunning collaboration between Feist and his fellow epic fantasy writer Janny Wurts, and reveals much more of the world on the ‘other side’ of the Rift. This isn’t the Middle-Earth-ish Midkemia, with its forests and its mud and its grey skies; this is Kelewan, hot and exotic, home to a powerful society in which personal honour is held above all else, ritual suicide is the norm, and public displays of emotion are deemed shameful. This intriguing society places great emphasis on honour and social standing, and reader will come to understand – and be fascinated by – the social implications of such seemingly minor things as clothing, jewellery, and behaviour such as bowing or smiling.
I LOVE reading about Tsurani society. Kelewan is bizarre and colourful, and its inhabitants even more so. The rich and powerful consider it a mark of wealth and status to dress extravagantly, even gaudily, to the point where even their soldiers wear armour to reflect the colours of the family they serve. Tsurani society is organised into strict hierarchical family units, with the more powerful of these families referred to as Houses. There are hundreds of these Ruling families, each with their own colours and allegiances, and the book’s frequent and casual references to lots of different names really conveys a sense of the sprawling and ancient hierarchical society of the Tsurani empire. This society revolves almost entirely around politics, deriving much of its order from an endless political struggle known only as the Game of the Council.
Daughter of the Empire accompanies Mara, the new and untested Ruling Lady of House Acoma, throughout the first two years of her rule as she strives to protect her ancestral family name and gain enough strength and standing to enter the Game of the Council. The book focuses solely on her social, emotional and political journey, from a sheltered temple initiate to an independent Ruling Lady. Mara is a sympathetic and admirable protagonist, someone you can really root for. She starts out in a frighteningly weak position, and must use her wits and resources to strengthen her House, making great sacrifices along the way. Mara regrets not having the physical strength to defend her family: her enemies undermine and underestimate her since she is a member of the ‘weaker sex’, and she’s forced to compensate by exercising exceptional skill in the areas of politics, business and high society. She goes above and beyond expectations to ensure the honour of her House is preserved, even to the point of orchestrating schemes that are uncharacteristically ruthless and vicious, and often struggles to deal with the emotional turmoil that often arises as a consequence of her actions.
Feist has created a beautiful and deadly world, and here Wurts really helps to bring it to life. Each page bursts with the rich and vivid setting of Kelewan, with just a sentence or two here and there managing to evoke smells and sounds and colours: you can hear the calls of the bargemen and see the bustle of the markets when Mara travels to the city; and you can smell the akasi blossoms in the evening and hear the needra being brought in from pasture when she returns to the peaceful Acoma estates. Daughter of the Empire is immersive and flowing, and is thoroughly engaging for its setting and atmosphere as much as its plot. There’s little in the way of action, and there are few scenes in the book that can be described as fast-paced, yet Daughter of the Empire is never plodding or arduous. There are plenty of tense moments, as well as one or two mini climaxes before the big finale, and the authors make even the nuances of Tsurani politics thrilling to read. And of course there’s nothing better than witnessing the political payoffs: it’s well worth the wait to see Mara’s plots finally coming to fruition after hundreds of pages of plotting and pain.
Re-reading Daughter of the Empire after so many years has reaffirmed this trilogy as one of my favourites of all time. Knowing how the rest of the series pans out only makes me more eager to continue with the series, and more enthusiastic in recommending it to others. Seriously: it’s magnificent.