** Potential Spoilers Follow Below **
“Empress” by Karen Miller is the first book in the Godspeaker Trilogy. It is followed by “The Riven Kingdom” and “The Hammer of God.”
Synopsis: In a family torn apart by poverty and violence, Hekat is no more than an unwanted mouth to feed, worth only a few coins from a passing slave trader.
But Hekat was not born to be a slave. For her, a different path has been chosen. It is a path that will take her from stinking back alleys to the house of her god, from blood-drenched battlefields to the glittering palaces of Mijak.
This is the story of Hekat, slave to no man."
Miller has not only created a fantasy world, she has created an entire religion for her people to worship. The only issue I take with it, at least as far as the first book goes, is that the origins of the God is not really covered or dealt with. We simply know it is there, and is virtually a center character in and of itself. Without the God the characters worship, there is no story to tell.
Starting at the general age of 12, we are taken into Hekat’s world to watch her grow and what guides her in the decisions she makes. And, let me tell you, the decisions she makes, although they may be for her God’s glory, are down right insane. If, by the end of the first book, you do not completely despise Hekat, then you are a better person than me!
I do not mean that in a bad way, either. Miller is so devout in seeing Hekat follow through with her self-centered and stubborn ways that she succeeds in creating a completely unlikable main character. In one sentence I will feel sorrow for Hekat and her ways, then in the next 100 pages, I’ll hate her completely, only to have another sentence pop up that shows her human side once again.
Never … I repeat, never have I been so torn between a fictional character such as this woman who rests in the God’s smiting eye.
As for the story itself, that is an epic all of its own.
Similar to Miller’s other series of novels, the “Kingmaker, Kingbreaker” storyline, “Empress” follows a lower-class individual as they rise through the ranks of society. The particular society of “Empress” sees our main protagonist start out as a poor, abused child. She is bought by slave traders and treated “special,” sparking the attitude that will serve her later, throughout the rest of the novel.
Hekat frees herself, works her way into the the cities military unit (called a warhost, here) as a “chicken killer,” and eventually becomes a soldier. From there she only moves up, never looking back, sacrificing whatever she feels the God wishes her to. Even if it means slaughtering hundreds, she feels the need to please the God and sees herself as a tool it uses to purge the land and teach the world of It’s power.
Eventually, Hekat does meet those who would clash with her dash to power. In those people, she seethes her hatred, defying them at every turn and creating power struggles against the warlord from his once closest advisors.
The characters are each fairly simple and one-minded. You won’t find too many instances where one particular figure really jumps out at you as being wildly different. All of the players here are cardboard, rarely straying from their cut pattern. But I just can’t express how much the story hooked me in despite that. I do not know what Ms. Millers secret is, but I hope she continues the magic in the next two novels of the trilogy.
But, of course, don’t take just my word for it. I went out on a limb and bough the first novel anyways, after reading several negative reviews of the work. Luckily, you really can’t judge a book by its cover (or its reviews.) Each person is different and has their own tastes and opinions on what good fantasy is. Personally, I think Miller has hit a home run, once again, by creating this magical land, its all seeing God and the numerous lead figures within it.
Highly recommended from my bookshelf, “Empress” is a novel you should at least pick up at your local library, if they have it. Give it a try, if the fantasy genre is your flavor. You might be disappointed, you might not – but you’ll never know until you try.