Mar 092020

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone

Synopsis: Kinda a lesbian Inuyasha in space, and the galaxy is post-apocalyptic.

Book Review: With a synopsis like that, one would expect this to be an amazing ride. :) It is, however, just OK.

The characters are easy to relate to, and everyone will have one favorite one. They are all very archetypical, so as soon as you find the Type that you love most, you’ll really glom onto the character and enjoy them. The action goes fast, and it has ridiculous over-the-top anime combat that’s fun.

And ultimately, that’s mostly what this book is – action set pieces woven together by well-realized archetype characters. This is a perfect story for a video game, where you get to have all the fun of actually kicking huge amounts of ass in all the action scenes. It was a pretty typical JRPG plot as well, starting with a single character who gathers allies to form her party, beats several challenges, then the party is all split up near the end, and finally unites again against the multiple phases of the final boss. It’s definitely OK, but it’s told in the wrong medium, IMHO.

I think this book can be summed by a scene from within itself. One character is asking another why she reads fiction, and the reader answers “Simple. You know what the problem is, and you know how it will all turn out. It’s fun to watch it happen.” That was basically the experience of reading Empress, and if you like comfortable, actiony beach reading, this is for you. For those like me: Not Recommended.

(Also, as a personal gripe, I was really annoyed that the main character is supposed to be smart, but didn’t figure out why she had been yanked into the future, like, immediately. It’s clear from almost the very beginning, and it seems the only reason she never figured it out is because the author wanted to hold onto the reveal for a dramatic moment instead of after her thinking about it for 2 minutes. It’s just one of those things that irritates me.)

Book Club Review: The experience of talking about this book was much like the experience of reading it. Kinda fun, hard to complain, but nothing exceptional. I found myself very surprised that the entire story seems to have been wrapped up in one book. This is exactly the sort of ensemble cast and universe that lends itself to a long drawn-out series of monster-of-the-week books. As I was reading it I had the impression it was trying to set itself up as another Dresden Files style of series. But the ending seems pretty damn definitively an ending. Someone else in the book club mentioned that the ending felt rather rushed, like Gladstone had gotten tired of writing this story. Maybe creating a profitable series was his original intention, but he found it too tiresome to continue? He has written some really good things in the past, maybe this was just trying something new that didn’t quite work. While speculation on how the creative process works, and how maybe business decisions might interact with it, was kinda interesting, I don’t think it’s worth dedicating a book club slot to. Not Recommended.

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