Throwback Thursday – The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

The Last Continent Cover

Publisher: Doubleday and ISIS Audiobook (1 May 1998)

Series: Discworld – Book 22

Length: 9 hours and 57 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For this Throwback Thursday I take a look at one of my absolute favourite books of all time, the incredibly funny and always enjoyable The Last Continent, by legendary author Sir Terry Pratchett.

I have never made it a secret that I absolutely love the works of the late, great, Terry Pratchett, who I consider to be one of the best authors of all time.  I love and adore every single one of Pratchett’s hilarious and captivating novels, especially the entries in the wacky and wild Discworld series, a comedy fantasy series set in an absolutely insane world of magic, monsters and outrageous personalities that lies upon a disc shaped world, borne through space on the back of four elephants, who themselves are on the back of a giant turtle.  I have so much love for this outstanding and hilarious series, and I have read each and every entry in multiple times.  Heck, even the name of my blog, The Unseen Library, is taken from a fictional institution in the Discworld series!  However, despite how much I love the series, I have so far only reviewed one Discworld novel on this blog so far (Shame! Shame! Shame!), Moving Pictures, and this is something I have been meaning to rectify for some time.

I recently did a Top Ten Tuesday list where I looked at some of the funniest books I have ever read, which included several Discworld novels, and this inspired me to do a review for another Pratchett read.  I ended up going with one of my favourite Discworld novels of all time, the incredible and wildly entertaining The Last Continent, which places one of the author’s most iconic characters into the most dangerous places imaginable, Australia.  I am reviewing this book slightly out of the order I originally planned, but I figured reviewing this one now may encourage me to get to others in the future.  I should admit that I have not read The Last Continent recently, but this is one of the many Discworld novels that I have read multiple times, either in its paperback (I’ve actually got a signed copy of this book) or its audiobook format, and at this point I have it pretty much memorised. 

So the first thing I should cover is:

“This is not a book about Australia.  No, it’s about somewhere entirely different which just happens to be, here and there, a bit…Australian.

Still…no worries, right?”

Welcome to EcksEcksEcksEcks (XXXX), the Discworld’s last continent.  Made by a rogue creator who snuck in after the rest of the Disc was created and kept hidden away from its other civilisations by a series of massive storms, XXXX is a deadly and dangerous place.  Filled with some of the most lethal and confusing creatures on the entire Disc and populated by a friendly, if occasionally murderous, group of people, XXXX is a hell of a place to live.  Unfortunately, everything in it is about to die as the water dries out and even the beer is getting hard to find.

Luckily for the people of XXXX, a hero has been found, one who is battling his way through the wastes and towns of the country, his legend growing all along.  But who is this road warrior, sheep shearer, horse wrangler, beer drinker and ballad-worthy bush ranger, and why is he apparently so determined to run away from his heroic destiny?

That man is Rincewind, the Discworld’s most cowardly and inept wizard, who has been bounced from one end of the Disc to the other and been chased by every sort of monster, maniac and seller of regional delicacies you can imagine.  All Rincewind wants to do is go home, and he is determined to avoid any new adventures as a chosen hero, no matter what the talking kangaroo stalking him tries to tell him.  Despite his best efforts, Rincewind once again finds himself caught up in the special craziness of the locals, and if he wants to survive, he needs to find a way to save everyone.  What’s the worst that could happen???

So, as you may be able to tell from the above synopsis, this is a bit of a crazy novel, but it is one that is always guaranteed to make me laugh, especially with its fantastic Australian-based humour.  The Last Continent is the 22nd overall entry in the Discworld series and the sixth book to focus on the character of Rincewind.  I personally have a lot of love for this particular Terry Pratchett novel, and it is probably one of my all-time favourite Discworld novels. 

Pratchett came up with a pretty clever and fantastic story for The Last Continent, which sees several of his established characters get involved in wackiness all around a newly discovered continent.  The main story follows Rincewind as he tracks across the wastelands of XXXX after getting sent there at the end of his previous novel, Interesting Times (there was an accident with a butterfly), and he is now primarily concerned with trying to find a way home.  However, mysterious forces soon work to turn him into the hero who will save XXXX from a thousand-year crippling drought.  Rincewind, who is more concerned with reaching the nearest port, soon gets involved with all manner of road bandits, deadly creatures, drunken locals and an annoying talking kangaroo, all of which lead him to the secrets at the heart of this lost continent.  At the same time, the wizard faculty at Unseen University are faced with a serious problem when their trusty orangutan colleague, the Librarian, falls ill, and they require his real name to work a spell to save him.  However, the only person who knows the Librarian’s real name is Rincewind, and so the faculty blunder their way through a magical portal to find him.  However, in predictable fashion, they find themselves trapped on a weird island thousands of years in the past and forced to deal with an immature and slightly beetle-obsessed god of evolution.  

I really enjoyed both story arcs contained within this book, and Pratchett did an amazing job bringing them together.  Both have some fantastic and weird elements to them and they make great use of the particular adventures and attitudes of their relevant characters.  While Rincewind is forced to run away from all manner of deadly situations you typically see here in Australia (let me tell you, the dropbears and road gangs are murder), the wizard faculty blunder their way through all manner of unique situations, mostly by ignoring what is happening to them.  Each storyline is unique and has some fantastic highlights, but the real strength is the way in which Pratchett combines them together into one cohesive narrative.  Not only are both distinctive arcs perfectly spread out and separated throughout the course of the book, but Pratchett does a fantastic job combining them together in a clever way.  This ended up serving as a great near-final adventure for Rincewind (he’s more of a supporting character in his following appearances), and I think it did a wonderful job wrapping up his main arc.  While readers should probably read some of the earlier Discworld novels featuring Rincewind (especially the preceding Interesting Times), The Last Continent can easily be read alone, and readers will have an outstanding time reading this fun and compelling comedic adventure.

In my opinion, The Last Continent is one of Pratchett’s funniest novels, although I might be somewhat biased by my own personal humour and background.  I always have an outstanding time reading this book and there are so many clever jokes and amusing references that I cannot help but laugh, no matter how many times I hear them.  This book has a lot of Pratchett’s classic humour elements to it, such as the unusual quirks of his various characters and the funny little footnotes, filled with great references and punchlines.  The author goes off on some very entertaining segues during this book, and I love some of the great jokes he came up with, especially those that make fun of Australia.

Now, despite what the author says at the front of this book, The Last Continent is clearly a parody of Australia, and Pratchett clearly enjoyed utilising every single Australian reference or cliché he could think of to craft his funny book.  The continent of XXXX is an over-the-top fantasy version of Australia, with many of the outrageous stereotypes that you would expect, as well as some more subtle choices, and it serves as a truly amusing setting for this book, especially as Rincewind perfectly plays the part of clueless tourist.  While you could potentially discount The Last Continent as merely satirising Australia, I have always seen it as something cleverer, as I think that Pratchett was more making fun of the stereotypes that outsiders came up with rather than Australia itself.  That being said, Pratchett, as a Brit, did take a few good shots, although that’s only to be expected.  As an Australian myself, I always enjoy when comedy writers try to encapsulate Australia in their works, as it is quite amusing to see what they reference.  I always thought that Pratchett did this the best with The Last Continent, as he really dived into so many aspects of Australia life, nature and culture, and there are some truly funny jokes contained within.  Australian historical or cultural icons like Mad Max, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Skippy, The Man From Snowy River, Crocodile Dundee, and Ned Kelly are utilised in this book to great effect throughout The Last Continent, and there are some truly outrageous and clever references and jokes here.

While The Last Continent is filled with many, many funny Australian jokes, a few really stick out to me.  I personally always laugh so hard when Death, wanting to learn more about the continent his elusive prey Rincewind has landed on, decides to ask his library for a list of all the deadly animals on XXXX.  However, this results in him being buried by a massive pile of reference books, including “Dangerous Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Jellyfish, Insects, Spiders, Crustaceans, Grasses, Trees, Mosses and Lichens of Terror Incognita: (Volume 29c, Part Three).  This is followed up by a request for a list of harmless creatures on the continent, and a single card appears bearing the sentence “some of the sheep”.  I love that over-the-top joke about how dangerous Australia’s wildlife is (it is honestly not that bad, although my editor was bitten by a sheep the other day), and that was one of the best ways I have seen it bought up.  I also loved the references to Australian hero worship of notorious criminals such as Ned Kelly or the jolly swagman from Waltzing Matilda.  There are some amazing jokes here, from people attempting to make catchy ballads, to the prison guards providing advice and help on last words and escape possibilities, all of which capture the rebellious Australian spirit.  I particularly liked Pratchett’s version of Waltzing Matilda, which was perfect in its rhyme, its satirical analysis of the original poem, and how it fit into The Last Continent’s narrative:

“Once a moderately jolly wizard camped by a waterhole under the shade of a tree that he was completely unable to identify.  And he swore as he hacked and hacked at a can of beer, saying ‘what kind of idiots put beer in tins?’”

Other great Australian comedic sequences for me include the scene where the Unseen University wizards attempt to design a duck by committee, resulting in the mighty platypus, an impromptu Mad Max road chase with horse-drawn carts and the constant references to a certain line in our national anthem.  All of these jokes, and more, were pretty amazing and I really enjoyed seeing some of the outrageous and over-the-top elements that British culture picks up about Australia.

While I really enjoyed all the fun references to Australia, some of Pratchett’s best jokes in The Last Continent occurred during the secondary storyline that followed the faculty of Unseen University as they go back in time and encounter the god of evolution.  The author uses this part of the book to make comedic observations about time travel, evolution and advanced biology.  Not only does include a particularly hilarious sequence in which someone tries to explain the grandfather paradox to a group of wilfully ignorant wizards, but there are some truly funny jokes about evolution and biology which cleverly reference some advanced concepts and historical basis of the science.  While I read this book years ago, it wasn’t until I took some specific biology classes that I fully grasped just how intelligent some of the jokes in this part of the book are.  I personally love a book which you can come back to time and time again and find some new joke or layer to, and this is the case with The Last Continent, which no doubt still contains elements or references I’ve missed.  All of this results in a comically brilliant read, and The Last Continent remains one of my favourite Disworld reads as a result.

I have always enjoyed the great character choices contained within this book, as Pratchett brings together some old favourites, as well as a few entertaining new ones, to tell the story.  The main character of The Last Continent is Pratchett’s original Discworld protagonist, Rincewind, the cowardly and inept hero who cannot even spell “wizard” properly, but who has served as a world-saving hero on multiple occasions.  Rincewind is always a particularly fun character to follow, not only because he constantly finds himself caught in all manner of unique situations which he heroically tries to run away from (he has become quite the expert at running away), but he has a certain realistic approach to life that allows him to see through the ridiculousness around him and address it in a funny manner.  At this point in the series, Rincewind has been bounced around from adventure to adventure against his will so much that he has developed a bit of knack for knowing when it is going to happen again, including figuring out all the signs someone gives off when they are trying to con him into being a hero.  It proves to be quite entertaining to see Rincewind try to escape from people trying to drag him into the narrative, especially as all his attempts to get out of dangerous situations generally put him in even worse trouble.  It is also really worth seeing Rincewind’s reactions to the various elements of XXXX life, especially as he soon begins to realise that everyone there has some very unusual ideas about how to live and die, most of which he is very opposed to.  I really enjoyed this more mature and somewhat resigned version of Rincewind and I have to say that this is one of my more favourite adventures of his (either this or Interesting Times).  It was definitely great to see the character get a happy ending towards the end of the book for once, which he frankly deserved after his last few adventures.

While Rincewind is tearing it up in not-Australia, Pratchett also dedicates around half of The Last Continent to the characters who form the faculty of the Disc’s premier wizard school, Unseen University.  Many wizard characters have featured in the Discworld books, but this current iteration of the faculty (with the exception of the Librarian) was originally introduced in the 10th book, Moving Pictures, and has remained pretty constant ever since.  This group includes the hunting-obsessed Archchancellor, Mustrum Ridcully; the quite insane Bursar; the incredibly obese Dean; the amusing team of the Senior Wrangler, the Chair of Indefinite Studies and the Lecturer in Recent Runes; the orangutan Librarian (working in a library is dangerous work); and the long-suffering Ponder Stibbons, the youngest member of the faculty and the only one with any common sense.  Pratchett had previously done an amazing job building up all of these characters in prior books, highlighting their unique quirks and issues, including the overwhelmingly stubborn, childish and traditionalist personalities of the older wizards.  This excellent blend of personality types really makes the older wizard characters really amusing and their adventures, especially when encountering strange gods and creators who they generally ignore, are extremely funny.  While an entire book about these characters would potentially be a bit overwhelming, I think that Pratchett got the balance right in The Last Continent, and they ended up serving as a fun counterpoint to Rincewind.  Stibbons was also a particularly good straight-man to his fellow wizards, and the contrast between keen intellectualism and entrenched “wisdom” is a fantastic part of the book.  I rather enjoyed Stibbons arc in this book, especially as you get to appreciate the true depth of his frustration with his fellow wizards, although he does gain a deeper appreciation for them as the book progresses.  Other amusing storylines with the wizards includes the Senior Wrangler’s obsession with housekeeper, Mrs Whitlow, which eventually gets shared with some of the other wizards, and the uncontrollable shapeshifting infecting the Librarian, which makes for some entertaining gags.  I also really enjoyed the fact that much of the book’s plot revolves around the fact that no-one actually knows the Librarian’s name, a fun feature from the previous books, and it was interesting to see the reasons why this was the case.

Aside from this fun collection of wizard characters, Pratchett makes great use of a fine selection of supporting characters, each of whom add some fantastic fun to the overall story.  This includes a very inventive group of new characters, each of whom represent various parts of XXXX life, whether they be depressed operatic chefs, police officers more concerned with getting their charges ballads and famous last stands, bushland drovers, belligerent drinkers, desert-wandering crossdressers in a princess-themed cart and even a crazed road warrior named Mad.  Despite most of them being the result of a punchline or extended joke, Pratchett sets each of these characters up really well and ensures each of them has a fun and satisfying character arc in the book.  I also quite enjoyed the return of fan favourite character, Death, who goes on a bit of a tourist phase through the book.  I really liked Death’s random appearances throughout The Last Continent, especially as he drops some amusing anecdotes about dying in XXXX, and it was also great to see his current viewpoint on Rincewind.  Whereas before he was always determined to catch and kill Rincewind, as he was the one mortal who constantly got away from him, in this book, Death, who no longer has any idea of when Rincewind is actually going to die and is now quite fascinated by him, keeps himself appraised of his progress and is generally friendly to him, even if that freaks Rincewind out.  I also loved the appearance of another member of the extended Dibbler clan, even if the XXXX version was a parody of a certain unpleasant right-wing political figure here in Australia.  The appearance of another ruthlessly mercantile hot-food dispenser with inedible food is a great continuation of a running joke Pratchett has been using for several books, and it is one that really pays dividends in The Last Continent, when Rincewind recounts all the terrible foods he’s eaten over the years from the various Dibblers he has encountered, which then runs into a fantastic diatribe about the dangers of national delicacies, especially XXXX’s meat pie floater (a real meal here in Australia, although there is no way in hell I would ever eat one).  All of these characters add so much to the book’s story, and I love the inventiveness that Pratchett puts into them.

While I have enjoyed all the Discworld novels in their physical paperback format at one point or another, my preferred way to experience a Pratchett novel these days is in its audiobook form.  All of the Discworld novels have been turned into excellent audiobooks over the years, and The Last Continent is no exception.  Narrated by the outstanding Nigel Planer, who ended up narrating over 20 Discworld novels (The Last Continent was the penultimate Discworld book he leant his voice to), and with an easily enjoyable runtime of just under 10 hours, this is a pretty fantastic audiobook that I regularly rush through in not time at all.  I find that all the awesome jokes in this book come across in the audiobook format extremely well, even the jokes traditionally contained within the book’s footnotes, and Planer’s witty voice is always pitched at the best tone to bring out the joke’s potential.  I really appreciate the way in which Planer utilised the same voices for the various recurring characters he has used in all their previous appearances, and each of the voices fit the characters very well.  I also really enjoyed the voices he came up with all the new characters, and it was exceedingly amusing to see him come up with a range of Australian voices and accents and have them belt out a variety of outlandish slang terms.  All in all, this turns out to be an excellent audiobook version of The Last Continent and it is pretty much the only way I enjoy this novel at the moment.

As you can see from the huge review I pulled together above (I have written university essays that were shorter), I really love The Last Continent.  This fantastic Australian parody is easily one of my favourite Discworld novels, and I deeply enjoy the outstanding and entertaining story that Pratchett wove around this outrageous version of my country.  Anyone who is familiar with anything Australian is going to have an incredible time reading this book, and I honestly do not think I could give this anything less than five stars.  A highly recommended read from one of the funniest authors of all time.

Throwback Thursday: The Empire Trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst

The Empire Trilogy Cover.jpg

Publishers: Doubleday, HarperCollins

Publication Dates:

Daughter of the Empire – 1987

Servant of the Empire – 1990

Mistress of the Empire – 1992

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

If you are a fan of Raymond E. Feist’s books, check out my review of his latest work, King of Asheshttps://unseenlibrary.com/2018/05/30/king-of-ashes-by-raymond-e-feist/

Set in the same universe as fantasy author Raymond E. Feist’s legendary Riftwar Cycle is The Empire Trilogy, which serves as a fantastic companion series to his main body of work.  This trilogy, made up of Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire and Mistress of the Empire was written in collaboration with fellow fantasy author Janny Wurst and represents an intriguing piece of literature that shines not only as a side series to Feist’s first two books but also as a substantial and powerful standalone series.

I first came across this series during my school days, when I had to read Daughter of the Empire for a fantasy literature course (great book, terrible teacher).  I was already very familiar with Feist’s massive fantasy universe, having read all the other books available in the series at that point, though in a somewhat eclectic order.  I had not previously attempted to read The Empire Trilogy before this point, but I eagerly dived into Daughter of the Empire when I got my copy from the school library.  I was immediately entranced by the story and read it several times in that semester, especially during the more boring classes.  Upon completing the first book, I also sought out the second and third books in the series in order to see how the fantastic storylines continued.  In recent years, I was lucky enough to find audiobook copies of the entire trilogy, and have since re-listened to it several times.  These more recent perusals only confirmed my enjoyment of this series, as well as my love of Feist’s massive fantasy world.

The first book of The Empire Trilogy, Daughter of the Empire, was published in 1987, one year after the final book in The Riftwar Saga, the first trilogy in Feist’s massive Riftwar Cycle.  In many ways, Daughter of the Empire and the second book, Servant of the Empire, serve as accompaniments to Feist’s original series, as both plots are set at the same time and events that occur in Magician and Silverthorn have significant impacts within The Empire Trilogy.

Daughter of the Empire Cover.jpg

The Empire Trilogy follows Mara of the Acoma, a young woman who becomes the Ruling Lady of her house after the sudden death of her male relatives.  Through the course of this series, Mara must become a strong ruler to maintain the honour of her family and ensure the survival of all the people pledged to her house.  Mara must use all of her cunning to overcome powerful opponents while adapting new methods and viewpoints that are uncommon in her regimented culture in order to survive.

This series is set in the world of Kelewan, a vast planet inhabited by several strange alien species, and mainly focuses on the inhabitants of the massive Empire of Tsuranuanni.  The Tsurani were introduced in Feist’s first book, Magician, where they travel through a magical rift to the world of Midkemia and clash with the inhabitants of this new planet in an event known as the Rift War.  The Tsurani are a race of humans based on a combination of real world cultures, such as the Japanese, Koreans and the Aztecs.  For example, the overriding Tsurani ideal of honour, an exceedingly important concept in the books that strongly influences their culture and way of life, is very strongly based on feudal Japanese ideals of the samurai and bushido.  Kelewan is explored within Magician through the eyes of Feist’s main protagonist, Pug.  Midkemia is the main setting for the books in the Riftwar Cycle.  While Kelewan is visited in later books of the Riftwar Cycle, most notably in Silverthorn, it becomes a more underutilised setting as Feist’s overall series continues, before eventually being destroyed in Wrath of a Mad God.

Each of the books in this trilogy contains epic and captivating stories that not only highlight life in these alien planets but also show a tale of survival and victory against all odds as the protagonist, Mara, faces and overcomes the superior forces arrayed against her.  The first book in the trilogy is Daughter of the Empire, which introduces many of the series’ main characters and storylines.  The protagonist and main point-of-view character is Mara of the Acoma, who is dramatically pulled from her peaceful life as a novice priestess into the deadly and treacherous world of Tsurani politics.  Mara’s father and brother were killed during a battle on Midkemia because of treachery from the most powerful house in the Empire, the Minwanabi.  As a result, Mara is forced to take on the role of Ruling Lady to save her house from being destroyed and her retainers taken as slaves or forced to become honourless bandits.  With the vast majority of her soldiers killed in Midkemia, Mara must find creative ways to stop the Minwanabi and other rival houses from wiping her out.

Mara proves to be an effective leader, bending Tsurani traditions to her favour, recruiting talented followers and forming new alliances.  Her machinations result in a political marriage to a brutal husband whom Mara must endure until the moment is right to remove him.  Watching the protagonist rebuild her house through any means necessary is a fantastic focus of this book which really allows the reader to get a strong idea of Tsurani politics, ideals and culture, as well as Mara’s determination as the central protagonist.  The climax of the book is set within the Minwanabi stronghold, which Mara has been forced to visit in order to attend a celebration for the Warlord (the Tsurani equivalent of a feudal Japanese Shogun).  This final part of the book is filled with significant tension and fear, as everyone is well aware that the Minwanabi will murder Mara before she leaves the party.  Mara must find a way to use the Tsurani honour system to prevent her own assassination while also striking a blow against her opponent.  Daughter of the Empire is an exceptional introduction to this fantastic series, and is a spectacular novel in its own right.

Feist and Wurst followed up their first entry in this series with another sensational novel that doubles down on the action and intrigue and contains some of the best sequences in the entire series.  Servant of the Empire directly follows on from the events of the first book and sees Mara and her house still in great peril.  Mara may have overcome the previous ruling lord of the Minwanabi, but her enemies are still the most powerful house in the Empire.  While the new lord is nowhere near as competent as his father was, he has called up the family’s most devious and destructive member, Tasaio, the man who organised the death of Mara’s father and brother.  As the Minwanabi plot against the Acoma, Mara is distracted by her acquisition of a group of Midkemian slaves, especially the charismatic Kevin of Zūn.  As Mara and Kevin fall in love, the Acoma are drawn into a series of battles on many different fronts, but Kevin’s alien way of thinking offers Mara a distinct advantage.  But events completely outside Mara’s control may have the greatest impact on the future of her house.  Both the magician Pug and the chaotic event of the Riftwar bring significant change to the Empire, and Mara and her enemies must seek new ways to turn these events to their advantage.  While Mara’s relationship with Kevin provides her with strength, it also represents her greatest weakness.

Servant of the Empire Cover.jpg

There is a lot going on within this book, including a number of large-scale battle sequences, as well several scenes focusing on the Empire’s political intrigue.  The standout scenes for me have to be either the extended sequence in the arena which features a different point of view to the chaotic magic unleased by Pug in Magician, or the sequences where the biggest houses in the Empire stage a night-time battle of assassins in the halls of the Imperial Palace.  While this might be my favourite book in the series, I am not the biggest fan of the way the romance angle between Mara and Kevin is portrayed.  Kevin, however, is a fantastic addition for this book, and it is intriguing to have a character that has a similar viewpoint as the reader to observe and comment on Tsurani honour, politics and culture.

The third book in the series, Mistress of the Empire, is set some years after Servant of the Empire and sees Mara and the Acoma once again up against a superior enemy.  After their victories in the second book, the Acoma are now the most powerful house in the Empire, but Mara’s sins have come back to haunt her.  When the Hamoi Tong assassins initiate a devastating strike at the Acoma, the Assembly of Magicians forestalls Mara’s vengeance against the house she holds responsible.  The magicians, known throughout the Empire as “Great Ones” are determined to limit the Acoma’s influence, and Mara soon finds herself in a hidden war against the most destructive force in all of Kelewan.  At the same time, her former brother-in-law, Jiro of the Anasati, seeks retribution against Mara, while her loyal Spy Master Arakasi seeks to find a way to finally destroy the Hamoi Tong.  Travelling outside the Empire, Mara uncovers dark secrets about the Assembly, and her actions will have major impacts on the future of Tsurani life.

Mistress of the Empire is an excellent conclusion to this trilogy that not only provides a compelling story with exciting new additions but also neatly wraps up storylines from the previous two books.  While this book probably has the least connections to the events of Feist’s main series, it dives deeper into the history and hidden lore of Kelewan and the Empire, including the Assembly of Magicians, a sinister and powerful group in Feist’s universe.  Many of the main characters get satisfying endings to their storylines, and we get to see several chapters told from the point of view of the Spy Master Arakasi.  Arakasi is one of the series’ best characters; however, due to the nature of his work, the readers usually do not get to see him in action, instead only hearing second-hand accounts of his missions.  Readers get to enjoy scenes that focus on Arakasi’s investigations into both the Assembly of Magicians and the Hamoi Tong, which also serve to expand on Arakasi as a character.  Readers will also enjoy the fact that, after two books in which the antagonists need to keep up the appearance that they are obeying the Tsurani code of honour in their battles with the Acoma, Mara is now forced to go up against an opponent outside the typical laws and practices of the Empire.

One of the most interesting aspects of this series is how the authors have tied the books into the events of Feist’s original trilogy.  There are actually a few pre-emptive mentions of characters and events that become an important part The Empire Trilogy in Feist’s first book, Magician.  For example, the Shinzawai, a major house, whose members become key characters in The Empire Trilogy, are first introduced in this book as friends of Pug.  During Pug’s adventures in Kelewan, there is mention of a visit to the Lady of the Acoma, an event that subsequently occurs in Servant of the Empire.  The Minwanabi betrayal of the Acoma forces is also described to the Midkemian protagonists of Magician by a former Tsurani slave in an attempt to highlight the Tsurani system of honour and politics.  The first book in The Empire Trilogy, Daughter of the Empire is actually set in the time gap between the two halves of Magician, and takes a closer look at the impact that the Riftwar has had in Kelewan.

A more direct connection to the series is established in Servant of the Empire.  As mentioned above, long-running Riftwar Cycle protagonist, Pug, makes several appearances in this book, mirroring events that occur in second half of Magician.  Events that occur in Feist’s original trilogy have severe impacts on the plans of Mara and her enemies, such as the destruction of a huge number of Tsurani lords in the final battle of Magician and the death of the new Warlord in Silverthorn.  All of these become significant plot points in Servant of the Empire, and it is absolutely fascinating to see the impacts of events in other books.

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The most spectacular crossover event comes about halfway through Servant of the Empire, which shows some of the cataclysmic events from Magician from a whole new perspective.  In the second half of Magician, the powerful magician Pug unleashes his full fury on an arena full of Tsurani, sending wave after wave of magical attacks and disasters on the arena’s audience.  The scene is very intense when told from Pug’s point of view; however, readers of the second book in The Empire Trilogy are shown the absolute terror and destruction that a member of this crowd experienced during these events.  Mara, Kevin and a few Acoma retainers are present when the magical attack occurs and must flee through the panicking mob while also avoiding enemy assassins.  The sheer chaos and dread experienced by these characters and the surrounding crowd is astounding, and turns an incredible scene from Magician into one of the most intense and memorable sequences Feist has ever written.

Throughout the series, the Mara and her house are engaged in significant conflict with other factions in the Tsuranuanni Empire.  In the first two books, their opponents are primarily the most powerful house in the Empire, the Minwanabi, while the third book sees Mara in conflict with another influential house, as well as the Assembly of Magicians and the Hamoi Tong assassins.  As a result, the main focus of these books is usually the battles for supremacy between the Acoma and their opponents.  However, what sets these stories apart from other fantasy novels is the way that these battles are fought.  While an all-out war would probably ensure a quicker conclusion to this struggle, the Acoma and their enemies are forced to fight within their nation’s rules of conflict and honour.  As a result, the participants are forced to fight in a far more shadowy conflict.  While there are battles between armies, often with one side in disguise, the participants also fight using economics, espionage and politics.  Throughout the book, the protagonist makes alliances, build up her resources and use her influence to mould the politics of the realm to her advantage.  The reliance on honour is a fascinating part of this battle, and the reader will enjoy seeing the protagonist use this concept of honour to manipulate her opponents.  The real fun comes when the various participants are no longer bound by the rules and are able to unleash much more devastating and direct attacks on each other, such as the massive battle in the imperial palace that takes place in Servant of the Empire.  The battles for survival and control of the Tsuranuanni Empire represent an absolutely captivating and exciting part of this series, especially when the Acoma spymaster Arakasi gets involved.

Readers of The Empire Trilogy are also gifted with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the people, races and culture of Kelewan.  This world and some of its history was explored in Feist’s earlier books, including Magician, where an extended magical vision showed the reader key points in the planet’s history.  However, for those readers who wish to have a truly deep understanding of life in Kelewan, and the Tsuranuanni Empire in particular, the books in this trilogy are the best things to read.  Through the protagonist’s eyes the reader gets to explore the various pieces of land that make up the Empire, as well as the creatures that inhabit these lands.  Feist and Wurst also spend significant amount of time looking at the Cho’ja, the ant-like alien creatures who were first introduced in MagicianDaughter of the Empire takes a very interesting look at the Cho’ja, especially as an early part of the book focuses on the protagonist’s attempts to win a Cho’ja colony for her land.  In order to do this, she enters a hive and negotiates with a newly hatched queen in order to provide Mara with additional warriors and access to silk spinners.  In order to gain an edge on her competition, Mara attempts to understand the cultural differences between her race and the Cho’ja, and is able to come up with some intriguing conclusions as a result.  These initial and interesting observations of this race are then massively expanded upon in Mistress of the Empire when Mara, in an attempt to find out the secrets of the Assembly of Magicians, uncovers the true history of the Cho’ja and the ancient pacts they are bound to.  Readers will be absolutely fascinated by the lore of these creatures, and there are some great scenes featuring Cho’ja economy and their skills in battle.  In addition to the Cho’ja, Feist and Wurst also explore some of the human nations that exist in Kelewan, including the desert tribes of Dustari and the Thuril.  These explorations aren’t as detailed as the authors’ look at the Cho’ja and the Tsurani, but are intriguing in their own right, as the authors create some unique cultural features for them.

While the examination of the Cho’ja and the other human races of Tsurani is an intriguing and detailed part of the books in The Empire Trilogy, it pales in comparison to the massive amount of time spent exploring Kelewan’s main civilisation, the Tsuranuanni Empire.  The vast majority of the three books is spent within the Empire, with only a small portion of Mistress of the Empire spent outside.  Feist introduced a lot of the elements of the Tsurani in Magician, but this is expanded on substantially in this series.  Readers who read through these books will be left with an incredible amount of information about Tsurani politics, religion, culture, societal makeup and various other parts of day-to-day life in the Tsuranuanni Empire.  The use and examination of Tsurani politics at many different levels is an extremely compelling part of these books, and the various meetings and manipulations that occur represent a very enjoyable part of the book.  The concept of Tsurani honour is also explored in great detail.  Honour is a massive and defining part of Tsurani culture, and the various characters risk everything to maintain it.  Living or dying without honour is considered the worst thing imaginable as it will impact on the individual’s reincarnation in the next life.  The concept of honour is particularly skewed towards the Tsurani nobles, and it often takes an outside perspective, like that of Kevin, to identify how unfair the system is.  Mara becomes particularly adept at using this honour system to her own advantage.  While absolutely devoted to maintaining her family’s honour, her interactions with Kevin lead her to try and make some substantial changes in Tsurani society.  The books in the trilogy also reveal some deeper understandings about Tsurani history and the various secret organisations such as the Assembly of Magicians have been protecting.  While physically reading these books allows the reader to absorb a lot of this lore, I would also suggest that people check out the various audiobooks that have been produced, which can help listeners to absorb more of these amazing story elements.

I do have a few minor criticisms about this series, but nothing that is really going to change my high regard for it.  There are some unnecessary scenes where Mara is scolded and nagged by her nurse, Nacoya, who quickly becomes one of the series’ more annoying characters.  I felt that some of the scenes featuring Nacoya’s constant criticism took away from Mara’s image as a skilful and intelligent leader, and just made her seem like a foolish girl.  Luckily Nacoya is easily overshadowed by several of the other supporting characters, such as Keyoke, Arakasi and Lujan.  I also found parts of the relationship between Mara and Kevin in Servant of the Empire to be very frustrating, especially as they seemed to keep cycling through the same problems and issues.  Luckily, Kevin’s ‘barbarian’ insights and ideas more than make up for this, as he produces some excellent battle and political tactics throughout the book.  Overall, these are some fairly minor criticisms from me, and I really love all three of these books.

The Empire Trilogy from Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst is a spectacular fantasy series set in the same incredible universe as the Riftwar Cycle.  This trilogy of books is an amazing series in its own right; however, it’s real strength comes from it being a clever tie-in to Feist’s main series of books.  Featuring some incredible story elements, exceptional action-packed scenes and a detailed setting stuffed full of lore, The Empire Trilogy is some of these two talented authors’ best works, which still stand up to this day.  The series is required reading for anyone who has read Magician and other books in the Riftwar Cycle, but it also comes highly recommended for those readers looking for that next fantasy series to fall in love with.

My Rating (Series and Each Book):

Four and a half stars