Publishers: Doubleday, HarperCollins
Collected Volume – Amazon
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 Ashes: https://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.
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.
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.
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 Magician. Daughter 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):