Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Volume 3 – The Burning Seas

Darth Vader - The Burning Seas Cover

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Writer: Charles Soule

Artists: Giuseppe Camuncoli

              Daniele Orlandini

              David Curiel

              Java Tartaglia

Publication Date – 11 September 2018

 

I have previously reviewed the second volume of this series here:

https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/09/12/star-wars-darth-vader-dark-lord-of-the-sith-volume-2-legacys-end/

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The creative team behind the amazing Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series return with their third volume, The Burning Seas, which continues to follow the early adventures of one of fiction’s greatest villains, Darth Vader.  This third volume contains issues #13-18 of what has to be one of my favourite current ongoing series.

This new volume is set one year after the formation of the Empire, and the Emperor is determined to show off the full military power he now commands.  To that end, he dispatches Vader to the aquatic planet of Mon Cala, which has been resisting attempts to be completely incorporated into the growing Empire, and whose King appears to be receiving advice from a Jedi.  However, this will not be Vader’s first journey to Mon Cala.  Years ago, during the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi saved the planet from a Separatist invasion and supported the young Mon Calamari king’s ascent to the throne.

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Leading a force of his Inquisitors to Mon Cala, Vader attempts to investigate the potential Jedi influencer, but the situation quickly devolves into all-out war.  With Governor Wilhuff Tarkin leading the Imperial invasion, Vader and his forces attempt to locate the Jedi behind the unfolding events.  How will Vader’s return impact the planet of Mon Cala, and what events will the mysterious Jedi’s actions have for the future of the galaxy?

In additional adventures, Governor Tarkin finds himself in the unenviable position of owing Darth Vader a favour.  Vader’s request is a hunt with a twist: the hunter will be Tarkin, while the hunted will be Vader himself.  Bored by a lack of challenges, Vader has tasked Tarkin to provide him with some worthy competition.  Will Tarkin earn Vader’s respect, or will he and his team of mercenaries be the next victims of Vader’s rage?  In addition, Vader has been tasked to investigate sabotage around the construction of the Death Star on Geonosis.  As Vader encounters the creators of the Death Star, Commander Krenik and Galen Erso, he uncovers not only the saboteurs but also the full potential of the Death Star and the impact it could have on Vader’s position.

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Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith returns with another fantastic and captivating volume that not only furthers the adventures of Darth Vader but also ties the series into the wider Star Wars universe while fleshing out backstories and lore not explored in the movies.  In this volume alone several minor characters’ pasts are shown, the history between Vader and Tarkin is explored and there is a particular focus on the events leading up to the Rogue One movie.  Dedicated Star Wars fans will love that the main story of this volume is set on the planet of Mon Cala and introduces several key Mon Calamari characters.  The readers are gifted with new origin stories for Admiral Raddus, who leads the Rebel fleet in Rogue One, and a young Commander Ackbar, famous for the line ‘It’s a trap’, which highlight their early abilities and show why they were so determined to fight the Empire.  Fans of the Clone Wars television show also get an intriguing conclusion to the three-part Water War arc of the show’s fourth season.  During this television arc, Anakin Skywalker and his allies helped save the planet from an invasion and helped the young Mon Calamari King Lee-Char ascend to the throne.  Now, in a reversal of this arc, Vader returns as an invader and his main target is the Mon Calamari king he once protected with his life.  It is a compelling switch that creates some terrific drama and emotion during this comic book arc.  Surprisingly enough, there is also a focus on the Mon Calamari cruisers, the large imposing ships that become a fixture of Rebel Alliance and the subsequent Resistance.  Several of the plans underway involve the future of these ships, and the twisted priorities of a Jedi regarding them are quite chilling to behold.  In addition to the main story of this volume, one of the issues is heavily involved in the construction of the Death Star.  As a result, Vader interacts with several characters who feature in the Rogue One movie, and the creative team are able to suggest he had a lot more to do with the events of Rogue One than shown in the movie.  This issue also sees Vader return to Geonosis, the main setting for the latter half of the Attack of the Clones movie, and it is very cool to see him return to this important location in his previous life.

On top of the above insertions into the Star Wars universe, the creative team also spend a significant amount of time in this volume exploring the relationship between Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin.  When both characters are introduced in A New Hope, Tarkin always appeared to be in command of Vader and appeared to be someone that Vader respected.  It was an unusual relationship, considering Vader’s personality and his role as the Emperor’s apprentice.  This volume creates a fascinating new narrative that shows when Tarkin was put in charge and why Vader allowed it to happen.  This is first shown during the main story of this volume, when Governor Tarkin, who is leading the invasion of Mon Cala, requests Vader’s assistance to end the war quickly.  Vader is shown in these issues to independent from Tarkin, who still shows the ability to get what he wants from Vader, even if it may cost him down the line.  The creative team spend a good amount of time during the four issues that focus on the invasion of Mon Cala highlighting Tarkin’s tactical ability and ruthlessness, reminding the reader what a great villain Tarkin is in his own right.

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The rivalry between Vader and Tarkin comes to a head in the sixth issue of this volume, when the two of them hunt each other on a wild planet.  This is one of my favourite stories in the whole Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series so far, as the two Imperial heavyweights go head to head in a true battle of the villains.  This issue does an amazing job of highlighting the attributes of both characters.  Tarkin’s cunning, intelligence and determination to win are in full display, while Vader is shown to be not only a destructive force but also a creative opponent who is able to surprise even Tarkin.  The conclusion of this story is very clever and helps define the relationship these two characters have in the movie.  The final issue of this volume finds Vader officially under Tarkin’s command, but shows that Vader is not as subservient as Tarkin would wish.  The main focus of their rivalry in this volume is the Death Star, especially as Tarkin is convinced that his creation will make Vader obsolete.  Soule laces some suggestions during this final issue that many readers will find extremely intriguing and puts a whole new light on Vader and Tarkin’s relationship, especially in the final exchange between the two, where Vader presents a prediction to Tarkin: ‘If you invest too much of yourself in this battle station – – it may end up your tomb.’  The exploration of the relationship between these two dynamic and iconic Star Wars villains is an exceptional part of this new addition to the fantastic series and a really cool feature for Star Wars fans.

For the first time in this series, the creative team tackle a large-scale Star Wars battle as the forces of the Empire attempt to invade or subdue the entire planet of Mon Cala.  The battle sequences that are produced are breathtaking in their scope and execution, as the reader is treated to land battles, space fights, orbital bombardments, battles above, below and on the planet’s ocean surface and even a weaponised tidal wave which sweeps away masses of Imperial forces.  The artwork of these battle scenes is really exceptional; especially the sequences set underwater, which offers an unique scenery backdrop not typically seen in other Star Wars comics.  The creative team do a fantastic job showcasing the massive military capacities of the Empire and the pure devastation their newly created military machine can do.  I also loved the clever and very entertaining way that the rogue Jedi Ferren Barr manages to use certain Imperial forces against Vader’s Inquisitors, in what has to be one of best examples of karma in the entire history of Star Wars.

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As they have in the previous volumes, the creative team behind the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series go out of their way to showcase how much of a badass their titular character can be.  In addition to the issue in which he powers through all that Tarkin can throw at him, Vader spends the rest of this volume cutting through opponents like they are nothing, including hordes of Mon Calamari and Geonosians.  In addition to these fairly standard actions (standard, that is, for an all-powerful Sith Lord), Vader does some other extraordinary actions, whether it’s surviving explosive rock falls, attempting and nearly succeeding to push back a tidal wave, surviving at the bottom of the ocean and then subsequently taming and eventually killing a massive sea monster he encounters there using only the force, Vader appears like an absolute boss.  He also has a fun reaction when his Inquisitors abandon their mission and attempt to save him from the bottom of an ocean, instead of being grateful, he calls them fools and makes it very clear that ‘I never need…RESCUE’.  It is again captivating to watch how far Vader continues to move further and further away from the Jedi way, as even at the start of this series he had the potential to come back from the dark side.  However, his actions in this book, such as the utter destruction of something significant and good that he previously created, re-imagining his previous battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi with devastating new details, and his slaughter of a whole brood of Geonosians that he compares to animals just like he previously did with the Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, once again show how far he has fallen.  I must also highlight the great artwork in this series when it comes to Vader.  Not only are his exploits shown in full and exquisite detail but the artwork presents him in such a sinister light in every single scene he is in.  This is another masterful portrayal of an exceptional fiction villain.

The third volume of the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, The Burning Seas, is another outstanding addition to one of this year’s most consistent and entertaining comic book series.  This specific volume features massive and intense battles, an intense fight for supremacy between Vader and the ruthless Tarkin, and the continued outrageous and destructive adventures of one of the greatest villains of all time.  This entire run of Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith is definitely worth getting into, and The Burning Seas is easily the best volume of this entire series so far.  A must read that comes highly recommended.

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My Rating:

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If you enjoy Star Wars fiction, check out some of my previous reviews:

https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/08/12/star-wars-thrawn-alliances-by-timothy-zahn/

https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/05/30/star-wars-last-shot-by-daniel-jose-older/

All-New Wolverine: Volumes 1 – 6: Complete Series by Tom Taylor

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Dates:

All-New Wolverine Vol. 1: The Four Sisters – 24 May 2016

All-New Wolverine Vol. 2: Civil War II – 8 November 2016

All-New Wolverine Vol. 3: Enemy of the State II – 3 May 2017

All-New Wolverine Vol. 4: Immune – 29 November 2017

All-New Wolverine Vol. 5: Orphans of X – 27 February 2018

All-New Wolverine Vol. 6: Old Woman Laura – 24 July 2018

 

Prepare yourself for an all-new Wolverine in this exciting new series from Tom Taylor and a skilled team of Marvel artists, as one of the best characters in the Marvel Universe, X-23, rises to take the place of one of comic’s most beloved superheroes.

Following the death of the original Wolverine, Logan, in the 2014 series Death of Wolverine, Marvel chose to elevate his clone and surrogate daughter, X-23, to the role of Wolverine.  Starting in 2015, the All-New Wolverine series followed X-23 as she took on the moniker of Wolverine and made it her own.  Originally running between November 2015 and May 2018, the series is made up of 35 issues.  These issues have been assembled together into six collected editions, which were released between May 2016 and July 2018.  With the upcoming return of the original Wolverine to the Marvel Universe, All-New Wolverine has been cancelled, and the character has reverted back to the X-23 moniker, with a new X-23 series having just started.

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I have been a major fan of X-23 for years, and find her to be one of the most interesting characters in the entire Marvel Universe.  As a result, I was excited to see how she would be utilised as the new Wolverine, and have been keenly collecting all the volumes in this series.  I had originally intended to review the latest volume, Old Woman Laura, by itself; however, as this volume ends the series, I thought I would take this opportunity to review the entire series in one go.

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The protagonist of this series, the brand new Wolverine, Laura Kinney, is a fascinating example of character creation, and it has been intriguing to see how this character has evolved over the last 15 years.  Originally known by the code name X-23, the character was first introduced in 2003, in the season 3 episode of the X-Men Evolution animated television series, X23, and was established as a female clone of Wolverine created by an evil scientific organisation.  In her first appearance in X-Men Evolution, X-23 took out every single X-Man and went toe-to-toe with Wolverine himself, only stopping when he broke through to her emotionally.  This was a surprisingly dark episode for kids cartoon, but the fun appeal of a young female Wolverine and her sheer badassary quickly made Laura a fan favourite character, and her transference in the comic universe was quickly established.  These days most people would recognise the character from her amazing appearance in the 2017 film Logan, played by young actor Dafne Keen, which showed a slightly altered version of her origin story.

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Her first appearance within the main comic Marvel Universe happened in the 2004 series NYX, where she was shown to be living in New York City.  She was later introduced to the X-Men in Uncanny X-Men 450, with her origin story fleshed out in two limited series.  The first of these series, Innocence Lost, looked at her creation, early life, training and missions as part of the institute that created her, as well as the relationship she had with her mother and their attempts to escape the institute.  The second series, Target X, follows on directly after Innocence Lost and focuses on Laura’s attempts to start a life outside of the institution, her interactions with her mother’s family and the pursuit that would haunt her for the rest of her life.  This second short series also shows how she ends up in New York in NYX and her first interactions with Wolverine, and is framed as a retelling of her life story to Captain America and Daredevil.  Both of these series are extremely well written and serve as an excellent introduction to the character.

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After her introduction, X-23 appeared in a number of different series including Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, New X-Men and Marvel Team-Up.  She was a major character in Volume 3 of X-Force and appeared in key roles in several of the larger X-Men storylines.  She obtained another X-23 series in 2010, before having starring roles in Avengers Academy, Avengers Arena and All-New X-Men.  Following The Death of Wolverine, Laura was involved in some of the following storylines dealing with his death before taking up the role of Wolverine herself.

This series was created by Australian author Tom Taylor and a rotating roster of Marvel authors.  Taylor has a range of writing experience in a number of different formats, including theatre, musicals, books and television, and has also created an animated series, The Deep.  Over the last 10 years, Taylor has worked on several different comic books, including several Star Wars series, some Injustice series, Superior Iron Man and Green Lantern Corps.  The original art style and new character design for the series was developed by veteran artist David Lopez, and the other artists closely replicated his style.

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The first volume of the All-New Wolverine, The Four Sisters, sees Laura newly in the role of Wolverine and keen to honour the name by becoming a non-lethal hero.  In this volume, she encounters four clones of herself that are being hunted by the sinister corporation who created them.  In order to save them, Laura must work with several other Marvel heroes, such as Dr Strange, Wasp and her boyfriend, Angel (the young one transported from a past timeline).  The volume ends with Laura taking in one of the surviving clones, the young girl Gabby, who becomes one of the main characters in the series.  This book is a fantastic introduction to this new incarnation of the character, and it sets the tone for the rest of the issues.

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Volume 2 of the series, Civil War II, starts with Laura teaming up with Squirrel Girl in a zany escapade to save a squirrel Laura wronged in the previous volume, while also introducing the actual wolverine Jonathan, who becomes Laura and Gabby’s pet.  The second adventure in this volume sees Laura and Gabby help SHIELD, Iron Man and Captain Marvel fight against the giant monster Fin Fang Foom.  During this story, Laura and Gabby encounter and rescue the Old Man Logan version of Wolverine.  While the first two issues are both fun significant, the main storyline of this volume ties into the Civil War II crossover event.  The Inhuman Ulysses has a vision of Logan killing Gabby, so SHIELD and Captain America attempt to intervene, but the confusion and chaos that follows only results in tragedy.  This sees an exciting tie-in to one of Marvel’s more intriguing and high-profile recent crossover events, and this volume also helps highlight the discord and disagreement that the other Marvel heroes were experiencing in the main Civil War II event.  Seeing Logan’s alternate world connections to Laura and Gabby is rather interesting, and the reveal of Gabby’s full potential as Laura’s main side character is amazing.

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The third volume, Enemy of the State II, sees the return of Laura’s arch-nemesis and sadistic former handler, Kimura, who is once again determined to make Laura’s life a living hell.  After engineering the massacre of a small town with Wolverine present, Kimura forces Laura and Gabby into hiding as part of a terrible plan to control Laura once again.  However, Gabby, with the help of Angel, Gambit, young Jean Grey and Nick Fury Jnr, has a plan to free Laura once and for all from the terror of Kimura.  This is probably the most emotional volume in the series, dealing with the protagonist’s biggest fear: being turned into a killing machine once again.  Enemy of the State II is strongly connected to both of the original X-23 series, especially Target X, and represents a massive turning point for the character.  It is fantastic to see some of these storylines concluded and Laura given the happy ending she’s been denied for so long.

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Volume 4, Immune, takes Wolverine up into the stars for an intergalactic adventure.  When an alien ship crash lands on Roosevelt Island, the dying alien child piloting it has time to whispers one name: Laura Kinney.  Within minutes, the island is infected with a fast-acting alien virus and is immediately quarantined.  Laura travels to the island and must work with Gabby, Ironheart, Logan, Daken and Deadpool to cure the disease.  Laura, Gabby and Jonathan than travel into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy in order to trace the origins of the alien virus, but they find a far more dangerous threat on the planet they visit.  This is a very fun volume that includes some notable team-ups, while at the same time really highlighting Laura’s potential for heroism.  This serves as a fantastic example of a really well-done one-off intergalactic adventure for a terrestrial based series and proves to be very entertaining.  It is probably the most laugh-out-loud funny volume in the series, with some remarkable interactions with characters such as Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

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The fifth volume of this series, Orphans of X, goes deeper into the mythology of Wolverine, as the only weapon that had the power to kill him, the Murumasa Blade, is recovered and unleashed upon his children.  A mysterious organisation known as the Orphans of X is hunting down and killing all of the Marvel mutants with claws and a healing factor.  Laura, Gabby and Daken must find a way to defend themselves from these devastating and well-coordinated attacks, but find themselves conflicted once they find out the truth behind the Orphans of X.  This is another heavy and emotional volume with a great story premise behind it.  This one ties into both Innocence Lost and Target X, and shows the devastating consequences of the Laura’s childhood missions.
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The final volume, Old Woman Laura, contains an interesting mixture of stories.  The first issue features Gabby and Deadpool teaming up to take down the scientific laboratory that Jonathan was rescued from in Volume 2.  The second story follows on from the Orphans of X storyline, and sees Laura and Amber Griffen, the daughter of one of Laura’s first kills, team up to take down the person who ordered the hit.  The final story is set far in the future and sees an older Laura and Gabby go on their final mission together in order rescue their long-lost sister, Bellona, from a dystopian landscape ruled by Dr Doom.  These are some intriguing and diverse stories, and it serves as a good wrap-up to the entire series.  The two team-ups in the first two adventures are very fun, while the issues showing the potential future for All-New Wolverine’s main characters is an intriguing and emotional affair that has some nice closing thoughts for this series.

A recurring theme throughout this series is Laura’s attempt to build on her character and to move past her childhood of being raised to be a vicious killer.  Now, as Wolverine, she’s trying to live up to the legacy of her father, the original Wolverine, and become a non-lethal superhero, even though she will still maim many of her opponents.  Taylor does a good job of conveying the guilt and responsibility that Laura feels.  There are times where Laura thinks back to her past with Wolverine, seeing herself in his shoes.  Like the original Wolverine, Laura establishes and maintains relationships with many of the other heroes in the Marvel Universe, most of whom find her to be a worthy replacement for Wolverine, even if they are surprised that she wanted to take on the mantle.  There are also elements of family involved in this story, as not only does Laura take responsibility for Gabby, but she becomes closer to members of the Wolverine family, including Daken and Old Man Logan.

This series is a bit lighter than you’d expect of a series focusing on Wolverine or X-23, and perhaps this ties into the overarching feeling of redemption that Taylor was trying to infuse into the story.  There is actually a huge amount of humour included within the various issues, including several crazy adventures and some real laugh-out-loud moments.  Examples of this include Squirrel Girl randomly showing up to declare that Laura has “wronged the squirrel world” and bringing along a real life wolverine to help get her point across (she was under the impression that Wolverine could understand real life wolverines, just like Squirrel Girl can understand squirrels).  Another of the series’ really funny scenes occurs when a serious conversation is interrupted by two burglars who break into the apartment and come face to face with Wolverine, Old Man Logan and Gabby.  Having all three characters break down laughing as they consider just how unlucky these burglars are is a fun, hilarious scenario.

While All-New Wolverine has a somewhat lighter tone, Taylor is still able to produce some deep and emotional stories throughout the series.  Many of these darker and more emotional stories are tied into the main character’s tragic past.  It is great to see several of the old storylines wrapped up, and I was glad to see Laura reunited with the family who was forced to go into hiding.

For me, one of the best parts of the All-New Wolverine is the introduction of new character Gabby, who becomes the secondary protagonist of this series.  Gabby is a young clone of Laura who has many of her abilities and training.  However, due to protection she experienced from her clone sisters, Gabby grew up without the emotional damage that Laura and other members of the Wolverine family experienced.  As a result, Gabby has a very funny and bubbly personality, as well as kick-ass combat skills, retractable claws and a healing factor.  Given the moniker Honey Badger, Gabby ends up accompanying Laura on a range of missions, and proves to be quite a capable field agent.  Much of the series’ comedy comes about because of her antics, as well as her humorous interactions with other members of the Marvel Universe, which sees her pull funny moments and comments out of several usually serious characters.  Her instant friendship with Deadpool is comedy gold, and the two play off each other wonderfully, easily stealing the show in the issues they feature in together.  Despite her major humorous overtones, Gabby does get serious when it comes to protecting her family, and she has several intense moments, as well as scenes where she makes scary threats in order to protect her sister.  Laura’s relationship with Gabby is a major part of the series, and it is great to see Laura mirror the role Wolverine had in her life as a mentor and parent.  Gabby is definitely one of my favourite new Marvel characters of the last couple of years, and I’m really hoping that she’ll have a similar role in the new X-23 series and will continue to have some insane adventures in the future.

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Lopez and the other artists of the All-New Wolverine series have created a great style for this series, and I loved the new costumes that they pulled together for Laura, as well as the original and unique look of Gabby.  There are some slight variations in drawing style between the various books, but the artists keep the style somewhat consistent throughout the series.  There are a number of drawn scenes throughout the book that are particularly beautiful or memorable for various reasons.  The final battle between Laura and Kimura in Volume 3 is very dark and brooding, but the artists are able to show the raw emotion on Laura’s face as she finally frees herself from Kimura’s shadow.  I was also particularly drawn to the striking drawings of the Hand assassins in Volume 5, where the assassins wore the masks of the Orphan X organisation.  The artists are also able to draw some funny pieces into their work.  The potential comic cover art that Gabby imagines when she finally comes up with a superhero moniker, Honey Badger, is fantastic, especially as several classic Wolverine covers are replaced with Gabby’s evilly smiling face.  I can also barely describe the awesomeness of the drawings in Volume 4 of the series, which see Gabby and Jonathon play with Baby Groot in the background in several funny scenes.  Overall, the art displayed in this series is fun and has many uses to enhance the story.

Overall, All-New Wolverine is a fantastic, entertaining and really enjoyable series that promotes one of Marvel Comics’ most unique characters into the role of Wolverine.  Featuring some amazing uses of humour, an excellent new supporting character and some deep, emotional storylines, this is an incredible series that is well worth getting into.  I am definitely keen to check out the new X-23 series that has just been released, and I will also be looking into the new X-Men Red series from the Australian creator of All-New Wolverine, Tom Taylor, which will feature both Laura and Gabby.  A perfect read for long term fans of the X-23 and the X-Men series, and also a great introduction to the comic universe if you loved X-23 in Logan.

My Rating (Series and Each Volume):

Five Stars

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

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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.

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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.

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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 Jenny 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