Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Empire Trilogy #2: Servant Of The Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Warts

Goodreads Summary: PLAY THE GAME

Mara of Acoma, Ruling Lady of her house, is a force to be reckoned with when playing the bloody politics of the Game of the Council.

She's made great gains for her followers within the Empire, including valuable new lands. But they need cultivating, and slaves are in short supply due to the incessant war effort against Midkemia.


Mara knows you don't get far without taking a gamble, so against advice she buys a group of Midkemian prisoners-of-war, only to discover that one of them is a noble: Kevin, third son of the Baron of Zun. When she interviews him, it becomes apparent that he may be of great use in the Game of the Council...

Enter the mysterious world of Kelewan, where murder is as rife as false diplomacy. Enter a world of sweeping imagination and magical intrigue from two of the greatest writers of modern fantasy.


In Servant of the Empire, Mara is far from the inexperienced teenager we met previously. She’s now a young woman sure in her power, wealthy and respected by her peers despite her gender. 

Yet, the shadow of the Minwanabi still looms over her. Jingu, its previous head has long been buried, but the feud isn’t over yet: his son Desio is still breathing. He’s joined in his quest for revenge by his brilliant cousin Taisaio, the very one who orchestrated the death of Mara’s family in the first place. Mara is bound for trouble, isn’t she?

Taisaio is clever, cunning and a seasoned soldier but he’s also gravelly devious. I really enjoyed his addition to the cast because he was a serious political opponent.  I liked him much better than Jingu. 

If it wasn’t for her Spy Master, Ayakashi, Acoma’s ruling Lady would have ended six feet under the ground several times. In order to defeat him, Mara will have to once again bend the rules according to her need and use all the wits and guile at her disposition. By the way, special shout out for the Spy Master, he’s just the GOAT. He’s among my favourite character.

The war of the worlds between Tsuranuanni and The Kingdom of the Isle had so far been relegated to second zone, but it jumps into the forefront in this book. A little clarification must be made before going any further. Tsuranuanni and The Kingdom of the Isle are truly in two different worlds, to travel between .the two, one must use a magical rift. One is in Kelewan and the other are in Midkemia

I didn’t mention it in my review of Daughter of the Empire, but the Empire Trilogy is something of a companion series to Feist’s Riftwar cycle books. Some events that happen in the Servant of the Empire would be better understood if you had read Magician’s before. Pug, a character present in several books in the Riftwar cycle also appears in Servant of the Empire, however, he’s known as Milamber in the novel.

Anyway back to the subject, Tsurani struggle against Islemen  is important in this second instalment because the Emperor, essentially a figurehead wish to end the war. He has the support of the Great Ones, the magicians, but the promise of peace leaves a lot of noble (the rulers behind the curtain) cold. Our heroine isn’t involved in this bunch, though.

Slavery is common practice in Tsuranuanni and some of the slaves employed are captured Islemen. Mara despite all the qualities she possesses is nonetheless a slave owner. A slave that she hires in the first pages of the book happens to be a Midkemian, now bear with me guys. His name is Kevin of Zung and he comes from a noble family.  He’s a gigantic man (by Mara’ standard), a barbarian (again by her standards), strong, powerfully built, red headed (a rare trait in Kelewan), handsome and Mara falls in love with him. It isn’t a smooth relation by anyone standard, I mean Mara’s nation kind of invaded his and made slave out of its people. Besides Kevin is a slave and Mara is mistress *insert brief masochist thought*, going back to serious this thing between them is doomed to fail. Yes I said it.

The Romans said “amor vinci amnos”, and Mara in this book tries to live up to this philosophy right down to the last minute. Because of her new lover, she will try to revoke the law downgrading Midkemian to second class citizen and allowing their enslavement. People don’t worry. The Empire hasn’t turned into Twilight at ALL! But there is definitely romance in this book. Unfortunately, I’m not completely sold out on this love affair.

I could understand why Mara would fall for Kevin. She’s young, Kevin is good-looking, foreign and he gives her everything that was lacking from her first marriage: some good sex and respect. She’s also the dominant one in their relation, for an ex-battered wife, it’s always a plus. But I can’t figure any reasons or excuses for Kevin. How can you fall in love with the one enslaving you and your fellow countrymen? My mind blanks out for this one.

I found Kevin lovey dovey with Mara childish and selfish on his part. It felt as if his thoughts could never reach higher than his pants. However, the romance wasn’t even the real let down in the novel.

Kelewan is inspired by Medieval East Asia and Midkemia by Medieval Britain. The period before the Renaissance is full of atrocities, backward judgement and extreme inequalities. Yet Kelewan seems to be the only to have inherited the flaws of his time. Kelewan is the one who invaded Midkemia, its people are cold, humourless, sexist and stagnant. The nobility over there is blood thirsty, power hungry and cruel. In Midkemia, women can marry whoever they want and are free (I’m eye rolling while writing this), people are full of life and their thinking is innovative. The cherry on the cake is that the wealthy have a heart of gold.

If you open any history textbook, you’ll see that the above statements are far from correctly representing the Middle Age. Besides being outrageously inaccurate, I found the depiction of these two world to be racially prejudiced, perhaps unconsciously so. I realize that this was used as a method to challenge Mara’s view on her world and thus make her grow. But still, I believe that it could have been done more sensibly.

Because of this, I couldn’t love Servant of the Empire as much as his predecessor. However, it remains an interesting book with a solid plot. 

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