Title: Empress (The Godspeaker Trilogy #1)
Author: Karen Miller
Publisher: Hatchette Digital, 2007
First reason: Hekat. She starts out as the unwanted, unloved spawn of a goatherd in a village where women are little better than livestock themselves. In fact, Hekat has no name until she is sold to slavers. Hekat can be forgiven, in that regard, for not knowing love. But as for blind ambition and religious fervour, she has that in abundance. Her survival instinct is strong and she isn’t afraid of using every opportunity to better herself. I have to hand it to Karen Miller. Hekat could not have been an easy character to write because she has few, if any redeeming qualities. Even the love she feels for one of her sons smatters of obsession.
I often wondered how many of Hekat’s actions were taken out of her ability to lie to herself about what she *thought* the god of Mijak wanted instead of that which was truly just. Hekat murders to get what she wants, which is to stand as supreme ruler of a united nation. On one hand, her meteoric rise to power is fascinating to watch, and in that sense she is engaging. The fact that she won’t allow her lowly origins or gender to stand in her way is commendable, even if her methods are distasteful. She is so convinced – utterly so – of her right to power, that she won’t let anything or anyone stand in her way.
Vortka was taken as a slave at the same time that Hekat was, and was chosen to serve the god. Though the religion of Mijak is cruel and bloodthirsty, requiring much sacrifice, Vortka however sees another aspect of the god – that of love and mercy. In that, he stands as Hekat’s opposite in many things, and tempers many of her harsher judgments, though he himself is powerless to stop her from making her more rash decisions. He is nonetheless complicit to her wrongdoings, blinded by his adoration of her.
Other characters also find themselves hampered by their love or hate of Hekat. Her sons, the priest Nagarak, and all to a degree are but a means to an end for her. There really is little to like about her, even if she possesses the vision to unite a nation of warring factions.
At the heart of this novel, and perhaps the reason why I feel it is so good, is the depiction of religion in the hands of people, and how they are able to transform it into a tool for good and for evil. Human interpretation of divine will is depicted in its subjectivity, making the readers aware of this danger when people allow their personal whims free rein – especially catastrophic when these same people are in positions of power.
And Hekat does become drunk on her power.
Other aspects to mention include the setting, which evokes the exotic – somewhat a blend of the Middle East with Asian Huns. If you liked the way GRRM wrote about the Dothraki, then the nation of Mijak will hit the spot.
Readers who are disturbed by graphic depictions of violence and animal cruelty had best avoid this novel. What I appreciated about Empress was the setting and the subject matter – vastly different from stock standard fantasy. This sort of culture shock might not be for everyone. In this regard Empress is a challenging but rewarding read, and I am looking forward to the novels that follow.