Friday, June 13, 2008

Empress Book Review

Godspeaker Book One
Karen Miller

Click here for Summary

So I am not used to being angry with protagonists. I mean, good guys are allowed/supposed to make mistakes; it makes for a better plot, and more defined characterization. But generally I enjoy liking the main characters of the books I read. It’s pretty unfortunate that I hated Hekat, the main character of Karen Miller’s Empress

What happened to the good ol’ morally correct, I’m a good role-model kind of protagonist? Well, it’s not present in Empress. Instead we have Hekat, a Lara Croft/Hitler/Zorro like slave from the wild north of Mijak. Sure, it’s cool that she is a totally attractive killer, good with a knife, and good to look at, (I know Zorro fights with a sword, but who’s known for knife fights? Maybe Zattera from 2002 film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo?) but her “I’m in the god’s eye, and I will kill you if you step in front of me” attitude gets pretty annoying. I hate how it is always her way or the highway. I definitely like the characters she kills more than I like her.

I even like the scary Et-Raklion godspeaker Nagarak more than I like Hekat. At least he is supposed to be a bad guy… It would’ve been easier for me if maybe she would just act more like Vortka in her worshiping of the God.

Well, a strange thing happened in reading Empress; after being dragged through almost 700 spiny, poisonous pages, I fell in love. Karen Miller is a master! Her characterization in Empress is supreme, and I feel as if the world-building is in every way complete. It all changed for me when, around page six hundred of Empress, I read an interview between her and Chris on The Book Swede and also another interview of hers with John of Grasping for the Wind.

Chris the Book Swede-

The magic system in Godspeaker is quite different to the Kingmaker/Kingbreaker duology and religion also plays a much larger part – was this a conscious move away, and what risks were involved?

Karen Miller-

…I feel there are huge risks in this story, and in this trilogy. For a start, Mijak is such a hugely different world from a lot of mainstream fantasy, and what I've done before. And it's not a pretty or comfortable world, either. It's dark and violent and confronting. But that's the way the story went, so I did have to take a deep breath and follow it. Hekat's a confronting character, too. The world of Mijak isn't as user friendly as the world of Lur, and so that's a huge risk in terms of upsetting readers. I knew it when I was writing it, and frankly I've scared myself stupid with this. Even though early feedback has been good, I'm still terrified. I tend to live my writing life in a perpetual state of terror -- I'm always convinced I haven't done a good enough job.

There's more lightness and warmth in bks 2 and 3 of this trilogy, with the new characters coming in. But that doesn't alter the fact that bk 1 is pretty damned full-on! *g* And there are moments all the way through the trilogy that aren't for the faint-hearted or the squeamish…

(This interview can be found at


Although Hekat is a sympathetic character at the beginning of the novel, we have come to dislike her very much by the end. How were you able to write a character that rather than having an upward spiral toward a “happily ever after” instead moved on a downward spiral filled with selfishness and hate? Was it a conscious choice to send Hekat down that path, or was in a natural outgrowth of her character?

Karen Miller-

Ah ha! My dastardly plan has been revealed! *g* Yes. Hekat was never intended to be ‘the good guy’ in this story. And that’s another reason for focusing so strongly on her in the first volume of the trilogy – one of the story threads is her downfall. Things could’ve worked out very differently, for everyone, if she’d made different choices. So yes, it was a conscious choice to send her down such a dark road. What she does affects her country, her people, and the people around her. It has an effect on the whole world. I wanted to explore what it’s like to take that kind of personal journey, and what happens to the people around you when you do. And she’s such a strong personality, she just forged ahead. There was never any question, for me, that she’d suddenly wake up one morning and renounce her bloodthirsty ways. She was never destined for happy ever after … and I find that quite sad, really.
(This interview can be found at

I didn’t like the harshness of Book One of the Godspeaker trilogy, but she told Chris that books two and three are not as harsh. Also, I hated Hekat…she just feels more like an antagonist than a protagonist. Again Miller relieved me of discomfort by telling John that “Hekat was never intended to be ‘the good guy’ in this story.” !!!! I am so happy that Hekat is not a protagonist! Kudos to the author for writing seven hundred pages about an antagonist. She is pretty darn gutsy…

So, I give an A to Miller for her characterization and world-building abilities, even though Empress is only getting 6.5 out of ten. I’m going to try reading more by Karen Miller before I make any kind of recommendations, and her Kingmaker/Kingbreaker duology has already been added to my reading list.



Jeff C said...

Since you liked the Belgariad, I would definitely give the Kingmaker/Kingbreaker duology a shot. Its a pretty polarizing series, but i really liked it a lot. I cant make myself read Empress, though. Just doesnt appeal to me, so i will wait for her to return to the Kingmaker series in a couple of years.

weariedjuggler said...

Thanks for the advice Jeff. I did like the Belgariad, and if Kingmaker/Kingbreaker is anything like it then I'm sure it'll be good fun. Yeah I understand what you mean about Empress...It wouldn't be one of my usual reads either. But as it is, I'm glad I read it, because I probably wouldn't have found Karen Miller.

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