The Reading Canary On: The Empire Trilogy

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Reading Canary: a Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF fiction, but distressingly frequently on other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

The Empire Trilogy: a Political Adventure Story

The Empire Trilogy is a collaboration between Ray Feist and Janny Wurts, and is linked closely with Feist’s Riftwar Saga. It is set mainly during Magician, throughout which the Tolkeinesque world of Midkemia is at war with the Tsurani Empire, a unique culture from the world of Kelewan.

The war, while significant, occurs mainly in the background, however: while the Riftwar Saga dealt with the events of the war from a mainly Midkemian point of view, the Empire Trilogy follows the political career of Mara, Ruling Lady of the Acoma family, as she becomes a great power in the Tsurani Empire, a distinctly different fantasy world more inspired by the cultures and myths of South-East Asia than Tolkein.

Incidentally, this marks the place where I bury the hatchet with Feist over the Kelewan/Tekumel issue. (See my review of the Riftwar Saga for a reminder of that.) In the acknowledgements section of Daughter of the Empire, Feist explicitly thanks the designers of the games that the Dungeons & Dragons game which spawned the Riftwar Saga sprang from – and this, implictly, must include M.A.R. Barker, author of Empire of the Petal Throne. In addition, while the Kelewan of the Riftwar Saga was indisputably the same as Barker’s Tekumel, in the Empire Trilogy the two worlds diverge: Feist and Wurts make the world fully their own, and while the similarities with Tekumel remain, their own original contributions finally outweigh them.

Although I have no moral objection to buying Feist’s work first-hand now, I’m still glad that I bought the Riftwar Saga second-hand, and would encourage readers to do so: it’s a fun, light, sprawling adventure story which isn’t quite good enough to be worth deliberately seeking out and paying full price for. At the end of this review, we’ll see if the Empire Trilogy exceeds or falls short of the standards set by the Riftwar Saga.

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