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.
PLAY TO WIN. 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 of the greatest writers of modern fantasy.
Servant of the Empire is book two in the fabulous Empire series. In it we get back to Mara’s story, but this time there is an important new player in the form of a Midkemian slave called Kevin. This book made me realise how strange a reread experience of a beloved book can be, as I found myself avoiding the book as I got nearer to a major confrontation at about a quarter of the book into the story, because I remembered something awful happening to a character I really love, but not remembering whether he died or was just severely-wounded, and I was reluctant to get to that point in case it was the former. It’s the first time I’ve consciously experienced this and it was pretty weird!
Mara remains the centre of the narrative, but much of her growth throughout the book is due to her interactions with Kevin. I loved Kevin, he’s a brave man, with an irrepressible spirit and an ingrained sense of duty to his fellow captives, but most importantly, he acts as a catalyst to revolutionise Mara’s thinking, which makes her reconsider Tsurani traditions. The way he comes to respect his captors, their nature and society – despite being baffled by it time and again – and actually love his new home through his love for Mara is great. What makes this new-found respect and understanding rather bitter-sweet, is that despite his love for Mara, if the only way to remain with her is as a slave, he’d rather be a broken-hearted, free man on Midkemia than to remain on Kelewan as a piece of property, no matter how well-loved and well-treated.
What’s interesting is that we also get several points of view from the opposition, the cruel and dangerous Minwanabi family. While we also had these in the previous book, in this narrative they stand out more and seem to have more of an impact. Feist and Wurts manage to make at least one of them, the Minwanabi First Advisor Incomo, a sympathetic character. I loved his frequently voiced regret that he has to serve such incompetent or visionless masters, even going so far as to wish Tasaio could have inherited instead of Desio. This also serves as a perfect example of the old adage “Be careful what you wish for…”, because while Tasaio might be a brilliant military commander and strategist, he isn’t quite sane after all.
The political intrigue, plotting and negotiating is taken to the next level in this book. Mara is planning and plotting on several different layers, with each plot having several back-up plans. The book also covers a pretty long period of time, with Mara away from home for long periods of time, at one point even for several years. Not only does this allow the authors to show us more of Kelewan and Tsuranuanni, but it also allows them to skip over the perhaps not as compelling business of rebuilding the Acoma wealth and armed forces. Not every plot Mara hatches succeeds, but I like that she thinks outside the box and always manages to turn the hitches in her plans into major successes, even if the hitches sometimes result in major losses, both personally and financially.
Servant of the Empire isn’t just a wonderful continuance of the story started in Daughter of the Empire, it’s a novel that lets its main characters grow and mature. The narrative is filled with rousing triumphs, but also with heart-breaking losses—ones that won’t leave the invested reader untouched. To keep thing topical, this book – and the Empire series overall – passes both the Bechdel test and the Mako Mori test with flying colours, so one could say it has aged very, very gracefully, if at all. Unless I misremember the final book in the series completely, this reread has reinforced my feeling that this series centred on Mara of the Acoma is one of the best fantasy series out there. Hopefully I’ll still feel that way after finishing the next book.
This review is part of my Midkemia Reread, in which I read all the books Raymond E. Feist wrote, set in the world of Midkemia. For more on the why and how of this series of reviews, check out Midkemia Reread: An Introduction.