Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: Empire of Shadows

Cast out of her family three years ago, Mara turned to the only place that would take her—a school where students train to protect others. But Mara is stunned when guarding a noble girl in the Empire’s capital turns out to be more dangerous than she could’ve imagined. More shocking still, she finds the boy she thought she had lost forever outside the gates of her new home.

Mara knew her life in the dizzying Imperial city would hold dangers. How could she have known that her heart, as well as her life, would be at stake?

Review for City of a Thousand Dolls

There's a bit of a trick to EMPIRE that isn't as obvious as it should be at first.  If you've read CITY then you'll hear familiar names, but in unfamiliar circumstances. Certain events will sound like a story you've heard before, but maybe not quite like this.  The last word on the last page however brings it altogether and I have to wonder--would I have felt differently if I had known going in that this was like that to CITY?

I think if I had known, or if I hadn't been so enthralled by the story I had realized what was going on, the story would have felt so much sadder in a way.  And that's a disservice to Mara and Revathi and Emil in so many ways.  Mara is...fantastic.  There isn't any other way to describe her.  She owns her mistakes and while she suffers a bit too much for them, she doesn't let it ruin the rest of her life.  She moves forward, on her own two feet and with her own determination.  She doesn't allow her family's condemnation of her actions completely destroy who she is.

Her suffering, her penance and her vow to not change shape again, she does because she doesn't want to lose control again.  She doesn't want to hurt humans, little as they regard her kind. 

So she joins an elite group of body guards who protect their charges unto death.  She leaves her school full of idealistic hope that she will find some great scholar or priest who deserves her loyalty and protection.  More then anything she wants to make up for her past by protecting someone who has worth in this world.  Someone others look up to and who believe in, who does the right thing.

Having so little experience with the real world (or with humans in any significant manner) she doesn't understand that a person doesn't need to be doing great things to be in need of help and loyalty.  The moment when she realizes who deserves that respect is a powerful moment.  You could see it coming, could see that this was an outcome that was desirable for all parties concerned, but she just had to come to terms with the "ideal" vs. "the real".

I'll admit that Mara and Emil's romance is...well its instalove.  They know very little about each other before they start promising the moon and stars, but here's the important bit - when push came to shove Mara trusted the person she swore to protect above Emil.  She loved and honored Emil, but for her love wasn't the most important choice in her life.  In a perfect world she wanted both, but she didn't enter into service to just toss it aside when the perfect guy came along.

And you know what? Emil understood that and he accepted that.  Did he not like that? Oh yeah.  Did he wish it was different? Yep.  But Emil understood the place Mara was in (mentally) and understood why her vow meant so much.  So yes, this was insta-love, but it was insta-love that became a stronger bond based on appreciation on both sides.

Here's something else.  Revathi and Mara, though they begin as contentious, I think was the stronger of the two relationships.  What begins as a way to get a suitor off her back, quickly becomes a friendship between two girls with no one to turn to, but very similar dangerous situations.  And while that friendship began because of a guy, and many times could have ended because of a number of different guys, they stuck fast.  In the end I think Revathi, more then even Emil, understood what Mara needed--no matter the sacrifice or cost.

I can't recommend this or its companion enough.  I can't wait to see what else Forster comes out with because already she's won me with these two books.