As I have said before, my “25 Series To Read In 201x” reading challenge is meant to allow me to touch base with trilogies (and longer series) that are out in publication currently and have proven to be big successes while also going back to read some classics, especially a few favourites that I have not revisited in the longest time. For this year’s challenge, one of the series that found its way to my list is the Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, a trilogy that stands as one of the best fantasy series I’ve read to date, for far too many reasons. And going back to it last month proved to be a blast.
The Empire trilogy is set on the world of Kelewan in the Empire of Tsuranuanni. In his Riftwar Saga trilogy, Raymond introduced us to the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan which became locked in a grand war across time and space. In this particular trilogy with Janny, he tells us of the events happening on the other side of the conflict, as the Riftwar novels mostly focus on Midkemia. The books focus on young Mara of the Acoma, the last scion of her family as she struggles to rebuild her family’s fortunes and carves out her own political identity in a world of strict social mores and ruthlessly cunning rivals.
I first read this book in 2002, if I recall correctly. I had just finished reading the Riftwar Saga and a friend turned me to this book, which our school library fortunately had stocked recently. And not only just Daughter of the Empire, but also the two sequels, Servant of the Empire and Mistress of the Empire. As a big fan of the Riftwar saga, I was really keen to dive into this trilogy, and the premise really excited me. Raymond had created a really vivid picture of Tsurani society and culture in his first trilogy, and though we spent some time in the Empire with our protagonist Pug, we never really delved too much into it. This series looked set to change all that.
We are introduced to Mara in the very first pages. Having recently renounced her family name, she is preparing to undergo the final rituals of becoming a novitiate in the priestly Order of Lashima when the ceremony is interrupted by Keyoke, the senior-most general of the Acoma forces. A rather emotional scene happens then as she learns that her father and brother are both dead in the war and that she is the last remaining Acoma. So begins Mara’s journey to seize controls of her family’s nearly-dwindled fortunes and rebuild the strength and power that it once commanded.
Daughter of the Empire is a novel that deals with Tsurani culture and society on a very personal level. When I first read these novels, I thought that the culture was based off Japanese culture from the shogunate periods, but I learned last year that the inspiration had actually been Korean society, if I remember correctly. Not that mattered much to an impressionable young man to me at the time. I saw warriors who valued honour above all else. I saw powerful lords who gambled with the lives of everyone under their protection. I saw villains and heroes. I saw simplicity and cunning. The novel, then and now, packs one hell of a punch when it comes to depicting the various facets of Tsurani society and Mara as a protagonist specifically.
One thing that is emphasized again and again in the novel is that Mara, once she finally accepts that she is the last remaining Acoma and that she must do everything she can to keep her family name alive, is someone who values the long game and who seeks to capitalize on any and every advantage she can to further her goals. When she becomes Ruling Lady, she inherits a force of just 37 soldiers, with pretty much all of her father’s army of some 2500 soldiers dead on the “barbarian” world of Midkemia. The family has finances aplenty but lacks security. The political cachet is also at the lowest since where Lord Sezu was of a keen political mind and Lano was being groomed as the heir, Mara led a much simpler life and is untested in politics. And so she has to use every trick at her disposal to secure her fortunes. To establish alliances via marriage and trade that can see the Acoma name live on and not die in infamy....more
A new year means a new reading challenge of the “25 Series I Want To Read” variety. You can find a list of authors and series (the original post for the challenge that is) over here. In the past two years that I’ve been doing this, I kinda-sorta completed the challenge in 2013, and I definitely completed it last year. It is a really fun challenge to do, and allows me to pick and choose from a wide variety of genre greats and genre debuts (relatively speaking), which is one of the many reasons that I do it all. Plus, as a consequence, it also exposes me to a wider variety of fiction out there and gets me to connect with it all on a very different level, even series that I’ve read before becoming a blogger.
One of the first books I’ve read this year is the first Planeswalker novel for the Magic the Gathering setting from Wizards of the Coast, Agents of Artifice. This is pretty much an intro novel to the setting, and it definitely has a lot of typical Ari Marmell flavour, which I’ve experienced before in his Widdershins novels from Pyr Books, as well as his Darksiders novel from Del Rey. Following the Planeswalkers Jace Beleren and Liliana Vess, this novel explores the wonderful plane of Ravnica and is a fairly good read, though not without its flaws.
I’ve only recently taken the dip into Magic the Gathering CCG, starting last year in October with the current expansion Khans of Tarkir. The game is really fun to play, and is also just as addicting as I’d thought that it would be. But then that’s me. I love addicting games like that and playing Magic the Gathering something else to do other than just spend my days in the endless grind of reading comics and books, doing all my blogging stuff and all that. A welcome… distraction if you will. I’ve even been to some of the events, casual and competitive both, and they are even more fun, though I get my ass kicked in the games some 95% of the time, owing to inexperience and lack of powerful cards.
Which brings me to this novel. One of the big reasons I put the Planeswalker series on my list for the challenge is that I want to explore the history of the Planeswalkers. Jace Beleren and Liliana Vess do have their own cards in the current game-format, and that’s why I picked this novel, since I find both of them to be really enigmatic characters from all I’ve heard about them, especially Liliana. And Ari Marmell does a great job of exploring their past and the present (relatively speaking since the novels are from some six years ago or so), set in a world that is alien and yet so familiar.
In Magic the Gathering, we have the familiar Multiverse concept of fantasy novels (primarily in tie-in fiction though it does pop in now and then in original books) and Agents of Artifice is set on one of these worlds of the Multiverse, specifically called a Plane, and thus giving rise to the term Planeswalkers, those powerful mages and sorcerers and the like who are able to traverse the different planes at will. So we have here a story about Jace and Liliana and their former employer Tezzeret, the leader of the planes-spanning criminal organization that the two of them used to work for.
Ari Marmell gives us a lot of lowdown on who each of the characters are, and he entwines their stories very closely. Agents of Artifice is, as the name suggests, a novel about manipulation, betrayal and falsehoods. That’s the foundation of the story here and once the story gets going about seventy pages in or so, it really starts running and you are totally pulled in as we get two separate narratives, one set in the present with Jace and Liliana having abandoned all connections to Tezzeret and the other in the past where we see how they came into his employment in the first place....more