Caroline's Reviews > Empress of the World

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
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's review
Nov 21, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, lgbtqia, young-adult, contemporary

A little while back, I was rummaging through Amazon to find lesbian teen novels and fell on Empress Of The World. I found the cover so beautifully poetic and evocative that I immediately bought it. The story is beautiful, the characters endearing and the story-telling wonderful! I searched for other novels written by Sara Ryan and realised that she had written a companion novel to Empress Of The World, The Rules For Hearts. This second book is different from the first and brings different themes and feelings. You definitely need to read them both!

Nicola is one of those girls who spends her time over-analysing things in her head and isn't very sociable, she goes to the Siegel Institute Program for Gifted Youth for the summer to confirm her lifelong dream of being an archeologyst. Nic doesn't know what to expect from the Institute and is very surprised to become friends with a bunch of people on the first day. People who even *gasp* want to spend time with her. There is Katrina the crazy computer girl who has the best personality ever, Isaac the shy nice guy who is attracted to Katrina, the annoying Kevin (like Nicola, I found him utterly annoying, so there, last time I will mention his existence) and then there is Battle. Battle Hall Davies is a beautiful girl named after a building (parents are just so cruel sometimes) who has already been to the Institute the year before and is studying history.

Nicola may not have been that much bothered about defining her identity and her sexuality before, but she only needs to glance at Battle once to feel profoundly attracted to her. Battle is not only beautiful but clever and spiritual and full of mystery. At first, Nicola thinks that whatever is going on in her is a sort of admiration and jealousy for the perfect Battle, but she soon realises that there is so much more... and that it might be mutual [insert swoon here].

This is a very sweet tale of finding yourself and first love. The writing was very sensitive and the story adorable. It felt very real and relatable the way they realise their infatuation and tiptoe around each other wondering what it would be like to be together and then relax and start to be themselves with each other. Very much like A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, the story isn't about "I am a lesbian, and I've always know I was a lesbian, and I will never look at a boy in my entire life", it is about falling for someone whose personality and attitude makes your heart beat faster and brings butterflies in your stomach, regardless of who that person is. It is about finding someone with whom you can be yourself.

The book also talks about parents/children relationships. Nicola comes from a very sheltered background, in a family where her parents love each other and she feels loved, and she has never questioned the relation they had. But then she meets this group of people and half of them have parents who are divorced and others have terrible relations with their families, etc. It is a recurrent theme in YA and even MG novels where parents are either dead, divorced, unknown or don't care about their children but I felt that it was subtly and realisitically shown through the story of the characters in here.

And talking about them, the characters are the best aspect of the novel: multi-faceted, believable, full of crushes and silly aspirations in life, I really felt like I was back in high school and had a life of choices in front of me. I really liked how different Nicola and Battle were. Nicola is at times a bit fastidious by over-thinking things all the time, but I was exactly the same at her age and a tiny crush would roughly take over my life for a week until I was becoming ill of it and ended up rationalising that it would never work and found something else to occupy my thoughts (*cough* I mean, I know someone who knows someone who may have been doing that, not me at all *cough*). I loved Battle's character and I'm really glad we get to see more of her in The Rules For Hearts. Katrina is literally the best character ever and you need to read the book to discover her complete awesomeness. She made me laugh out loud more than once and I really wish she was real. Isaac isn't very present at first, always shy and crushing on Katrina, but he progressively gets more and more open and I thought he was genuinely adorable. They are all geeks (the real deal, not the fake ones who think that wearing glasses makes them intelligent), they work hard at school and do think about other things in life than partying and be ultra cool and popular all the time so they were fantastic to read about. Even though Nicola faces some harsh dumb homophobic comments and there are some dark passages, it is a really uplifting story.
I love this book to pieces, it has everything that I love in books from the setting to the characters, the humour and the more serious themes in the background. The romance is the cutest thing ever so all you romance lovers will love it. I cannot recommend it enough!
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