Maria Luisa's Reviews > Empire's Hostage

Empire's Hostage by Marian L. Thorpe
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Involving, evocative, intelligent—an outstanding historical fantasy

Empire’s Hostage is both a standalone novel and a sequel to Empire’s Daughter (Empire’s Legacy Book 1). That I hadn’t read the first novel in the series was no disadvantage whatsoever. All relevant information from it has been been artfully woven into the dialogue and the thoughts of protagonist/ narrator Lena.

The setting is earth or an earth-like world in a pre-industrial, pre-democratic era—people travel on horseback, cook with fires, and are ruled by absolute monarchs. The description is richly, lovingly detailed, informed by an imaginative extrapolation from extensive research. The precise diction and measured prose create the impression of a manuscript from the period. Lena keeps a journal, which creates the further impression that she wrote the narrative drawing on it.

Only nineteen, Lena is many-sided—soldier, sailor, horsewoman, hunter, student of history. She is also appealingly complex—bisexual, willful, sensitive, caring, proto-feminist, with a thirst for adventure, knowledge, and moral rectitude. She has known love and loss. She has traveled throughout the Empire and known a wide range of its residents, from the emperor and other high-ranking officials to soldiers and laborers. But despite her close familiarity with her world she isn’t at home in it, and her sense of alienation increases as the story unfolds.

The title refers to Lena’s initial role in the story. The Empire has been at war with its northern neighbors, invasion prevented by a fortified wall. A truce is arranged, and the agreement calls for her to live for six months in the land of the enemy. She is to be well treated, but escape is forbidden on pain of death. Initially, this is an opportunity. She meets with the enemy leader after having begun to learn about the history and the culture of his realm. She is surprised by the customs there governing the relations between the sexes—man and woman living and working together. This differs sharply from her own society’s “partition” of the sexes—men leaving to become soldiers, women remaining in the villages. (Women, Lena among them, became soldiers only when the Empire was threatened with invasion.) She later encounters another realm, north of her northern enemy, one she knew nothing of, and one with very different customs governing relations between the sexes. Men here completely dominate women. There are harems and forced marriages.

The novel is fantasy, but not escapism. The differing customs governing relations between the sexes are not unfamiliar. Forced marriages are still the norm in some societies, and a rigid distinction between gender roles was the norm in our own society until very recently. Personally imperiled by the customs of the far northern realm, Lena can be seen as a symbol of all women held hostage by men, and her courage, intelligence, and resourcefulness can be taken as a tribute to dissenters.

Learning that a surprise attack on the Empire has been planned, she escapes to give warning. But once safely home she again finds herself in peril and is given a harsh lesson in relativism. Though heroic, her actions have had dire consequences. She is, according to one point of view, a criminal. The opposing roles Lena has been cast in foreshadow the novel’s end. There, freedom and punishment are also a matter of perspective, and the novel’s title is seen to have a deeper meaning.

With its multidimensional protagonist and its vivid rendering of her world, Empire’s Hostage elevates the genre.
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Reading Progress

July 14, 2017 – Started Reading
July 14, 2017 – Shelved
July 19, 2017 – Finished Reading

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