Empress by Karen Miller


Published by Orbit (USA) (

April 2008, 752 Pages

ISBN: 0-316-00835-4

Karen Miller’s Web site:


Karen Miller’s first series with Orbit Books was a genre bestseller in both the US and UK.  Miller, as well as the publishers, hope she can follow that selling success in her Godspeaker trilogy which is launched with Empress.


Miller takes a familiar template with this tale, that of the orphaned or youth in low standing who struggles to find themselves at the top of the heap, as a ruler. She introduces readers to an unnamed, almost feral child unwanted by her abusive father and barely recognized by her mother.  In these early chapters, Miller does a fine job of painting what a harsh world for females this world is.  She also builds some sympathy for the young girl, who names herself Hekat upon being sold into slavery.  Indeed, the first couple of hundred pages as Hekat is first sold and traverses the landscape with her new owners proved to be very readable and good set up for the novel.  The world outside of what Hekat knew is just as harsh, although her slave owner Abajai treats far better than any slave.  He (unsurprisingly) sees great potential in the young Hekat, he sees the beauty beneath the grime and more than anything considers her a great investment. I got the sense that Miller might have been attempting to glean a bit of Oliver Reed’s Proximo from the great film Gladiator.  Although Abajai does treat Hekat better than any of the slaves, when push comes to shove he does not let her forget that she is a slave.  One thing he does positively instill in her is that “Hekat is precious and beautiful, she is god-touched.” This phrase comes to be a dark cloud over the majority of the book.


As is par for the course in such a story, Hekat escapes her owners and forges out on her own.  It proves to be a difficult road for her to travel and she must inflict some sacrifices on herself, but Hekat is precious and beautiful, she is god touched, and is owned by no man.  A good deal of tension is maintained through Hekat’s early chapters as a free woman with the inevitable encounter with Abajai as she is on the run.  These scenes of Hekat on her own as well as those earlier scenes of her as a slave, allowed the author to further flesh out her harsh world, delving into the socio-religious political structure.  Clearly, a lot of thought and detail has been put into the world with the purpose of to creating something harsh. The world is very low on technology, but very high on the power of the God and religion in daily life. This world building seems comes to the forefront and overshadows the full development of the characters.


Hekat goes through something of a rebirth process she becomes a knife-wielding warrior who eventually captures the affection of a warlord, Raklion.  She also comes to the attention of Raklion’s Godspeaker, which is the equivalent of a priest-mage in Miller’s imagined world.  Miller develops Hekat and Raklion’s relationship in great detail until they marry and have a family, of sorts.  There is some good conflict between the harsh Hekat and harsh warlord Raklion, all the while these two abrasive people come to grips with a strange sense of parenthood. Further down the line in the story, greater tensions arise as Hekat’s children grow older.  The tension between the brothers was probably the strongest aspect of the latter half of the novel.


Once Hekat escapes her slave masters, I felt a lot of the tension leave the novel.  While the template Miller set out for this novel is inherently predictable, the early part was still enjoyable enough to look past this predictability, while the latter portions of the novel lacked that same readability. The latter section was also was a much more choppy read as scenes didn’t seem to flow as well into one another.  Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the novel was Hekat’s monotonous internal repeating, in one form or another, od her catch-phrase/mantra Hekat is precious and beautiful, she is god-touched.  I began to feel as if this phrase was on every other page at least once.  This tiresome mantra, in addition to many other harsh and fanatical actions on Hekat’s part, eventually helped to strip any sympathy I may have had for her in the beginning of the novel. Those few words Abajai instilled in her fueled Hekat’s pride to unplausible heights and in the long run, lessened the character. Not all protagonists can be completely likeable, or even completely redeemable.  I came to hate Hekat and that isn’t a quality a protagonist should have.


In sum, the novel has its strong points in Miller’s ability to construct a believable world and suck the reader into the story (very early in the novel), but the remainder and majority of the novel was not up that promise.  The dramatic tension was not maintained and there is some wasted potential in Hekat’s early development, she almost becomes a paradoy by novel’s end. I suspect the novel will do well again for Miller and Orbit (as did her Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology), but I can only recommend avoiding it.



© 2008 Rob H. Bedford

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