Shit just got real

Written by
Kameron Hurley in 2015

I have to say, some books are pretty hard to read. Even the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy was pretty hard going. You’re rewarded, of course, by the feeling that you’ve just done something substantive and worth your time. But getting through Fellowship of the Ring is something of a literary achievement. Well, enter Kameron Hurley’s Empire Ascendant.

Continuing from the surprisingly good (and surprisingly difficult to read) The Mirror Empire, Hurley begins to add some more flesh to the bones of the characters and concepts introduced. We initially learned that there was an evil empire trying to get into the Datum World (to borrow a term from another series) by basically killing everyone who was the same as their parallel universe doppelganger and taking over the world.

Here, we learn that Kirana (the current baddie) of the Tai Mora is only trying to save her family from certain death and destruction due to the ascent of Oma, the evil, dark moon associated with blood magic. This is important, because apparently when Oma rises, every single parallel universe can be accessed by whoever has the means to do so. Oh, the chaos.

Meanwhile, across all the kingdoms of the Datum World, there are betrayals and war. In Dhai, Ahkio the Kai is trying to fight the Tai Mora, but his own mentor, Nasaka (who is some sort of priest) is bent on allowing the Tai Mora to basically kill everyone who has a twin in the other universe.

Lilia the scullery girl turned omajista is…well, learning to be a blood mage and first tests her powers against the Tai Mora in the defence of Dhai. This, as you can guess, goes really, really well.

Somewhere else, the Dorinah Empress sends Zezili on a journey to activated a secret superweapon (oh, I love superweapons). Zezili has other ideas, and is bent on stopping whatever the hell the Empress wants from happening. Fun times, especially since Zezili is recovering from severe, life threatening injuries sustained when she first refused the Empress’s orders.

I can say this much about Empire Ascendant. It’s hard to read. But you’ll also be entertained/appalled (or both) at the action, the blood and the body count. George R. R. Martin, eat your frost zombified heart out. The level of violence and gore here is pretty high, as is the swearing, so if you’re not comfortable with this sort of stuff, go read something else.

On the other hand, you’re also sitting there thinking that you probably don’t like most, if not all these characters. I mean, aside from Lilia, who’s just a child, most of the adults are giant pricks. It’s hard to sympathise with most of the characters, motivations or not. Where A Song of Fire and Ice provided the audience with two main villains (that’s you guys, House Lannister and frost zombies), it feels like practically everyone in Empire Ascendant would qualify for that role. Thankfully, like George R. R. Martin, Kameron Hurley has no qualms about killing of major characters. Indeed, most of them are dead at the end of this book.

The Worldbreaker Saga is a surprise dark fantasy series. It’s mainly surprising because something so dense and difficult to wrap your head quickly around is also surprisingly entertaining. Yes, there’s blood and violence and not much happiness. But when the book is called Empire Ascendant, and it’s the middle child of a trilogy, you know shit’s about to go down.

Rating

Dense and hard to grasp, but like trying to catch salmon swimming upstream with your bare (or is that bear?) claws, you’ll have a tasty meal once you do get it.

Read this if you…

Are STILL waiting for Winds of Winter. Seriously. Though I guess the later GRRM leaves it, the more chance I have of pulling an all-nighter with it.

Skip this if you…

Want a worldbuilding tome like Fellowship of the Ring. This book is basically all out war.

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