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Empress: Godspeaker    by Karen Miller order for
by Karen Miller
Order:  USA  Can
Orbit, 2008 (2008)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Karen Miller, author of the unusual Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duo, now brings us the story of Hekat, precious and beautiful, first in the Godspeaker trilogy. Hekat grows up in dire poverty, child of an abusive father and a mother whose spirit has been long since broken. As her story opens, the man who happens to be her father, uninterested in she-brats, sells the twelve-year-old to a slaver.

Trader Abajai sees promise of advantage to himself in this new acquisition and treats the uneducated hell-cat differently from his other purchases, leading her to believe that he cares for her. His other slaves include a boy, Vortka. In Et-Nogolor, Vortka is selected by a godspeaker of Mijak's harsh religion and taken to be trained as one himself. Abajai journeys on to his home in Et-Raklion, where an old woman in the market gives the child a very special scorpion amulet. When Hekat learns that she is only property to Abajai, she runs away, scars her lovely face, and manipulates her way into the household of the warlord's warriors. She eventually catches Raklion's eye and persuades him to let her train as a knife-dancer. And novice godspeaker Vortka arrives in the city, offering her his help.

The other Mijak warlords are envious of Et-Raklion's green prosperity as their own lands suffer from drought. Raklion, who knows they will soon ally against him, enlists the help of the cruel and fanatical high godspeaker Nagarak, taking the battle to his enemies. A driven and ruthless Hekat, who believes that her life is god-touched, convinces the warlord to take her as his bride and that she will give him sons - which she does, though they're not actually Raklion's children. Both she and Vortka ascend to high positions, as Raklion carves out an empire with her help. When Raklion dies, Hekat, precious and beautiful, rules in the name of her beloved firstborn son Zandakar. She sends him, along with a very powerful weapon from the god, to extend the empire beyond its current boundaries.

But Zandakar, in contrast with his brother Dmitrak, turns out to be squeamish about mass slaughter and the episode ends with his mother's disowning him. Though I found Empress to be a rather noir fantasy with an antiheroine for a protagonist, it's certainly absorbing and reflects its author's powerful imagination. The cliffhanger ending of this first in the trilogy left me curious about where Karen Miller will take it next.

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