Kevin studied Mara’s face, ‘No.’ A grin lit his features, rendered wicked and humourless by the anger that lay behind. ‘Your captive. Nothing more. Never anything more.’
After reading and loving the first book in Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts Empire Trilogy, I went straight back to the library the following day to check out the second book, and was over a hundred pages in after the first day. I enjoyed this book just as much as the first, and whoever has already checked the third one out of the library better hurry up with it, because I need to find out how it all ends as soon as possible!
Following Mara’s victory over her enemy, Lord Jingu of the Minwanabi, she is back on her estates and planning her next move in the Game of the Council, the political minefield at the centre of Tsurani society. Whilst the deceased Lord Jingu’s angry son Desio and cunning nephew Tasaio plot their revenge, Mara sets about strengthening her resources, purchasing a number of Midkemian slaves from beyond the Rift to clear her fields to allow for more needra (the Kelewan equivalent of cattle) and so increase her income. However, her endeavours are disrupted by the plotting of her enemies and a series of devastating events which upsets the entire political landscape of Kelewan and throws House Acoma yet again into grave danger.
As in the last book, I continued to adore all of the main characters. Mara continued to be as strong and resourceful as ever, but it was good to see her thrown into even worse danger to see how she fared against even more resolute enemies. I also liked that her character became slightly less out-and-out good in this book, as she has tougher decisions to make and often has to do things she doesn’t want to do to get the result she wants. I also continued to like the supporting characters of Nacoya and Keyoke, and grew to love Lujan and his irreverent humour even more. The addition of his equally sharp-tongued cousin Saric was also a welcome one.
Another newcomer I really liked was Kevin, the red-haired Midkemian slave Mara buys. The way in which his antagonistic relationship with Mara progresses to one of mutual respect, and eventually love was interesting to watch, yet the Tsurani law that slaves can never be freed leant a doomed aspect to their relationship from the beginning. Through his character we are also given a perspective on Tsurani culture that is closer to our own (Midkemian values being more similar to our own eg. don’t beat up your wife, don’t kill yourself to restore your honour if you make a social faux pas, etc.), as he calls the Tsurani people out on some of the absurdities and barbarities of their society. His advice on warfare and politics also proves invaluable to Mara, despite it often causing her to deviate from the norms of her people.
Desio and Tasaio as the villains of the piece were also interesting characters, and extremely formidable enemies. Desio, despite his lack of warcraft and general leadership qualities is frightening through his frequent rages and disturbing lust for violence, whilst Tasaio’s reputation as one of the best military commanders in Kelewan causes you to truly fear for Mara and her allies as he vows vengeance upon her.
It was also good in this book to see more of the world of Kelewan, in particularly the Dustari deserts and the capital city of Kentosani. The gathering of all the major families of Kelewan for the Imperial Games in Kentosani certainly made for an interesting read, with tensions running high and violence and intrigue a certainty. The strange customs of Tsuranni culture is never clearer than in Mara’s meetings with some of the other rulers in the High Council: whilst these meetings may seem extremely polite, even friendly, the undercurrent is often threatening, a fact which we as readers generally only learn along with Kevin after the event.
I also really enjoyed the crossover with events from Raymond E. Feist’s book Magician, which is the first in the Riftwar Saga which I read and thoroughly enjoyed a while back. One of my favourite characters from the series, Pug, appears twice, once as he and Laurie (another familiar face from the Riftwar Saga!) speak briefly with fellow slave Kevin, and secondly as the Magician Milamber at the Imperial Games. Seen as these events are related in Magician it was interesting to observe them from the perspective of Mara.
Once again, I really enjoyed this book. The political intrigue of the Game of the Council which is one of the most unique aspects of this fantasy series stepped up even further in Servant of the Empire, with Mara and her cohort being thrown further into peril. I loved her relationship with Kevin and like the new perspective he leant to the novel, and I can’t wait to see what becomes of their doomed love. I’m really hoping I get to read the next book soon!