Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga, #2)
In this thrilling sequel to The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley transports us back to a land of blood mages, sentient plants, and warfare on a scale that spans worlds.Every two thousand years, parallel dimensions collide on the world called Raisa, bringing a tide of death and destruction to all worlds but one. Multiple worlds battle their dopplegangers for dominance, and those who survive must contend with friends and enemies newly imbued with violent powers. Now the pacifist country of Dhai's only hope for survival lies in the hands of an illegitimate ruler and a scullery maid with a powerful – but unpredictable –magic. As their dopplegangers spread across the world like a disease, a former ally takes up her Empress’s sword again to unseat her, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with a long-lost secret that they hope is the key to the other worlds' undoing.But when the enemy shares your own face, who can be trusted?

Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga, #2) Details

TitleEmpire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga, #2)
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 6th, 2015
PublisherAngry Robot
ISBN-139780857665584
Rating
GenreFantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction Fantasy

Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga, #2) Review

  • Stefan Bach
    January 1, 1970
    What makes someone a villain?Dark cloak? Ancient evil backing them up? Prophecy foretelling?Senseless urge for power? Power to destroy the world and rule its ashes?Oh, Sauron, you unaccomplished dimwit, go back to fifties where you belong.And could you be so kind to find that (apparently not so) Great Other and drag him with you? Thanks. :DSo, what makes someone a villain?Sometimes it’s not more than someone else’s distorted point of view.Sometimes a villain can simply be a wife and a mother, de What makes someone a villain?Dark cloak? Ancient evil backing them up? Prophecy foretelling?Senseless urge for power? Power to destroy the world and rule its ashes?Oh, Sauron, you unaccomplished dimwit, go back to fifties where you belong.And could you be so kind to find that (apparently not so) Great Other and drag him with you? Thanks. :DSo, what makes someone a villain?Sometimes it’s not more than someone else’s distorted point of view.Sometimes a villain can simply be a wife and a mother, desperately trying to protect those she loves.What? Ridiculous, right?Well… not to the people she seeks to destroy in order to do so.But, more on that later. Empire Ascendant . A second book in the Worldbreaker Saga and a sequel to one of my favorite books this year – The Mirror Empire .What does it bring to the table? Pretty much everything you expect from the sequel to do.It elevates the story. It deepens its worldbuilding, and although it doesn’t necessarily develops characterization of our (not so much) beloved characters, it certainly doesn’t make them worse.Well, she does, but not in the way you would expect.And on top of that, it makes new characters we’re introduced to much more interesting with subverting some of the fantasy tropes.But overall it serves as a bridge to final resolutions of this trilogy.I think that characters progression somewhat stalled for the sake of plot moving forward.Which is not a bad thing by itself – especially if characters already progressed to a certain degree, which they certainly did in the first book – I don’t need them always affected when dealing with life-changing events. Protagonist ≠ Antagonist? And when it comes to characters themselves – yeah, you still have no characters to root for.There’s simply no protagonist in this book. The one that comes closest to it is a little condescending monster Lilia Sona who thinks that world is constantly looking at her and judging her through her physical disabilities instead of her actions.Same can be said for our main antagonist Zezili Hasaria . An Empire asks of you to commit atrocities in its name. And after some time you realize that it’s not right and not what you signed up for. Then, you turn against them, you betray them and you run. But, then they catch you.So, what is the worst thing they can do to you?Apparently the worst thing they can do to you is to – put you back into service. Service of an Empire you don’t believe in, Empire you betrayed, and to continue committing atrocities in its name.But, of course, not before they relieved you of few of your limbs.And then you have to grasp to those very few straws you’re left with hanging on, convincing yourself, over and over again, how those physical restraints won’t restraint your resolve in doing what’s right. So it’s no wonder that lines between these two, protagonist and antagonist, once clearly define – blur. Which brings me to our main villain: Empress Kirana Javia. Well, is she the main villain? Or a villain, at all? A wife and a mother? Trying to protect her family and her people from the world that’s dying?I mean, if she's a villain, how come she was also one of the closest characters I was willing to root for?You don't root for villains, right?In previous book we got a glimpse of her, and yeah, she seemed like your average and everyday mass murdering type of a villain. And although I wasn’t surprised that we’ll get to read from her POV as much as I was surprised what will I find in those chapters.Which was frankly not more or less then you would find with every other average person. “A black storm of blood poured into the sky from the shattered jars, a wave so mortifying that Kirana had woken screaming for three months after seeing her first. Now it looked like freedom to her. Promise. It looked like survival.” No malice. No lust for dominance or power.Just care and love. For her people, and her family above everything else. “Kirana stood in a new, vibrant world, with two of her children, while one child and her wife remained on a toxic wreck of a world she had killed millions to free them from. For the first time since the beginning of the Great War, the Empress of Dhai, Divine Kai of the Tai Mora – wept.” Well, I didn’t said it’s a perfect family, didn’t I? :DAll in all… yeah, easily top 10 on my list. And honestly, better than most on that list.
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  • Althea Ann
    January 1, 1970
    The sequel to 'The Mirror Empire.'I found myself torn between saying, 'Don't read this one first; you'll just be confused' and saying, 'Go ahead and don't worry about the first one, you're going to be confused anyway.'Don't get me wrong - I really, really like these books. But the scenarios Hurley gives us approach the complexity of the real world. The main world here is a big place, full of different countries, all of which have their own political situations and distinct, original cultures (no The sequel to 'The Mirror Empire.'I found myself torn between saying, 'Don't read this one first; you'll just be confused' and saying, 'Go ahead and don't worry about the first one, you're going to be confused anyway.'Don't get me wrong - I really, really like these books. But the scenarios Hurley gives us approach the complexity of the real world. The main world here is a big place, full of different countries, all of which have their own political situations and distinct, original cultures (not analogues of real-world societies). But that main world's not the only world. There are also the mirror worlds - not just one, but many! - and due to impending disaster, invasions and crossovers are both imminent and ongoing. (The catch? You can't cross over unless your counterpart on the 'other side' is dead.) So there are different 'versions' of both countries and individual characters.On top of all that, the power structures in all of these worlds depends on what satellite is ascendant at a certain time. (Each satellite imbues the people who are 'attuned' to it with 'magical' abilities.) This book takes place in the midst of a major shift - so even once you get a grasp on who's in charge in any certain place, it's pretty much guaranteed to be changing. You will find the 'Dramatis Personae' useful. (I rarely do, but...)With the impetus of certain death awaiting a world of the verge of apocalypse, citizens' only hope is to escape to a 'mirror' world. This requires the murder of those on the other side. Of course, those wishing not to be invaded and killed are bound to fight back. There are plenty of people who will make desperate back-room deals, leaders who will give ruthless orders, and others who will simply take advantage of instability for their own gain. Pretty much no one at all here is a nice person. Survival requires a vicious edge. And plenty of people will die. Recommended for fans of political-intrigue-driven fantasy who are up for a challenge.Many thanks to Angry Robot and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.
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  • Bob Milne
    January 1, 1970
    Last year’s The Mirror Empire was one of the most exciting (and sometimes divisive) entries in an already stellar year of fantasy fiction. Kameron Hurley crafted a book that was daring, original, and even challenging. While putting her own spin on the idea of parallel worlds in a post-apocalyptic sort of portal fantasy, she turned gender roles and relationships on their head. It was the most brutally violent female-led fantasy I had ever encountered. It was ambitious, awesome, imaginative, and e Last year’s The Mirror Empire was one of the most exciting (and sometimes divisive) entries in an already stellar year of fantasy fiction. Kameron Hurley crafted a book that was daring, original, and even challenging. While putting her own spin on the idea of parallel worlds in a post-apocalyptic sort of portal fantasy, she turned gender roles and relationships on their head. It was the most brutally violent female-led fantasy I had ever encountered. It was ambitious, awesome, imaginative, and exhausting in equal measure . . . and I had serious concerns as to how a sequel would fare. Fortunately, the depth she established there proves to have even more layers than we thought, making Empire Ascendant a more than worthy follow-up.Having brought the two pivotal universes together at the end of the first book, Hurley continues to develop her worlds here. We already had a pretty good idea of the geographies and societies, but this time around we get a much deeper understanding of the politics involved. What impressed me most was the fact that she let both sides have their moments in the spotlight, questioning the means and motives of each. Conflicts both personal and political are dealt with here, and they are as complicated and confusing as you might expect when mirror universes and doppelgangers are involved. There’s no question that the Dhai are the victims here, but beyond that, there are no clear moral or ethical lines. As much as I thought I knew who to root for going in, I came out of the book feeling dirty for rooting quite so hard.Readers who were concerned that the first book had too many characters and too many points-of-view will find no respite here. Hurley throws even more into the mix, and elevates secondary characters from the first book to positions of significance here. Fortunately, what’s a challenge for some is a reward for others. Even though it’s been a year between books, I immediately reconnected with the characters and was pleased to see them grow and develop even more. Zezili was a dark, deplorable highlight of the first book, but she takes on even more of an edge here. Lilia started to grow stale for me in the first book, serving more as a POV than a character, but we see new life in her here that adds to the overall drama of the tale. In a book defined by its damaged characters, Anavha probably surprised me the most, rising above his victim status in the first book to begin his own significant arc here.Although this is a second (or middle) book, things actually happen here. With the world, the scenario, and the characters already established, Hurley is free to focus on the action – and she delivers that in spades. This is a fast-paced tale that carries a sense of urgency from page one. You can feel the tension oozing off the page as the characters clash, cultures collide, and worlds approach an end. The plot develops as much, if not more so, than in the first book – and not always in ways you’d expect. There are twists and turns to the tale that even the most jaded readers won’t see coming, as the story careens downhill towards an uncomfortable precipice. Not all of the characters will make it through to to end, and those that do will be irrevocably changed.While Empire Ascendant won’t win back any fans who were turned off by the violent, reverse sort of sexism and gender-bent sadism of the first book, those who enjoyed The Mirror Empire will come away entirely satisfied.Originally reviewed at The Speculative Herald Disclaimer: Thanks to Angry Robot for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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  • Seth Dickinson
    January 1, 1970
    I don't know if you've ever seen anyone spin plates. It's really hard. I tried it once, and believe me, I don't have any more plates.THE MIRROR EMPIRE was Kameron Hurley getting the plates up to speed: three distinct major cultures, each with its own history, its own moment as the terror of the world, its own politics and schools of badassery, invaded by a parallel world, all beneath the rising red light of the death-moon Oma. At the opening of EMPIRE ASCENDANT Kameron's mirror universe double w I don't know if you've ever seen anyone spin plates. It's really hard. I tried it once, and believe me, I don't have any more plates.THE MIRROR EMPIRE was Kameron Hurley getting the plates up to speed: three distinct major cultures, each with its own history, its own moment as the terror of the world, its own politics and schools of badassery, invaded by a parallel world, all beneath the rising red light of the death-moon Oma. At the opening of EMPIRE ASCENDANT Kameron's mirror universe double with a goatee starts hurling plates at her husband and family, and she's got to keep the plates spinning, and protect her family, and figure out how to throw some plates back. There is an ASTONISHING amount going on in this book: magic driven by orbital configurations, time fuckery, complex multipolar politics within many separate nations.This is a book about what to do after everything goes wrong. And I don't mean 'you lost the chess match' or 'your loved one died' or 'there has been a setback'. I mean your last-ditch, spend-it-all, my-bone-and-breath effort. It failed. It Didn't Do Shit. What do you do now?This book really surprised me. It went places I don't think I've seen a story go before: not in terms of raw horror, or petty cruelty, but in the way it drove the characters down the failure path of a traditional story. You are *not* the chosen one any more. Your political opponent really *is* better-connected and more competent. Remember those rules we told you about how to use magic? Those aren't limits you need to break to prove you're a real hero. Those are no-shit protagonist-breaking Consequences.Maimed warrior Zezili fights on even when she has to strap weapons to her scarred limbs. Would-be religious hero Lilia tries plan after ruthless plan and even though each one involves more and more personal sacrifice - seriously, the costs she pays are prodigious - they all fail. And yet she keeps on going. That's the story. How do you keep going? When do you give up? (The protagonists and antagonists of this story are protagonists largely because, no matter their other traits, they are made of raw gristle. They hurt a lot but they don't stop.)What do we do with a world full of predators? How does a peaceful, pretty well-put together society respond when the neighbors come knocking with weapons and hordes? Can social goodness survive without a bodyguard of monsters?You probably won't like Kameron's answers. But they'll probably ring true.
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  • Silvana
    January 1, 1970
    I can't get enough of Kameron Hurley. Plot, dialogue, character, WORLDBUILDING in her novels are so enthralling, fearless, no holds barred. Hers is the kind of writing that made me breathless and giddy when I turn the pages. I lose sleep over this series. And I truly hate the fact that the series is not finished yet, but relish on another fact that she will release another book (back to scifi) a few months from now (already preordered). Ok. So. This book. It is the 'A Storm of Swords' for Worldb I can't get enough of Kameron Hurley. Plot, dialogue, character, WORLDBUILDING in her novels are so enthralling, fearless, no holds barred. Hers is the kind of writing that made me breathless and giddy when I turn the pages. I lose sleep over this series. And I truly hate the fact that the series is not finished yet, but relish on another fact that she will release another book (back to scifi) a few months from now (already preordered). Ok. So. This book. It is the 'A Storm of Swords' for Worldbreaker Saga. Characters died. Horribly. Blood everywhere. Limbs. Intestines. The ultimate gore. While her characters were not particularly likeable (or even make you want to root for them), I still feel so invested in the narrative and eager in waiting what's going to happen. It is like watching a really good thriller that you know the characters are doomed but you can't take away your eyes from it. Almost everyone felt real, their emotions, motivations, that almost feverish drive to achieve something in a war-torn world with no hope. The depth of the story increased twofolds. More kingdoms, politics, hidden motives, betrayals and deaths for both rulers and civilians. However, the world is so rich I had difficulties in understanding some parts. For example, how many worlds exactly had connection with the main world in the narrative. And there was this weird alien empress and her alien cannibal friends with a living portal/temple with a scary throne thing. And of course the appearances of many non-human creatures. An ancient palace that talks and can transport you wherever in its folds? Hmm. Maybe I will find out more in the next book.PS: Sinajistas - fire witches - are so badass.
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  • Allison
    January 1, 1970
    Longer review in the morning when I'm done reeling from the death toll*. *ASoIaF is for PISSBABIESOne of those second-in-series that blows the first book (which I also loved) out of the water. I went back and edited Mirror Empire down to 4 stars, which is something I tend to do a lot (Ancillary Justice, Half a King, etc). Certainly not an indictment of "The Mirror Empire", but ME sets up, and "Empire Ascendant" DELIVERS. More world(s)-building, more points-of-view, more Tarantino-style action, m Longer review in the morning when I'm done reeling from the death toll*. *ASoIaF is for PISSBABIESOne of those second-in-series that blows the first book (which I also loved) out of the water. I went back and edited Mirror Empire down to 4 stars, which is something I tend to do a lot (Ancillary Justice, Half a King, etc). Certainly not an indictment of "The Mirror Empire", but ME sets up, and "Empire Ascendant" DELIVERS. More world(s)-building, more points-of-view, more Tarantino-style action, more blood magic. Sadly, not more cannibalism. Some of your faves die (maybe), some of your faves torture each other. You cry. Just another day being a Kameron Hurley fan.
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  • Elizabeth
    January 1, 1970
    An unapologetic and fearless story. I cannot wait for the next in the series. I struggled through the first half of the book because I couldn't remember a lot of the plot points and character names from the first (thank Oma for the glossary). I would advise readers to not wait long between each book. I will have to reread the first two before the third comes out, but I don't mind it. These books are a great bloody escape!
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  • Anthony Vicino
    January 1, 1970
    A million characters, and not a single one to root for. Oof.
  • B.R. Sanders
    January 1, 1970
    FTC disclosure: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.Notes on Diversity:As with THE MIRROR EMPIRE, a huge and deliberate amount of diversity is on display in EMPIRE ASCENDANT. The second installment in the Worldbreaker Saga digs deeper into the explorations and subversions of power and marginalization that were introduced in the first book. For example, more is revealed, very deftly, about the way gender and sexuality function in Dhai Prime vs FTC disclosure: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.Notes on Diversity:As with THE MIRROR EMPIRE, a huge and deliberate amount of diversity is on display in EMPIRE ASCENDANT. The second installment in the Worldbreaker Saga digs deeper into the explorations and subversions of power and marginalization that were introduced in the first book. For example, more is revealed, very deftly, about the way gender and sexuality function in Dhai Prime vs. Mirror Dhai vs. Saiduan. Issues of dis/ability dig in deeper and deeper, especially in Lilia Sona's storyline.While THE MIRROR EMPIRE was almost exclusively populated by brown people, EMPIRE ASCENDANT introduced characters I, at least, read as white (in Tordin). The focus remained very strongly on brown voices still in EMPIRE ASCENDANT.Review:It took me forever to write this review because this book sat like a stone in my heart.Kameron Hurley warned us all on twitter that Terrible Things would befall the characters introduced in THE MIRROR EMPIRE, and she did not lie. But she also didn't give the whole truth. EMPIRE ASCENDANT is a deeply complicated book. Yes, it is dark and brutal. But it is also almost bizarrely hopeful. It has these hopeful moments, these moments of hidden triumph, that made the book work for me.I confess I typically struggle with second-books-in-trilogies. I think, in many ways, EMPIRE ASCENDANT suffers from what I can only think of as TWO TOWER syndrome: after doing such a beautiful job pulling together so many disparate stories in the first volume, EMPIRE ASCENDANT (like TWO TOWERS) then splits those narratives apart. The story fractures again; the driving force of the book is not 'how are these threads connected?' as in THE MIRROR EMPIRE but 'what happens now that we know that they are connected?'As a reader who gloms onto characters more than onto plot, these in-between novels are often difficult for me. I am guessing that EMPIRE ASCENDANT fits well into the overall arc of the Worldbreaker Saga, but the long breaks from one narrative thread to the other left me wondering and drifting a little as a reader. That said, the book still worked for me because in every thread I was invested. In every thread, I still cared about the narrative.1I'm trying to write this review without spoilers, so I'll speak now in generalities about things I wish I could dissect in much greater nuance and specificity. The book delves deeper and personalizes the Tai Mora in ways I loved. EMPIRE ASCENDANT complicated relationships I thought were stable from the first book and stabilized relationships I thought would never work from THE MIRROR EMPIRE. Many Terrible Things happen. Many decent people are forced into making brutal and vicious decisions because this is a time of war and invasion.2But healing happens, too. Oh, god, how I wish I could talk about spoilers here because I want to talk about some the the healing arcs in this book so badly. About how one character's arc so beautifully mirrors something from the first book and in such an unexpected way. About how a character I've been rooting for since the beginning gets something--finally--that they deserve, even as the world seems to fall down around them. About the secret kindness delivered to one character that I hoped for but did not think was going to happen, but did. About how one character, when it seems like the entire world has beaten them, rises again: fierce, vicious, brilliant as ever. Self-destructive and walking a knife's edge, and precisely, exactly what is needed in that moment in that place--and, again, mirroring someone else's arc in very clever, very subtle ways.There is much brutality in EMPIRE ASCENDANT--and portals, and wastelands, and bizarre murderous alien bug creatures, and Bad Plants--but there is gentleness, too. And regrowth. And small moments of justice that very well could lead to larger moments of justice.Oma is the star of change. Change is a brutal force--brutal, but, at heart, ambivalent.1I rarely do this--partly to keep from influencing my own reactions to books, and partly because usually I don't sit with a book so long before writing a review of it--but I read a couple of other people's reviews of EMPIRE ASCENDANT to get the juices flowing before actually writing my own. Some people have had trouble, it seems, connecting with the core plot, or character's motivations for doing what they do in service of it. I have not had that problem.At a con last week, I gushed over THE MIRROR EMPIRE and listened to other people's critiques of it. And again, those critiques (that it's full of terrible people, that it's not a particularly realistic of portrayal of genocide) are valid. Other people bounce off books I don't.These books treat me, as a queer and genderqueer reader with disabilities, with so much respect that I am, frankly, so hungry for them that I am, I think, taking them utterly on their own terms. I fell in love with THE MIRROR EMPIRE because I felt seen by it, recognized by it, like I could exist in that world with a fullness that is unavailable to me in this one, and I engaged with that book at a deep level because of that. My devotion in no way waned while reading EMPIRE ASCENDANT. I drank both books in like a man dying of thirst drinks water. I can recite the intricacies of the plot to you in my sleep.2One critique of THE MIRROR EMPIRE I've heard that I don't fully agree with is that the book is about bad people doing bad things. I think, actually, the books are about mostly decent (and/or deeply broken and complicated people) doing fucked up things they have to do in order to survive. That's different than, say, Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, who truly is a Bad Person doing Bad Things because he is Bad (until the ending or whatever). But, you know, YMMV.
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  • Jacqie
    January 1, 1970
    I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.Unfortunately, I couldn't finish this book for a couple of reasons. First, my e-copy went dead on me just after I couldn't access it for download anymore. But before that happened I was already agonizing over whether I wanted to read the whole thing.I read the first book in the series, "Mirror Empire", last year. It was a challenging book. This book drops you right back in the middle of the action with no recap, and I I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.Unfortunately, I couldn't finish this book for a couple of reasons. First, my e-copy went dead on me just after I couldn't access it for download anymore. But before that happened I was already agonizing over whether I wanted to read the whole thing.I read the first book in the series, "Mirror Empire", last year. It was a challenging book. This book drops you right back in the middle of the action with no recap, and I had a hard time remembering what was going on. There were lots of POV characters, all with alien sounding names, and the plot was spread out over several worlds without much overlap. I felt totally overwhelmed and confused. Generally I can mostly keep my feet even in books with a lot going on, but after reading several chapters I felt more lost than ever. And then I had to ask myself if I cared enough to keep going, and the honest answer was "no". I wasn't attached to any of these characters. I didn't remember their motivations or many of their conflicts, and while I'm clear on the overall plot of the books, I couldn't piece together this crazy quilt of narrative into anything resembling sense. It was exhausting and it didn't pay off enough for me. It saddens me to write this review because I think Kameron Hurley is an excellent author with a unique voice, who is writing stuff different from anything else I've seen. She takes on gender issues and standard tropes, turns them inside out and makes you see the ugly underbelly of assumptions. It could be, though, that she's trying so hard to do that in this book that the story suffers.
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  • Liviu Szoke
    January 1, 1970
    I think it is the most violent non-horror book I have ever read. There are so many atrocities, and genocides and crimes against entire worlds, destruction, invasions, slaughters, mainly made by warrior women, that made me often cringe. No, this is not a book for sensitive souls, it is way too violent. And if you really want to understand this fascinating world (because it is really, extremely, interesting and well made), you have first to read the glossary (you will find it at the end of the sec I think it is the most violent non-horror book I have ever read. There are so many atrocities, and genocides and crimes against entire worlds, destruction, invasions, slaughters, mainly made by warrior women, that made me often cringe. No, this is not a book for sensitive souls, it is way too violent. And if you really want to understand this fascinating world (because it is really, extremely, interesting and well made), you have first to read the glossary (you will find it at the end of the second book, this one), then the first book, The Mirror Empire, and then this one, Empire Ascendant. And it will still be very difficult.
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  • Bridget Mckinney
    January 1, 1970
    [This review is based on an advance copy of the book received through NetGalley.]Empire Ascendant is a brutal read, which is somewhat to be expected from Kameron Hurley in general, and certainly to be expected in the follow-up to The Mirror Empire. The world of The Worldbreaker Saga is a harsh one, and this second book in the series turns the grimdark up to eleven.Unfortunately, I’m just not loving this series the way I did Hurley’s God’s War trilogy.Read the full review at SF Bluestocking.
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  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    Brutal.. off the hook.. and amazing. Hurley will soon be remembered as a great of the genre.
  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    Empire Ascendant is the second in Kameron Hurley’s ‘Worldbreaker’ series. In quick summary, it’s great. It’s a book which wants to ask complicated questions. It’s a book which requires engagement, and rewards investment. It’s a book rife with raw emotion, much of it in some way traumatic, and all very genuine. It’s a book with some excellent battles, and a refusal to look away from the consequences of those conflicts, both at the political and personal levels. There’s personal drama, there’s spr Empire Ascendant is the second in Kameron Hurley’s ‘Worldbreaker’ series. In quick summary, it’s great. It’s a book which wants to ask complicated questions. It’s a book which requires engagement, and rewards investment. It’s a book rife with raw emotion, much of it in some way traumatic, and all very genuine. It’s a book with some excellent battles, and a refusal to look away from the consequences of those conflicts, both at the political and personal levels. There’s personal drama, there’s sprawling politics, there’s even some excellent battle scenes. Hurley has put together something with an incredible scope, and managed to make the narrative feel tight, focused, and pitch-perfect.The setting is diverse, and that’s reflected in the environments presented to the reader. Hurley gives us frozen wastes, a lush semi-jungle populated by carnivorous plants, cities under siege, and an entire world, dying beneath a shattered star, amongst others. Each of these environs feels distinct from the others, a star in Hurley’s carefully crafted geographical firmament. At the same time, each locale feels lived in, and real – often horrifyingly so. There’s some excursions to new environments outside of the first book, and it’s always nice to see somewhere new – but n area where the prose shines is in making each of the places the reader is exposed to feel authentic.It’s always felt to me like the core of this series is the characters, and here, again, Hurley is on very good form. The existing cast of characters from the first book was quite large, and we get a few new people to read over as the text goes on. But what characters they are. There’s a determination here to not only present characters as people, but to approach that personification in an unflinchingly honest fashion. Indeed, one of the themes of the text seems to be around the creation of monsters, both physical and mental. Individuals find themselves working on behalf of a nebulous greater good, doing things which appall them – in an effort to combat adversaries who are also working for their own ideals, and performing atrocities of their own. The characters are in a turbulent gyre, where their own good intentions lead inextricably toward horrors. At the same time however, they remain sympathetic – vulnerable, damaged, struggling people.Speaking of damage, this is another place that the narrative performs strongly. We’ve seen characters perform atrocities. We’ve seen characters struggle with breaking the customs of their own society. Empire Ascendant portrays both of these well. But it’s not afraid to look at the consequences, at the mutability of identity, or at the ghosts that characters carry on their shoulders. The world of Empire Ascendant has rapidly become nasty, brutal and short – and many of the characters involved are trying to rapidly adjust to that, often with a great deal of difficulty. The kind of individual and social pressure that a character is under is something that the author portrays well – some characters are increasingly wrung out and look to be teetering on a psychological edge; others are forced to deal with more immediate changes of circumstance.The takeaway here is that the characters in this book, like it’s predecessor, are disturbingly, wonderfully believable. Not two dimensional, but real men and women on a page, acting with the best of motives, having their society fall down around them. A great many of them aren’t especially likable, but can be empathised with, can be understood, can be invested in, because they feel like people, not characters.There’s a lot going on in the interactions between characters as well. There’s the issue of goals versus means. The issue of what is justifiable. There’s a discussion to be had around slavery, and the way that individuals see themselves when they’re torn out of society. There’ssome truly marvellous moments of character epiphany, as an individual assesses where and who they are, and becomes something else. It’s impressive that none of this, or the many other points raised, feel heavy-handed. They slide by as part of the extended narrative, in character asides or setting descriptions, in the underlying assumptions of dialogue, and the occasional remark. There’s an impressive sense of broader culture here, of societies within which our protagonist find themselves. Alongside the individual portrayals of betrayal, loneliness, compassion and tiny acts of heroism, are societies which defines what those things are – and they leap off the page at the reader alongside the characters which they have shaped.The plot kicks off pretty much from the close of the first book in the series. It’s not exactly incidental to the characters, but it feels like they drive it, rather than the other way around – and that’s a good thing. It feels like the twists and turns that get thrown out by the plot are growing organically out of character choice. The pacing is spot on – there’s instances of frenetic action, the careful tension of political discussion, the tingling excitement of discovery; the raw, focused horror of murder and the explosive disaster of battle. There’s also the opportunity to get some answers, as the book progresses – by the end, much like the characters, I was beginning to get a feel of the stakes of the game. But the author doesn’t pull any punches, and I think it’s reasonable to say that by the end of the text, with danger in every shadow (as well as right there in front of them), none of the characters is entirely safe. A lot changes over the course of Empire Ascendant, for the characters and cultures portrayed within it – and the impacts feel seismic, and very real.
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  • Kritika
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 starsI asked for the blood to rain down...I definitely got my wish!This is one of those books that tears your heart out, takes a big bite out of it, and then smushes it back into place and hopes you can recover. Gory image? Well, you'd better get used to it if you want to take on this series! I'm usually terrified of gore and avoid books that are really bloody because I can't stomach it, but there is just something about this series that keeps me fascinated and glued to the pages even when I 4.5 starsI asked for the blood to rain down...I definitely got my wish!This is one of those books that tears your heart out, takes a big bite out of it, and then smushes it back into place and hopes you can recover. Gory image? Well, you'd better get used to it if you want to take on this series! I'm usually terrified of gore and avoid books that are really bloody because I can't stomach it, but there is just something about this series that keeps me fascinated and glued to the pages even when I am internally running away screaming.So what is it about this book that makes me so enchanted by it?It might be the impeccable world-building. Hurley is up there with Sanderson in my eyes for creating stunning, intricate fantasy worlds. The magic, the cultures, the mythology...just when you think you understand everything, there's a new big revelation and you're left reeling all over again.Or maybe it's the vast scope. Like ASoIaF, there isn't really a side that has all "the good guys". In The Mirror Empire it seemed like there was a clear side to root for, but Empire Ascendant makes you question your loyalties. Power corrupts even the most well-intentioned people, and sometimes the people behind terrible acts have an almost rational reason for them. Sometimes. There aren't just two worlds anymore, and there is a lot more at stake in this book than in Mirror Empire.It could be the characters. They're all very morally ambiguous, and any one of them could drop dead because the story demands it. This is something that drove me crazy with ASoIaF, so much so that I stopped reading; why care about these people when they will most likely just drop dead? But Hurley doesn't let you make that call. Somehow I am deeply invested in all of these characters, even when they make choices that I can't bear. I know many of them will die (and many of them have died already...tears) but I can't stop caring!I cannot wait for Book 3.
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  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    This was originally published at The Scrying Orb.This is the second book in the Worldbreaker Saga. I reviewed part one, The Mirror Empire, last year. Reading my own review prior to starting part two turned out to be a boon. The world is complicated, the dramatis personae lengthy. According to my Kindle, the glossary at the end is 5% of the total mass of the book. Even after the refresher, I was a bit overwhelmed by the plethora of similar-sounding names for a good while.The world is under assaul This was originally published at The Scrying Orb.This is the second book in the Worldbreaker Saga. I reviewed part one, The Mirror Empire, last year. Reading my own review prior to starting part two turned out to be a boon. The world is complicated, the dramatis personae lengthy. According to my Kindle, the glossary at the end is 5% of the total mass of the book. Even after the refresher, I was a bit overwhelmed by the plethora of similar-sounding names for a good while.The world is under assault from a relentless army from a mirror-world, an army comprised of phantom versions of the people of this one. They’ve already sacked an entire continent and are on their way to conquer the other two main countries. A hodgepodge group of characters all over the world stand to oppose them (and just as frequently: oppose each other). The pace, the headlong speed of the action, the scale continues to be Hurley’s strong suit. So many world(s)-spanning epic fantasies become lost in their own details and sputter on following millions of new threads introduced each book. The Worldbreaker Saga is speedy, despite the massive scope. Events happen quickly. The plot is spinning at a nice and compelling rate, while still remaining (mostly) comprehensible. When new threads are introduced, old ones are severed. Character bloat isn’t an issue when a writer is balancing the scales by brutally murdering many of the old ones (seriously brutal, not faux-brutal — trust me).I complained of the world not feeling weird enough in The Mirror Empire, especially given how strange it was supposed to be. Empire Ascendant is more satisfactory in that regard, the strange attributes (killer plants, moon-based magic powers, world hopping) are better realized and many of the old tropes discarded. When we can base a major set piece on an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque tea party of disparate characters sitting down for a banquet right in between two different armies protected by magic air bubbles, and the scene works, we’re going places. I’m still a little nonplussed by the main continent/character set where the action is taking place (Dhai) but there was so much going on all over the damn place, that I wasn’t too displeased.There’s a theme that runs through the novel about ‘monsters’. To fight a monster, you must become one. Gaze long into the abyss… etc. While it is of course credible that being exposed to constant violence would provoke violent tendencies in the person (or people) attempting to survive, it does not mean they would need to become monsters. I always balk when a character in a narrative thinks something along the lines of “If I do this [possibly bad thing], then I’ll be just as bad as them.” I am not sold by Empire Ascendant’s version of this; the villains have launched a sustained genocidal rampage on such an unimaginable scale, that the main characters killing a few people (in self defense) just cannot compare. Nor am I sold on the theme beyond the scope of the novel — that real life evil requires evil in return. It seems to be like Hurley is reaching for some of the moral heft of Oakley Hall’s Warlock but not quite grasping it.Another reason maybe I’m not sold on it is because I do not find the characters to be truly believable people. I saw this as a detractor in the first book (and still feel like the universe has some strange-but-nostalgic affinity to video games) but I’ve come to terms with the characters being less realistic depictions of people and more like pulpy archetypes who speak modern english. I’ve read Kameron Hurley’s blog and she’s confessed her love of 80s action heroes and I can see the influence in Empire Ascendant. Several scenes in the book could be reinvented as death metal album covers. Picture a grim anti-hero bleeding out, reclining on a mountain of corpses, flipping off the camera. That’s honestly not that far from a description of one character’s demise in this book.Empire Ascendant does everything the first book did well better, and minimizes on the things the first book did poorly. Not much more you can ask for from a sequel. I’m invested in the plot. It’s refreshing to feel like this is actually going to wrap up in three books. The board is set for book 3 and I look forward to the conclusion.
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  • Edward Rathke
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a wild ride. I read an interview a long time ago where Kameron Hurley said that she initially planned this trilogy as a 15 book series, and I think that's evident especially in this second novel. It leads to both strengths and weaknesses.The weaknesses are sort of the what-could-have-been variety, as certain chapters contain entire novels worth of potential material. By jamming it all into the book, it makes some of the relationships and character transitions and emotional moments w This book is a wild ride. I read an interview a long time ago where Kameron Hurley said that she initially planned this trilogy as a 15 book series, and I think that's evident especially in this second novel. It leads to both strengths and weaknesses.The weaknesses are sort of the what-could-have-been variety, as certain chapters contain entire novels worth of potential material. By jamming it all into the book, it makes some of the relationships and character transitions and emotional moments weaker than they would have been had Hurley had several novels to detail these relationships and events.That being said, Hurley covers a tremendous amount of material in this 500 page novel and it's kind of fascinating, if only to see her pull it off. Also, she's maybe more brutal to her characters than any author I can think of. Few people have a very good time in this novel and where this novel ends is an enormous question mark to me. I'm super excited for the third novel, as it will very obviously step away from the intrigue and political machinations and become one of guerrillas and revolutionaries. But, yeah, there's almost too much to talk about in this novel, but I'm pretty impressed. A vast improvement on the first novel, I think. If anything, I wish this novel had been spread over several novels. Oddly, I think that would have made it better.Excited for the final volume. Annoyed that I now have to wait.
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  • Eleanor
    January 1, 1970
    The second book in the Worldbreakers Saga. I really am incapably of providing a summery for this but I really really enjoy these books. The worlds Hurley writes are like no others you will find in fantasy. They contain races and cultures with different ideas of gender, sexuality and identity. I love the world and the characters so much and they are what draws me through the books. Also, this book was brutal, like grim dark brutal which I wasn’t expecting. I will say that I find the plot to be a The second book in the Worldbreakers Saga. I really am incapably of providing a summery for this but I really really enjoy these books. The worlds Hurley writes are like no others you will find in fantasy. They contain races and cultures with different ideas of gender, sexuality and identity. I love the world and the characters so much and they are what draws me through the books. Also, this book was brutal, like grim dark brutal which I wasn’t expecting. I will say that I find the plot to be a bit weak at some points, though I’m not sure how I will feel when it concludes. I think Hurley is laying a lot of ground which won't be apparent until the end. I also felt that the magic system was a bit too convenient for the author in that it allowed her to do what she wanted whenever she wanted which threw me out of the story.It really does keep getting more and more interesting the further in you go so I can’t wait for the next book to see where it goes. Still not perfect but very unequal and interesting.
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  • Mieneke
    January 1, 1970
    Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire blew me away last year and I was eagerly awaiting Empire Ascendant to see what happened next. I was not disappointed. Hurley manages to break her main characters worlds apart without flinching, never pulling her punches, but without making it feel as if she’s killing of characters for shock value. She makes the adversaries in the book if not sympathetic, at least understandable in their motivations, which makes everything even more complicated in the feelings dep Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire blew me away last year and I was eagerly awaiting Empire Ascendant to see what happened next. I was not disappointed. Hurley manages to break her main characters worlds apart without flinching, never pulling her punches, but without making it feel as if she’s killing of characters for shock value. She makes the adversaries in the book if not sympathetic, at least understandable in their motivations, which makes everything even more complicated in the feelings department. I loved the directions some of the characters developed in and I wonder how this epic conflict will be resolved in the final book next year.
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  • Adam Whitehead
    January 1, 1970
    The kingdom of Dhai stands on the brink of disaster, threatened by a vast invading army from a mirror dimension which has already obliterated the powerful northern empire of Saiduan. Ahkio, the inexperienced Kai or spiritual ruler of Dhai, is forced to make unpalatable decisions to prepare his small, brave and peace-loving kingdom for war. The price for saving Dhai may be to sell out its soul. Meanwhile, the Empress of Dorinah sends her best general, Zezili, south into the kingdom of Tordin on a The kingdom of Dhai stands on the brink of disaster, threatened by a vast invading army from a mirror dimension which has already obliterated the powerful northern empire of Saiduan. Ahkio, the inexperienced Kai or spiritual ruler of Dhai, is forced to make unpalatable decisions to prepare his small, brave and peace-loving kingdom for war. The price for saving Dhai may be to sell out its soul. Meanwhile, the Empress of Dorinah sends her best general, Zezili, south into the kingdom of Tordin on an errand that will have a profound impact on the coming conflict, and the entire world.The Mirror Empire was a decent opening to The Worldbreaker Saga, introducing a wide swathe of interesting new ideas, delivered in the author's trademark take-no-prisoners style. At the same time, the book undercut its promising opening with a whole lot of confusion, launched a sustained assault of invented terminology and context-less worldbuilding that left a lot of readers scratching their heads. Towards the end of the book, as the worldbuilding, character development and thematic ideas started coalescing, it picked up and ended on a reasonably intriguing note.Empire Ascendant picks up on that promise and delivers it with the force of a brick through your window. The book explodes into life at the start and doesn't pause for breath. After the much bittier and more inconsistent Mirror Empire, Empire Ascendant is resolute, determined and focused, which is a great relief.The core characters remain the same as previously: Ahkio, Zezili, Roh and Lilia, along with a number of more minor POV characters, including some of the so-called "villains", now humanised by allowing us to see events from their points of view. In particular, the alternate Kirana, the ruler of the dying world who is desperately trying to save her people by evacuating them to Grasia using portal-opening rituals that can only be fuelled by blood and death, is made more relatable. Although still a mass-murdering tyrant, Kirana believes her actions are necessary as the only alternative is to let her world die and her people be completely wiped out. This puts the actions of our more "heroic" characters in Grasia in a different light as they are also forced to adopt more and more desperate tactics (including sacrificing hundreds of lives in feints and using scorched earth tactics to deny the enemy resupply) to survive.Empire Ascendant's greatest success is taking the characters and archetypes we thought we'd gotten to know and reinventing them. Lilia could be - on a bare, simplistic level - be seen as a Daenerys Targaryen figure, a young girl who gains tremendous and far-reaching powers which we expect her to use for good. Events don't turn out that way and Lilia developers a ruthless streak which the reader can cheer when she is deploying it against the invading Tai Mora but then becomes a bit disturbing when she advocates tactics that will kill hundreds or thousands of innocents but it is justified because it inconveniences the enemy. Other characters go through similar emotional wringers and transformations but retain their credibility.The story develops at a relentless, page-turning pace: this is a 500-page book which catches fire early on and never goes out. The confusing morass of moons and satellites and astronomy and astrology from the first book is made a lot more understandable here, so the significance of certain satellites appearing and disappearing is now clearer. Armies march, lots of things blow up and there's a lot of betrayals and daring escapes, as well as hideous major character deaths. It's a dark book, but one where there are shades of hope and light as well.Empire Ascendant (****½) is a far more dynamic, impressive and vital novel than its forebear, and may be Hurley's finest work to date. The concluding volume of The Worldbreaker Saga, The Broken Heavens, will be released in October 2017.
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  • Tracy
    January 1, 1970
    Solid sequel to The Mirror Empire! This one pretty much jumps right in, with one thing happening after another. The writing is just as strong and concise as book 1. Even for a middle book, Hurley maintains the suspense and leaves a lot to look forward to in the final book. A lot of the world building happened in book 1, so there was less focus on the various cultures and the different countries and more focus on the action in this sequel. A few more characters get their own chapters, including t Solid sequel to The Mirror Empire! This one pretty much jumps right in, with one thing happening after another. The writing is just as strong and concise as book 1. Even for a middle book, Hurley maintains the suspense and leaves a lot to look forward to in the final book. A lot of the world building happened in book 1, so there was less focus on the various cultures and the different countries and more focus on the action in this sequel. A few more characters get their own chapters, including the Tai Mora's Kirana, Luna, and Saradyn. Zezili and Anavha whose fate was not looking too good in book 1 are back and still in the game. Just as in The Mirror Empire, Hurley does an excellent job keeping track of her characters and pacing the story, so the characters each play some role in the action. Even better, there does not seem to be an obvious favorite, especially with who will come out on top in the final book. I have to admit I had to look up the characters in the glossary and the Mirror Empire to remember who they were for the first chapters. It is fascinating to see into the Tai Mora Kirana's point of view. She was mostly just the bogeyman in book 1, and, as with the other characters, readers get to see how she sees things and understand her better, and she has her moments of softness and humanity (not much and not enough to change her course). I like how each character tries to make the best choice they can, but those choices are tempered by the other characters' viewpoints and their own biases and experience. Like Ahkio is a coward in Lilia's eyes, but he is an idealist and dreamer in a time of war. Or Roh sacrifices himself to do something good, but Luna, though grateful, sees Roh as stupid with a confidence from never having had bad things happen to him. A recurring theme is how much this war and the cost of survival will change the individual , as well as their people, about becoming monsters, needing monsters to make the hard choices and to fight the other monsters. Most, if not all, the characters are put through the wringer and come out battered, maimed, brutalized, or crash and burn, or rise and fall, and even end up dead. It gets pretty brutal, but it does not get gratuitous or drag out. The characters make desperate choices, some suicidal ones, including a few of the characters readers have been following. I have to admire that Hurley does not shy away from killing off her characters, which gets the point across that this is war and survival, this is something bigger than the individual character, and, despite whatever someone does and the choices they make, it might not be enough. It seems likely book 3 will introduce some new characters (or have a supporting character rise to a bigger role) and new viewpoints to follow, with the death of a few key ones in this one.The pacing was more fast and action-oriented. What was potentially frustrating for readers about book 1 was the world-building, as Hurley developed the different cultures and peoples with very non-traditional settings and attitudes. There was significantly less of that. The 5 Dhai genders didn't even get brought up. (Though Luna gets some chapters, and it was interesting to see the use of the gendered pronoun, "ze" instead of he or she and "hir" instead of his or her--I don't think I've really seen those pronouns used much, even in LGBTQ writing.) I missed that from book 1 because Hurley really builds a fascinating world, but I get that with war happening and survival needed that the focus is on the action. Besides jumping between points of view of a number of characters, there is more traveling and foreign settings. There's a scene set in the Tai Mora's Dhai, the country of Tordin is a setting for some of the events, along with Dhai, Saiduan, and Dorinah from book 1. The only country with no role, yet maybe, is Aaldia. Each of the characters and the people they represent hold or discover some piece of information about how Oma and the satellites work, which could be a game changer if they can use it or learn to use it. As the reader, we get to see a bigger picture of what is happening, and, due to Hurley's great pacing, she maintains the suspense and revelation of this information--there were more hints of how the satellites really work and mention that Dhai's temples are somehow the key, but it's still a mystery to be revealed in book 3. Hurley steadily builds the tension, upping the stakes for all the parties, and, even at the end of this book, there is no clear winner or clear course for how events will play out. The Dhai are still the underdog. Dorinah's empress is still scheming, which involves Tordin. The Tai Mora are dominating, but the other parties are not giving up and have some tricks up their sleeves if they can play their cards right.
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  • Lance
    January 1, 1970
    "So the Dhai came around and around and around again, killing other people, killing themselves, a long unending cycle of violence and renewal.""What compelled one to name these people the same even across different versions of their worlds, when the power structures were so different? What magic was in a name?"After the stellar success of The Mirror Empire, this book instantly became one of my most anticipated of the year. And it did not disappoint. Each chapter is brimming with plot and world-b "So the Dhai came around and around and around again, killing other people, killing themselves, a long unending cycle of violence and renewal.""What compelled one to name these people the same even across different versions of their worlds, when the power structures were so different? What magic was in a name?"After the stellar success of The Mirror Empire, this book instantly became one of my most anticipated of the year. And it did not disappoint. Each chapter is brimming with plot and world-building, at a pace that requires contemplation (I do mine personally during the boring parts of my workday) just to piece it all together in my head. It's a great cataclysmic multiverse out there, but here goes my attempt to contain it all in a review.The Tai Mora, alternative selves of the peaceful Dhai, pour out of their dying world through the gashes in reality opened up by the rise of the almost mythical astral body Oma. In order to establish their civilisation in a mew dimension, they must commit genocide to cleanse the world of their doubles. "'I'm afraid of what we've had to become to survive this.' 'We can go back.' 'I don't think we can.'" Here we get a first-hand perspective of one of the invaders, and we see them as desperate survivors. "She told herself the deaths weren't wasted, merely transformed. Nothing could be wasted this close to the end." There's more ambiguity here than ever could have been expected from such a purge of humanity. "'You are fighting an enemy with your faces, and some twisted version of your culture. You will know their minds better than we did.' 'No. They might as well be from some foreign star.'"More than lives are being sacrificed. A peaceful culture is on the brink of destruction. A culture in which people are free to choose their gender, enter relationships with anyone, and authority can be challenged. There's a lot to lose. Lilia, a young girl born in the dying world but raised in Dhai has been catapulted to prominence by the discovery of her gift challenging the forth star, finds herself leading the defence. "All that power, and what did it give her? It didn't fix her laboured breathing. It wouldn't fix her leg unless she let Taigan chop it off and regrow it." She is overlooked and patronised, but holds her station because of her gift. So I was shocked when Lilia burns herself out, permanently losing her connection with Oma, early in the book at the failed defence of Asona harbour. She hides her loss from the others. So her power shifts from this arbitrary gift, this extreme incarnation of able-bodied existence, to that of her keen mind for strategy. Her magic was never really her power at all. It's amazing to see a young disabled character given influence for who they are, for thoughts and feelings that a chronically ill person could really have. "Militia escorted her up four painful flights of stairs, apologising the whole way for not considering how difficult it would be for her." "It was people talking in loud voices that she couldn't stand, making what sounded like factual assertions, when they were utter nonsense." I felt her frustration as other characters' botched decisions and lack of loyalty destroyed her schemes to protect the harbour, and her plans to poison the Kai of the Tia Mora. But I know she won't give up. And I think that's more admirable than any immense magical power."'If all that's left of us is the fighters, the killers, what kind of society will they build?'"The world is against Lilia and the Dhai. No one really knows what an omajistas powers are. People are wandering over from any number of nearby worlds. And the star-patterns that form the basis of everyone's magical abilities are unpredictable in a way never experienced before. "'They don't orbit. They blink out. Between worlds.'" There is an epic scene where the dominant blue star suddenly vanishes from the sky, replaced by the cancerous-looking purple star not predicted to rise for another year. "Outside the sky was crimson, as if the sea was on fire. Para still hung in the sky but it had been joined by a second body, eclipsing it - the mangled, irregular body of Sina." Nothing is predictable here. And with Oma's full ascent only occurring in the final page of the epilogue, it's almost impossible to make predictions for the next book. 2019 is far too long to wait."'Your world is good and evil. But mine is far more complicated than that.'"Here's a round up of what my favourite characters have been up to. Starting with Taigan. Although continuing to be awesome as usual, Taigan disappeared for several hundred pages in the middle which made me sad. It's always difficult to balance narratives with so many point-of-view characters, but Taigan is the only omajista and one of only two Saiduan point-of-views, so I think this could have justified a bit more representation. Not that I'm complaining about the few scenes Taigan does get. I mean, he repels an enormous synchronised fire attack while reattaching his own head to his body. "Taigan reached for Oma and caught a breath. He began to reknit himself. Flesh hissed. Burned. He pieced his spine back together, then pushed forwards." Talk about taking it to the next level. I just wish there had been more of a sense of narrative for Taigan."She wondered if that's all regret was, missing the idea of a thing."In compensation, Zezili, the female Dorinah general, really comes into her own in their book. She survives torture for betraying her Empress only to steel herself towards betraying the Empress again from the perspective of a grovelling insider. "She wasn't afraid to bide her time. She had died once already. She wasn't afraid to die again if she could destroy the Empress with her last breath." Zezili's legion is sent to Tordin, a backwards country like "maggots living on the bones of some collapsed civilisation", on a concerningly vague mission. Despite her violent nature, Zezili is infinitely sympathetic when she comes up again King Saradyn of Tordin, the embodiment of dated redundant male chauvinism himself. "monstrously hairy creatures, like watching bears ride bears." Zezili literally fights the patriarchy. And does it with a claw for a hand and a dagger tied onto a stump. "she pushed her sword into her right hand and used her teeth to tie the blade to her wrist" There are some intense fight scenes in which the reader can vividly get inside the head of someone without fingers. The choreography is incredible. She gets some serious Jaime Lannister points. "We are not wasted, she had told Storm, and in a way it was true. They were no more wasted than old bones." I just hope that this isn't Hurley's farewell to Zezili. She transformed into the most amazing portrayal of a disabled character, a Paralympian in action, but with her suicidal attempt to stop the Empress' people at the end of the book I am worried we won't see any more of her. She was literally on fire at the end."'When I took up the sword, I accepted there were some bad things I'd have to do. I wanted to temper them with good. It was up to me now, to decided who was the monster, who the villain. That's harder than you might think.'"In contrast, Anavha's character development is just perfect. "No one had treated him like a man in Aaldia. They had treated him like a person." After a life of being treated like a possession in his native Dorinah, being kidnapped and accidentally finding out he can rip holes in the substance of the universe seems to be the best thing that has ever happened to him. He meets Natanial, a eunuch with no sexual interest in effeminate and restricted Anavha, who becomes his mentor and helps him heal. "'Some fetishise the abuse they endure because living under the alternative is too much to bear.'" It's a beautiful subversion of the coming-of-age story. He undergoes some really realistic progress, from self-denial and tantrums as a result being raised to believe "fear and sobbing were his only tools" to a sense of self-esteem and achievement. Anavha's male vulnerability makes me feel incredibly protective and nurturing towards him. I adore this character.Overall, Empire Ascendant is an excellent book, but I think that Hurley could benefit from more confidence that her world-building and her characters stand up by themselves and don't need to be dowsed in plot and unexpected deaths to be valuable. There are fragments like this: "Men married for economic stability, and for a desire for love and children. Who actually fathered the child didn't often come into the argument." that really make me think about Raisa and our own world, and I wish more time had been spent exploring these ideas rather than rushing the invasion along. We get two heart-rending chapters from slave Luna, assigned intersex at birth, "Ze wanted to be a man, desperately, but people laughed when ze said it here, pointed out all hir shortcoming, all the things that made hir ataisa", but then he disappears for over 400 pages. I feel like this sentence could be a compelling opening to a book in its own right. I can't wait for the third instalment, and I know that Hurley's creative voice is one that I will be following as long as my star (Baby Adam) is in the sky.
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  • Polo Lonergan
    January 1, 1970
    There is something about picking up the second in a series. You already know you like the concept or you wouldn’t bother to continue, but this time it’s different. The story has to hold up not only to its internal standard but to your memories of the first book and it takes a skilled author to manage that. Luckily Kameron Hurley counts as a skilled author and in Empire Ascendant she unravels the story into something even bigger without once dropping the thread. For you poor souls who haven’t pic There is something about picking up the second in a series. You already know you like the concept or you wouldn’t bother to continue, but this time it’s different. The story has to hold up not only to its internal standard but to your memories of the first book and it takes a skilled author to manage that. Luckily Kameron Hurley counts as a skilled author and in Empire Ascendant she unravels the story into something even bigger without once dropping the thread. For you poor souls who haven’t picked up the first of the Worldbreaker series (The Mirror Empire), it is set in a multiverse where the worlds are dominated by stars in the sky that switch and change over time. Each one brings changes with its ascent and each one gives power to a certain group of people. When the most destructive and rarest star, Oma, begins its ascent the worlds are drawn closer together and the barriers grow thin. Those in dying worlds begin their attempt to conquer another to keep their kind going past all odds. Through a select group of varied characters we are shown through the complexities of war and loyalty from people trying to achieve their conflicting goals.That’s what sets this book apart: complexity. Whether you’re talking about the unusual gender constructs between the different cultures or about the many motivations for slaughter and mercy, Empire Ascendant has you covered. Nothing is dumbed down. No morality is considered superior to another; they merely exist and are portrayed through the struggles of characters that cannot truly be taken as good or bad.In other words, it feels real. Even with the stars and the magic and the windows between worlds, the characters are believable, though they are not comfortable.Take Zezili. By far the most interesting character in the books so far, she is a horrible person. She abuses her husband in her chauvinistic entitlement. She is sexist to the lesser gender of men (brutally portrayed as weak in her culture, and even forced into girdles to keep their narrow hips). She has slaughtered countless slaves and others with no qualms. Yet although you may not agree with her methods, you understand her reasoning and want her to survive. Though I would hate to meet her down a dark alley she is an excellent mirror into a person twisted by circumstance and privilege.Zezili and her husband twist ordinary fantasy sexism on its head. With a strong, violent wife and a weak, submissive husband it would be easy within the context of our culture to play them for laughs, but Kameron Hurley never does. The characters are not caricatures. They have motivations and conflict within themselves and are both doing the best they can in a rigid gendered society. Though some people have decried the first book as sexist I believe that’s too narrow a view. Nothing in these books is given a moral judgment; it is portrayed as it would be in reality, often giving you some insight into how we in our own world view gender without shoving it too far down your throat. It’s a fascinating way to get new viewpoints across and never in my life would I have thought a gender neutral character might get hir own chapters. It is refreshing and should be celebrated, especially when it is done so well.Usually I would have problems keeping up with so many characters; like A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin the chapters switch between characters and cities and worlds, but it’s never hard to follow. It is always a smooth transition even with the added characters of the second book. If you’re a fan of intense fantasy with an impressive death toll, Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley is the book for you. Good news! It’s out in October, so preorder it now.
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  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review contains no spoilers.Finally, the sequel to Kameron Hurley’s amazing The Mirror Empire is here! I was blown away by the first book, and I had high expectations for the second. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.Before receiving this book, I’d read that some readers needed to refresh their memory of The Mirror Empire in order to get back into the story. Though I couldn’t say I remembered every detail as I dove i This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review contains no spoilers.Finally, the sequel to Kameron Hurley’s amazing The Mirror Empire is here! I was blown away by the first book, and I had high expectations for the second. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.Before receiving this book, I’d read that some readers needed to refresh their memory of The Mirror Empire in order to get back into the story. Though I couldn’t say I remembered every detail as I dove into the story, everything was fairly well explained as I went and plot details came back to me on their own, so I didn’t need to refresh my memory. If any readers are worried if they’ll need to reread the first book in order to enjoy the second, in my opinion they don’t.When I read The Mirror Empire, what struck me the most was the complex, unique worldbuilding of the setting. Most of the first book was detailed introduction, getting the reader acquainted with and used to the world, the multiple cultures and peoples in it. Only in the latter half of the book did the action of the story start, and it ended with one heck of a bang (in multiple ways).The Empire Ascendant, on the other hand, is all action. That’s not to say there aren’t still moments, because there are still the involved, complex conversations and explorations of characters that were in the first book, but everything in this second installment is driven by a deep sense of urgency. The characters know the danger, feel the threat, are much of the time on the brink of or in the heat of battle. The multiple story lines all move at a much quicker pace than in the first book, such that I tore through the entire thing in less than two days. The development of the characters is also a heck of a ride. What I love about Hurley’s characters is their ability to truly change throughout the story, depending on the situation at hand. In this sequel you’ll see your favorites strive, struggle, endure, and in some cases, go down in flames. Hurley’s characters are sympathetic and familiar both in endearing and sometimes uncomfortable ways., and you can’t help but want to know what happens to them next.So, if you were a fan of The Mirror Empire, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that you should read this book, but I’m telling you that you NEED to read this book. The Empire Ascendant met all of my expectations and more. I might have somehow loved it more than The Mirror Empire. Waiting for the third and last book in this series is going to be painful.Oh, and if you haven’t gotten into the Worldbreaker Saga, what are you waiting for?
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  • Lura
    January 1, 1970
    This is definitely not a middle-of-the-trilogy dud. Everything that was great about The Mirror Empire is still on display here, bigger and better than ever. It's darker, weirder, bigger, faster, gorier (and that last is saying something).The world is literally ending, and our characters begin the novel already at the end of their ropes. Roh is a slave. Ahkio is barely holding Dhai together. Lilia brought her fellow slaves to freedom, but now she has to find a way to keep them there. And Zezili i This is definitely not a middle-of-the-trilogy dud. Everything that was great about The Mirror Empire is still on display here, bigger and better than ever. It's darker, weirder, bigger, faster, gorier (and that last is saying something).The world is literally ending, and our characters begin the novel already at the end of their ropes. Roh is a slave. Ahkio is barely holding Dhai together. Lilia brought her fellow slaves to freedom, but now she has to find a way to keep them there. And Zezili is almost dead, having been mauled by the Empress of Dorinah's giant cats in return for her little bit of treason.And that's just for starters. Everything goes downhill (and sideways) from there. Even I, a seasoned Hurley fan, was shocked into making some great faces on the train while reading this book. The plot takes some bold turns, twisting away from the tropes you know to things you never wanted to consider. And just when you think it's pretty much gotten as weird as it can get (carnivorous trees! hills that are actually monsters!) it manages to get even weirder.In a lesser writer's hands, a story this complicated would be a hot mess, but Hurley deftly handles the tangled plot lines and various timelines. A lesser writer would also let the story sink into nihilism, but though it is dark--very, very dark--it never becomes meaningless because the characters still care. Even the worst of them do terrible things for real, human reasons, not just because gritty grimdark is grim.If I have one complaint about this book, it's that it could be longer. I am the last person to advocate for longer epic fantasies, usually, because longer generally means tedious. But these books cruise. Weeks pass in a matter of sentences. Blink and the characters have arrived at their destinations, without wasting a moment on eating tasteless stew and complaining about their aching feet. But while most of the characters still had room to breathe, a few--Anavha, Luna, and to a lesser extent Roh--had slightly rushed character arcs. (view spoiler)[I would have loved more from Anavha given his transformation in this novel, and Luna is such a new point of view that I wish we could know hir better. (hide spoiler)]But I am well aware that we're lucky we have these characters--any of them--at all. I'm still somewhat surprised that something so weird, with such wild twists of gender stereotypes and expectations and presentations, would be published by a mainstream (if small) publisher in the first place. Surprised, but enormously pleased. If dark and weird is your thing, get thee to a bookstore immediately. You won't regret anything except the long, long wait until the third installment in 2017.
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  • Zack Hiwiller
    January 1, 1970
    I received an advance reader copy of Empire Ascendant through NetGalley.Protip: there is a glossary in the back of the book with all the characters and place names of interest. I wish I would have realized that. I read the first couple chapters of Empire Ascendant and realized that I forgot who most of the characters were even though I had read Mirror Empire less than six months prior. There are a lot of characters bouncing around from chapter to chapter. Usually this isn't a problem for me. For I received an advance reader copy of Empire Ascendant through NetGalley.Protip: there is a glossary in the back of the book with all the characters and place names of interest. I wish I would have realized that. I read the first couple chapters of Empire Ascendant and realized that I forgot who most of the characters were even though I had read Mirror Empire less than six months prior. There are a lot of characters bouncing around from chapter to chapter. Usually this isn't a problem for me. For some reason, I found it difficult to sort them all out without re-reading Mirror Empire, which I did.I liked this book quite a bit, but cannot give it any more than three stars. It has middle book syndrome: nothing is truly resolved and each open thread spawns twelve more. Hurley does a fine job keeping everything interesting, but I feel like all the new fantasy concepts in the book are a little much, particularly the reason Zezili is sent off to Tordin. It reminds me of how the HBO Game of Thrones series edited out the talking face that lives under the Wall (the Black Gate) from Storm of Swords. It adds unneeded mysticism that distracts from the interesting interactions between characters. There are a ton of factions and characters each with their own needs and weaknesses that make the story interesting. There's no need for the rules to change.The other element that stands out is the distracting gender politics. I have no problem with what the politics stand for (Iain Banks did it much better in the Culture books); what I have a problem with is how distracting they are to the story. When Hurley creates new pronouns for the third gender and makes the reader try to parse the "ze"s and "hir"s, it distracts from what the characters are doing. It seems like every other chapter has a needless digression about someone's genitalia. Additionally, it's odd that such an obviously progressive author has so many rape scenes in the series.These, I suppose, in the end are minor gripes. I still blasted through the book with interest. I'm kind of miffed that I will have to wait until 2017 for the finale. I will definitely have forgotten everything by then and have to reread everything. Oh well. The low prices that Angry Robot charges makes the series still an easy recommendation, even if this is not Hurley's best book.
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  • Keith Pishnery
    January 1, 1970
    While The Mirror Empire was a sometimes bewildering ball of unique concepts, the follow-up is a much more exciting and action heavy epic fantasy along the lines of the names you know. The stakes go higher even while the characters become more layered and complex. One of my complaints about the first book was the sudden shift of Lilia from a helpless little girl to a deceitful tactician and savior. I still think that character arc was handled too quickly, but Kameron Hurley certainly makes use of While The Mirror Empire was a sometimes bewildering ball of unique concepts, the follow-up is a much more exciting and action heavy epic fantasy along the lines of the names you know. The stakes go higher even while the characters become more layered and complex. One of my complaints about the first book was the sudden shift of Lilia from a helpless little girl to a deceitful tactician and savior. I still think that character arc was handled too quickly, but Kameron Hurley certainly makes use of it here. At every turn, Lilia is seeing the whole board, to borrow a phrase from Jed Bartlett. Maralah gets some much needed character time as well, even as her country falls apart. As for the person who turned out to be my favorite character the first time around? Well, Zezilli is going through some stuff. Some pretty rough stuff. I made a joke on Twitter about how a Venn Diagram for this series would look like a spirograph. And the revelations in this volume certainly give that more than enough weight to not be a joke anymore. It's clear we are only seeing a small part of the wider conflict. However, the "what's really going on" begins to tighten here in the introduction of Saradyn, King of Tordin. Including a sexually loose alpha male into this world of shifting and complex gender dynamics is quite engrossing, seeing how he's the flip of Zezilli in a lot of ways. The extended unbroken sequence in Tordin is one of the strongest moments in Empire Ascendant, giving the Dhai/Dorinah heavy story a much needed alternate angle. There's some straight up cosmic horror here, too, taking the plot to a whole other level. Where we go from there... keep your eye on Rosh and listen closely. Lastly, let's talk about Kirana of the Tai Mora. In the first book, this was your standard villainous leader, single minded and ruthless. Book 2 does a lot of character work with her to fill in her side of the story, what's made her this way, and why she is doing what she is doing. Everyone is trying to survive with a shred of what they currently have. Ahkio talks about this a lot, the idea the pacifist Dhai have to hold on as much as possible to what they are or surviving won't mean anything. For Kirana, this is personified in her relationships. It goes a long way to making her more sympathetic.
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  • JT
    January 1, 1970
    Writing speculative fiction is a really fine line between originality and familiarity. This book has three problems, and that's one of them: It's simply too alien and without enough familiar touchpoints to be enjoyed (by me in any case). Now, don't get me wrong - it's very possible to do far more alien than this and have it work. Ursula Le Guin's made a career of it. So did Jack Vance and Ian Banks. So does Greg Egan. But they all manage to make it comprehensible with excellent characterization Writing speculative fiction is a really fine line between originality and familiarity. This book has three problems, and that's one of them: It's simply too alien and without enough familiar touchpoints to be enjoyed (by me in any case). Now, don't get me wrong - it's very possible to do far more alien than this and have it work. Ursula Le Guin's made a career of it. So did Jack Vance and Ian Banks. So does Greg Egan. But they all manage to make it comprehensible with excellent characterization and touches of the familiar. Here, not so much. We're in sink or swim territory.Now even that might not be a problem if it weren't for the other two problem. Gorn's one. That's a portmanteau of Gore and Porn. Hurley revels in it. There's blood and guts over every page. Not pleasant. I get that Hurley's trying to set the stakes high and not romanticize violence, war, whatever, but it's so ludicrously gory that it crosses the line there and back again. And again, wouldn't necessarily be a problem without the other ones. Ian Banks can do some pretty hairy stuff like this too - billions dead in planetary destruction, chairs made of bones, walking and flying tour of Hell - but it's never gratuitous and it serves the narrative. GRRM can similarly get nearly out of hand - witness the making of Reek - but it serves the story. Not the case here.Finally, at the bottom of it, the one thing which would make one forgive these flaws: If there were any character one could like, appreciate, respect, identify with in any way, that would help. I'm waxing hyperbolic, here; there are characters worthy of a modicum of respect, but not enough of them or sufficiently respect-worthy; there are some characters that one could like, but they don't last long, or they're annoying in other ways. I'm going to wait to see reviews before getting to the next one. God forbid this series should metastasize like Wheel of Time or Song of Ice and Fire.
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  • Sookie
    January 1, 1970
    Hurley has taken the basic idea of story telling, start-middle-end and has successfully managed to use it as a template for each of her book in this trilogy; at least for the first two. While Mirror Empire introduced us to the world of Rhea, Empire Ascendant introduces complexities of the mirror worlds, politics of Rhea, fight for the throne in a kingdom of Rhea and so forth. It is quite easy to get the characters mixed up as handful of them exist in two worlds. Hurley initially overwhelms her r Hurley has taken the basic idea of story telling, start-middle-end and has successfully managed to use it as a template for each of her book in this trilogy; at least for the first two. While Mirror Empire introduced us to the world of Rhea, Empire Ascendant introduces complexities of the mirror worlds, politics of Rhea, fight for the throne in a kingdom of Rhea and so forth. It is quite easy to get the characters mixed up as handful of them exist in two worlds. Hurley initially overwhelms her readers by throwing them in the middle of conflict without recapping Mirror Empire or allowing them a few pages to settle in. Like many of the characters in the book, readers struggle to keep up with the plot that is unraveling in several parts of different worlds. Hurley takes up a notch with violence, betrayals, torture, deviance, mutilation and gender complexity. The war isn't ever nice and in this world, its brutal. With magic assisting all the involved parties, killings are executed more ruthlessly with blood and gore on the side. I kept wondering for the most part, was it necessary to inflict so much torture (a character from book one is cut in pieces and flushed in toilet, for example) and gore to kill a person. In the kind of world it is set in - maybe. Is it required to write about it every single time? Maybe not. Gender representation and sexuality are quite fascinating in this world. It can be incredibly distracting with Hurley introducing her own pronouns but refreshing nonetheless. Hurley twists up the characters that the readers thought were good and provides a fascinating backstories for those who were thought to be antagonists. This is a war for survival. This is a war for continued existence in an already war riddled world. A good follow up to a good novel.
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  • Dearbhla
    January 1, 1970
    start with book one The Mirror Empire and then once you’ve been sucked into this ‘verse go read this one.Just like with the first book it took me a couple of chapters to really get into this book. I should have really reread the first book, I’m terrible with names and remembering who is who, and there are plenty of characters to remember in this series. Once I’d gotten them somewhat straight in my head I was totally immersed in this story.Usually I like a character to cheer for. I don’t think I start with book one The Mirror Empire and then once you’ve been sucked into this ‘verse go read this one.Just like with the first book it took me a couple of chapters to really get into this book. I should have really reread the first book, I’m terrible with names and remembering who is who, and there are plenty of characters to remember in this series. Once I’d gotten them somewhat straight in my head I was totally immersed in this story.Usually I like a character to cheer for. I don’t think I could cheer for anybody in this book. Pretty much everyone is at the end of their tether and they are all doing anything and everything they can think of to survive. To help their people survive. Sometimes that involves slaughtering worlds. Not really characters you’d want to ask around for tea.It is a book that expects you to use your brain, this is far from brainless entertainment, so if you are looking for fluff look elsewhere. It also surprised me by showing me how much I expect gender to be pointed out to me. One character refers to themselves using non-gender specific descriptors, ze and hir, and while I was familiar with those words, and have read them in non-fiction, to read whole chapters was a different experience. I kept looking for a he or she, which, obviously was not forthcoming.It is a fascinating book, because, as I already said, the characters do terrible things, almost no body is without blood on their hands. And that is a central theme of this book, people being forced into actions and reactions, situations creating “monsters” and what exactly people are willing to do to survive.In a tweet Hurley described this book as her “Empire Strikes Back”, so yeah, be prepared for the grim and the dark!
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