Game of Thrones Meets Shogun
I have a confession, one which may force me to surrender my Official Fantasy Fan Card: Up until last week, I had never read anything by Raymond Feist, whose Riftwar Cycle might only be a notch below Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones in fame. Co-written by the prolific Jany Wurts, Daughter of the Empire takes place on another part of this world.
Though I am not familiar with the Riftwar Cyle, the setting of Daughter of the Empire is distinctly Second World Low Fantasy. I categorize it as Low Fantasy, as there is no evident magic in Book 1; though the same could be said about Game of Thrones until later on.
Whether or not the characters were Asian, I couldn’t tell; but with an Emperor-like figure ruling in name, but a Shogun-like figure known as the Warlord ruling in fact, it felt like Warring States Japan. The comparisons continue, with a “Game of the Council” representing the plotting, alliance-building, backstabbing, and warfare that has to follow exacting conventions.
Untrained in this Game of the Council, sole POV character Mara must quickly learn how to lead when she unexpectedly and suddenly inherits leadership of her clan. At the start of the story, she is about to become a nun when she learns her father and brother were slain in a treacherous ploy by a rival clan. What I found especially enjoyable about her as a main character is that she is not a “Chosen One.” She’s not a warrior, or a mage, or have any other special abilities beyond her own intelligence and wit.
Driven to protect her clan and live up to the legacy of her father, she takes many risks and faces many dangers—from marrying a brute who is tied to a powerful family to confronting a rival warlord on his own estate. She is helped by her childhood nanny and two bodyguards, as well as a spymaster and bandit leader whom she must win over. All the characters are distinctive enough to form a strong mental image.
Beyond the Game of the Council, the story feels real with lush world building, organically described without infodumps or stilted dialog. One element that stood out to me was an Ant-like race, complete with Queens, which excel at both combat and craftsmanship.
With these elements, I rate Daughter of the Empire of 4.5.
JC Kang is the bestselling author of The Dragon Songs Saga.