REVIEW: Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone
A feminist Guardians of the Galaxy—a smart, swashbuckling, wildly imaginative adventure of a rag-tag team of brilliant misfits, dangerous renegades, and enhanced outlaws in a war-torn future.
A wildly successful innovator to rival Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, Vivian Liao is prone to radical thinking, quick decision-making, and reckless action. On the eve of her greatest achievement, she’s trying to outrun those who are trying to steal her success.
In the chilly darkness of a Boston server farm, Viv sets her ultimate plan into motion. A terrifying instant later, Vivian Liao is catapulted through space and time to a far future where she confronts a destiny stranger and more deadly than she could ever imagine.
The end of time is ruled by an ancient, powerful Empress who blesses or blasts entire planets with a single thought. Rebellion is literally impossible to consider–until Vivian arrives. Trapped between the Pride, a ravening horde of sentient machines, and a fanatical sect of warrior monks who call themselves the Mirrorfaith, Viv must rally a strange group of allies to confront the Empress and find a way back to the world and life she left behind.
A magnificent work of vivid imagination and universe-spanning action, Empress of Forever is a feminist Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with Star Wars and spiced with the sensibility and spirit of Iain M. Banks and William Gibson.
Dear Max Gladstone,
I loved your Craft series. I am still couple of books behind so when I saw a new seemingly stand alone fantasy book coming up, I preordered it, full price and all that. I have to say first and foremost that I absolutely see how it can be a five star book for other readers. It is certainly a work of a writer who knows his craft very well and the world building of the future is *fascinating* for the lack of better word. Unfortunately despite that the book did not really work for me, and the main character is to blame for my disconnect with the story I think.
The blurb gives you the set up and it happens pretty much in the first chapter, so I don’t think it is a spoiler to talk about Vivian who is amazing, brilliant, awesome, super super rich and socially conscious to boot. She gives her workers free health care and even free housing. Her people help out in the time of natural disasters. There was something else she did, but I forgot what was that to show case her social consciousness. I am writing this review two or three weeks after I read the book hoping I would have a clearer picture of what I thought about it.
So far so good, socially conscious billionaire is somebody who I wish existed more often in real life, but right in the very beginning the plot made a weird turn – in my head I called that plot turn “Atlas Shrugged” backwards. Yes, I read that book, no I didn’t care for it . I read Atlas years ago and my recollection of the premise was that extra rich decided to temporarily fall of the end of the Earth because the world did not appreciate them enough.
In this book, apparently the establishment didn’t like Vivian – so much that they decided to kill her. I am still not sure why, but I think I was supposed to think that because she was socially conscious establishment decided to do away with her. Sorry but I did not buy it. When you are on the top, do the others really care what your political views are as long as you have tons of money? Not that I would put past her alleged ultra rich pals to do something horrible to her, but I seriously needed better justification than none? I mean, Vivian implied that because she was socially conscious (my words, the book does not use those), but it sounded kind of ridiculous to me.
Of course I get that the author needed a reason for Vivian to run and very soon (first or second chapter.) She ends up in the bizarre future, with the world where, as blurb tells you, the Empress can kill or foster the civilizations and planets and god forbid you get on her bad side. Vivian does together with some other characters whom she saves along the way and who save her several times.
As I said before, the worldbuilding in this book truly shines – the book starts to twist and turn pretty much the moment Vivian appears in the future, and the author does not chew the information for us but lets us figure it out as we move along, or to be more precise run or fly together with the characters. It is a fast-moving, fast-paced fantasy adventure.
Unfortunately I could not figure out why I am supposed to care about the main character, her shining perfection even when she ends up in idiotic situations grated on my nerves. The last third of the book produced a plot twist which should have been obvious but it was not for me, so I liked that. I also ended up caring for one secondary character, who ends up almost dead, but that’s about it.