My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Length: 378 pages
Release date: 31 October 2017
It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.
But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.
Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?
“‘One life. And tomorrow, one more life. And one more, and so many single lives…At what point will it be too many lives?’
‘If I were to guess, I’d say it’s the day you kill without wondering that.'”
It strikes me how Star Wars is always seen as children’s, or at least a child-friendly, entertainment when the series has the highest body count of practically any mainstream franchise. I challenge you to think of a deadlier big-name movie franchise by sheer number of deaths (the destruction of Alderaan alone is 2 billion people gone in seconds).
Congratulations if you succeed, because when I tried, I didn’t.
It’s so easy to become numb to genocide on that level when the deed is carried out as cleanly, as efficiently, as it is. The situation is similar in The Empress, which is a bloodbath from start to finish. I think of this book as the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy. That’s one of the lightest ways of introducing it, and when that’s true, you should be warned that it’s incredibly dark. Eight hours after reading the last sentence, I’m still reeling from the sheer horror of some of the events that take place over the course of the novel.
“And I couldn’t bear another moment of this sight, of any of this. This was power. Naked and unvarnished authority in its purest form. It was revolting.”
Hats off to S.J. Kincaid, because this book deserves a standing ovation. So many times, my feelings have been pushed to the breaking point, shattered into tiny pieces and mended back together only for the cycle to repeat in the next chapter–and all of it over the course of a mere 378 pages. There are tonnes of books out there twice the length of this one that don’t accomplish a tenth of the impact.
Book 1, The Diabolic, was already fairly dark as far as YA goes (with allusions to/appearances of torture, rape, mass murder, etc etc). Compared to The Empress, it was sunshine and rainbows. Part of me wishes I’d just left it at the end of the first instalment and savoured the image of Nemesis and Tyrus riding off happily into the sunset à la Feyre and Rhysand, but deep down I know the utopian fantasy wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying. An entire Senate of intergalactic power players just abandoning their traditions and ambitions for a 19-year-old radical progressive idealist? Come on.
The original book’s refusal to sugarcoat or whitewash was a major part of what made me fall in love with it in the first place, but The Empress exceeded even my wildest fears of what might happen to our protagonists. In an intense, heartbreaking, shocking, breathtaking way. I hope with all my heart that this really is the Empire Strikes Back of the narrative, because then the finale will see the entire mess put to rights. But I’m not hedging my bets yet. I wouldn’t rule out Kincaid deciding to take her story in the direction of a Shakespearean tragedy–that would be an extremely powerful and poetic ending, and the groundwork’s already been laid in The Empress such that it could realistically go in either direction.
It pains me to be unable to discuss plot details. However, I will say that Kincaid’s ability to write gut-wrenching plot twists that at first appear completely out of left field but soon make a terrifying amount of sense has only increased. Characters I thought I’d hate I ended up rooting for, characters I thought I’d love revealed their monstrous sides, and so much of my prior knowledge regarding the foundations of the Galactic Empire was torn down by its roots. I’m thoroughly impressed by the scale in which the world expanded in this book, going from just the central hub of the Chrysanthemum where we passed most of Book 1 to a full-fledged range of locations and characters.
There are one or two moments of levity or gallows humour sprinkled throughout. Thank heavens, because I might have gone insane from the constant stream of atrocities otherwise.
“My leg touched the bed, and my heart gave a frightened spasm. I asked him, ‘So do we begin the sex now?’
Unfortunately, that seemed to break the mood, because Tyrus began to laugh. Then I began to scowl. And I no longer wished to begin the sex.
He smothered his mouth with his hand, his cheeks pink, flushed. ‘I’ve just never heard it put that way. I think we should . . . begin the sex at a time that feels right.’
To all of you who haven’t read this series yet, I can’t emphasise this enough: Read it read it read it read it. As for myself, I’ve found for certain my most anticipated book of 2018. Something tells me that the final reckoning will be worth the wait.
*Read my review of Book One here*