“There is a hand behind every curtain,’ ” she quoted. “ ‘And a knife in every hand,’ ” finished Mara.”
So what’s the book about?
In the realm of Tsurani, young Mara is on the verge of a decisive moment in her life. Only a few gong beats separate her from her official admission to the monastery, where she will spend the rest of her life. But then she learns that her father and brother have been killed in battle and that she is the new head of the House of Acoma. Supported by a few loyal soldiers and servants, she must face the almost impossible challenge – for her rule is threatened by hostile noble houses and Mara must make a great sacrifice to restore House Acoma to its former power.
“Fear is the little death, daughter. It kills in tiny pieces.”
These aspects attracted me the most while reading.
- Political power struggles are the theme here and the clever protagonist Mara also knows exactly how to deal with them. Almost every page is filled with political manoeuvring and Mara’s deft handling of the challenges thrown at her. Mara is extremely smart and plays the long game. She is not afraid to think outside the box and play with the rules, never breaking them but defying the norms to get better results. Yes, she uses every grey area without a guilty conscience and with such self-confidence that you just have to play along with her game. Mara asserts herself in a world dominated by men and shows that women are sometimes the better sex;). In doing so, she also gives up herself again and again in order to remain loyal to her kingdom, inherited from her father, and to do the best for the people.
- Honour is everything! And yes, this principle also fits very well here. The world is set in a Japanese setting where you know that the Japanese, or many other Asians for that matter, consider honour to be something very important and thus would never cross the line. The characters are all bound by strict rules of honour and behaviour. As long as you stick to the “forms”, nothing is off limits. Did you murder someone’s husband? As long as you behave politely towards her, she can’t even accuse you, even if everyone knows you did it. The characters are constantly plotting within these complex constraints to find the best way to gain an advantage over the others. They try to look ahead and guess what moves the other players will make, etc. Of course, the rules are always respected! And that is exactly what makes these political tussles so interesting, because everything takes place in a halfway civilised manner or, in the case of dubious actions that would have to trigger a war, they row back to honour after all.
- Mara is an engaging heroine. You experience her inner dialogue full of doubt, fear and despair, and you experience her outer appearance, which is detached, serene and, above all, correct. She is the ultimate lateral thinker, and in the context of the story, it works. Desperation often makes people do unconventional things. It is also nice that while the authors make her a generally sympathetic character, she can also be as manipulative and ambitious as her critics think she is. Even though you might think she’s a nice queen at first, I just love that even as an emotional woman, she is fierce. She’s not black or white and I didn’t expect that from an older and classic story.
“Learn the nature of self, accept all aspects of self, then the mastery can begin. Denial of self is denial of all.”
What did not work for me!
- Things are going too smoothly for Mara. She’s extremely lucky, and I think that’s a flaw in the narrative. Yes, it’s great to see Mara triumph and outsmart her enemies, and I also find it exciting to read how she takes her unusual approaches and succeeds, but I wish the path to her triumph was a little more detailed at times, or that she failed times. People don’t always behave the way you want them to. They are unpredictable and surprising. However, they fall into her traps easily enough. She also hits the mark too often. Yes, she listened to her father practise his statecraft as a child, but sometimes her actions betray a sophistication that should be foreign to her.
“Another lesson, child: men are easily injured over matters of the heart. More often than not, those wounds are long in healing. You may have won this round of the game, but you have also gained a deadly enemy. None are more dangerous than those in whom love has changed to hate.”
So what are my final thoughts about it?
Daughter of the Empire immerses the reader in a new dimension of fantasy. An imaginative plot that develops intelligently and at a well-timed pace, together with well-developed and genuinely interesting characters, form the focus of this novel. The reader will find elements of romance, humour, drama and surprise finely woven into the fabric of the plot. Especially for readers looking for a book with a strong female heroine, they can get their full money’s worth here. It should only be noted that it does not have the most complex storyline, nevertheless one is very well entertained. This is a story that I very much want to revisit soon, as Mara’s unconventional ideas could not let me go.
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