fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsEmpire by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard YA science fiction book reviewsEmpire by John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard

(Warning, may contain spoilers for Conquest.)

Empire, by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, is filled with action, suspense, and characters we care about. It is YA but adults will enjoy it.

In Conquest, the first book of THE CHRONICLES OF THE INVADERS, Earth had been conquered by a technologically superior race, the Illyri. Syl, a young woman, was the first Illyrian born on Earth. Paul Kerr was a member of Earth’s Resistance movement. Fate threw these two unlikely lovers together, but their commitment goes beyond their feelings for each other. Paul and Syl uncovered a conspiracy by a parasitic alien race that is controlling many of the Illyrians. Now, in Empire, Paul is a conscript in the Illyrian Brigades, and Syl has been sent to the convent of the Nairene Sisterhood, stronghold of Archmage Syrene, her greatest enemy.

While Syl and her friend Ani are trapped in the bad-boarding-school atmosphere of the Nairene Convent on Marque, Syl searches the convent’s vast libraries for information about the creatures that inhabit the brain stems of some Illryians. Marque is more than merely unpleasant. Many Illyrians have special, psychic abilities. The Nairene Sisterhood recruits Illyrian girls with these skills and the strongest of them roam the halls in search of weaker novices to attack. Ani is gifted and so she is exempt from bullying, even invited into the inner circle. Syl is also very powerful, but has learned to hide it. This, her Earth heritage, and the fact that her mother left the sisterhood before she was born make her a constant target for ridicule and abuse.

For Paul and his brother Steven, a routine military assignment goes wrong. Within minutes, half their patrol is dead. Paul emerges as a leader and gets the survivors onto their shuttle and off a hostile planet, but his troubles are only beginning. Soon, the humans, with an Illyrian diplomat and one surviving Illyrian military member, are on the run in a stolen starship. They make a discovery that has horrifying implications for both the planet of Illyr and Earth.

Empire alternates points of view between Syl and Paul. The tone of Syl’s sections are less focused on action, at least at the beginning, and concentrate on relationships, as Syl wonders who to trust. Some of the sisters are outright evil, and some, like the librarian Onwyn, are good, dedicated women who only want to expand knowledge. The book plays with perspectives, especially in the conflict between Syl and Ani. Ani is coming into her own for the first time and she disagrees with Syl about the Sisters. Paul tends to be more strategic, planning escapes and attacks, but both sections still find time to address issues of racism, colonialism, trust, and faith, all without being preachy.

The secondary characters are well-described and lively. In some cases, the villains, like Syrene, are over the top, but in others, particularly in the convent, characters veil their true motives and the suspense ratchets up as Syl uncovers terrible secrets. In a way, Paul’s issues are simpler. He knows that because he is human he cannot be infected with the parasite. Syl, on the other hand, knows that she can be. This is not to say that humans get a free pass; what the parasites do to them is terrible, but it is not the loss of autonomy and self that Illyrians experience.

There is a lot of talk about female characters with “agency” these days. Syl, who is trapped light-years from her home, isolated, scrutinized and under constant psychic and psychological attack, acts with agency throughout the book. Legally underage and confined in a convent, Syl still takes charge and get things done.

Empire lays the groundwork for the third book while delivering an intense story. Aimed at teen readers, the book is not simplistic. The consequences of decisions are real, and often tragic. There were a few passages that I thought were slow, but not too many. It is a wide-ranging story with characters I cared for, and I was holding my breath during the final confrontation in the last few pages.

Publication Date: February 24, 2015. Empire continues the journey of Syl and Paul as they fight to regain planet Earth from a ruthless alien species, in this next installment of a stunning new science fiction trilogy that “should not to be missed” (The Guardian). She is the trophy of a civilization at war with itself. He is its rebel captive. Separated by millions of light years, they will fight to be united… Earth has been conquered and occupied. The war is lost. The Resistance still fights the invaders, but they are nothing more than an annoyance to the Illyri, an alien race of superior technology and military strength. When caught, the young rebels are conscripted. Part soldiers, part hostages, they join the Brigades, sent to fight at the edges of the growing Illyri Empire. Paul Kerr is one such soldier—torn from his home and his beloved Syl Hellais. She is the first alien child born on Earth, a creature of two worlds—and a being possessed of powers beyond imagining. Now both must endure the terrible exile that Syl’s race has deemed just punishment for their love. But the conquest of Earth is not all it seems. There is another species involved, known only as the Others, and the Illyri will kill to keep their existence secret. Light years from Earth and millions of miles apart, Paul and Syl must find a way to reveal the horrifying truth behind the Empire, and save all that they hold dear from the hunger of the Others. Even at the cost of their own lives…

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  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.