Mistress of the Empire (1989) is the final book in Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ EMPIRE TRILOGY. It’s an exciting, emotional, dramatic, and ultimately satisfying end to the story. Please don’t read it before you read Daughter of the Empire and Servant of the Empire. (And please note that this review will contain spoilers for those two previous novels.)
At the end of the second book in the trilogy, Servant of the Empire, it seemed that Mara had managed to secure safety at last. Due to her services to the empire, she was named “Servant of the Empire” and was adopted into the emperor’s family. That makes her the most powerful house ruler in the empire’s history. Now she owns the beautiful and well-defended lands of her former enemy and has accepted his warriors and staff into her own house. For the past three years she has lived peacefully with her new husband, her son from her previous marriage, and the toddler with whom she was pregnant at the end of book two.
When a couple of gut-wrenching tragedies strike and put Mara off-balance, she realizes she’s not safe after all and goes back on the offensive again. The Game of the Council reignites, with all the nasty political machinations that entails. As before, Mara will need all the help she can get from her loyal and dutiful household. There’s been some turnover in her staff since the first book as, over the years, a few of her closest counselors have been killed and replaced. One of her most valuable assets is her spymaster, Arakasi, who discovers that he may not be the empire’s greatest spymaster after all. Arakasi’s storyline features prominently in the unfolding of this final novel’s plot and his character changes drastically (but realistically) by its end. Also important to the plot are the magicians, the Hamoi Tong assassins, and the insectoid aliens called the Cho-ja.
As with the previous novels, the plot, which spans years, is fast-moving, intense, and sometimes brutal. There are surprising assassinations, other tragic (and triumphant) deaths, unlikely alliances, epic battle scenes, and travels to exotic places. All of these events serve to further open Mara’s mind, give her new perspectives, and cause her to question the premises of her own society (e.g., slavery, honor code) which, until recently, she had always assumed was superior to all other societies.
There were a couple of times in Mistress of the Empire where Mara was inexplicably passive and, I thought, could have averted a tragedy by simply speaking up and explaining something to someone (especially when she was visiting a different culture). There were also a couple of plot devices that I had a hard time believing in. One is that Mara’s first brother-in-law is still brooding over her rejection of him in favor of his brutish brother (when none of them knew each other) many years ago, an intense deep-seated grudge that seems improbable but is used to propel much of the trilogy’s plot. I don’t want to mention the other unlikely plot device since it underlies an important and emotional event that occurs at the very end of the story. In order to set up that event, two main protagonists had to do something that was out of character and I didn’t buy it. Yet, when the unlikely event occurred, it left me in tears, so even though I didn’t believe it, I loved it anyway.
I enjoyed listening to the EMPIRE TRILOGY in audio format and would recommend the audiobooks produced by Random House Audio. Tania Rodrigues did a masterful job with the narration. I’ve also enjoyed the lovely cover art for these titles. Mistress of the Empire has my favorite cover. These were created by Wurts’ husband, Don Maitz.