Note: May contain spoilers for the previous book, Daughter of the Empire.
Servant of the Empire (1989) is the second novel of the EMPIRE TRILOGY which is set in Raymond E. Feist’s RIFTWAR world and co-authored by Janny Wurts. This story takes place in the Tsurani empire which is an enemy to the Midkemian heroes of the RIFTWAR SAGA (e.g., Pug, Tomas, Prince Lyan). Some of the RIFTWAR characters appear, or are mentioned, in THE EMPIRE TRILOGY, but it’s not necessary to have read RIFTWAR first. However, you do need to read Daughter of the Empire before picking up Servant of the Empire.
So, back in Daughter of the Empire, nobody thought that Mara could have made it through her first day as Lady of the Acoma, but she managed to survive the entire book! She did not come through unscathed, however, and she is now far from the devout convent-dwelling gentlewoman who we met in the opening scene of Daughter of the Empire. She has developed into the clever and ruthless leader she needs to be to try to keep herself and her house safe from their many enemies. Now she is someone to contend with. She’s going to need all her wits and ingenuity to continue to keep her enemies at bay, though, because Desio of the Minwanabi clan has declared blood feud against her house. Realizing she’s smarter than he is, Desio and his advisors hatch an elaborate plot to bring Mara down.
Fortunately Mara has some excellent loyal advisers and supporters including a new spymaster. This time she also has some help from an unexpected source: Kevin, a large red-headed barbarian (Midkemian) slave she bought at an auction. Kevin, accustomed to being his own master, and bewildered by the Tsurani culture, is at first hostile and obstinate, but Mara soon realizes that he has some valuable alien customs, ideas, and viewpoints about honor and loyalty that may give her an advantage in the Game of the Council. Plus, he’s handsome…
Servant of the Empire is another exiting and suspenseful installment in the EMPIRE TRILOGY. There are a few scenes that go on too long, and the constant spying and political maneuvering eventually becomes exhausting, but for the most part I was riveted. The danger never lets up, there are some great fight scenes and, in a society where politics takes precedence over law and order, there are serious lethal consequences to Mara’s actions. This story spans years and, when it’s over, not only is Mara and her house completely changed, but so is their society.
I especially liked Kevin. His rebellious antics were entertaining and he brought a welcome contrasting perspective to the harsh political arena of Tsurani. It seemed to me that Feist and Wurts highlighted this contrast by having Mara act a lot more conventional than she did in the first book. At least at the beginning of Servant of the Empire she seemed especially callous and cold-blooded, and I felt that this was out of character for a woman who, in the previous book, was known for being merciful, imaginative, and willing to buck tradition.
As soon as I finished Servant of the Empire I started the final EMPIRE novel: Mistress of the Empire. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m listening to the new audio versions produced by Random House Audio. Tania Rodrigues gives a great performance. The audiobook is 20 hours long. I’d also like to point out the gorgeous cover art for this trilogy. It was created by Janny Wurts’ husband, artist Don Maitz.