STARRED REVIEW
June 18, 2019

Empress of Forever

By Max Gladstone

I’ll admit it—sometimes I can’t keep up with science fiction novels I read. It’s not for lack of trying; I’ll keep doggedly reading even if the complexities of the plot confuse me or the science has gotten too “science-y” or the concepts are so philosophical I feel like I’m back in lectures just trying to maintain a C for the course. It can be downright exhausting. Thank goodness that, despite being a wild ride across the galaxy, Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever has the perfect amount of self-awareness and heart to maintain its wilder moments.

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I’ll admit it—sometimes I can’t keep up with science fiction novels I read. It’s not for lack of trying; I’ll keep doggedly reading even if the complexities of the plot confuse me or the science has gotten too “science-y” or the concepts are so philosophical I feel like I’m back in lectures just trying to maintain a C for the course. It can be downright exhausting. Thank goodness that, despite being a wild ride across the galaxy, Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever has the perfect amount of self-awareness and heart to maintain its wilder moments.

Vivian Liao is tired of being herself. A Steve Jobs-esque super CEO in Earth’s near future, she controls a vast technological empire, but increasingly suspects that her enemies are closing in on her success. In a last-ditch effort to take control of her life (and the world), Viv fakes her own death and breaks into a server room where, with a few quick keystrokes, she’d be able to take over all data on earth. Just as the last loading bar creeps toward 100 percent, a woman bathed in light grabs Viv and, somehow, rips her out of her existence and into a far future galaxy full of robots where she is the only human. With nothing but questions and a few fantastic companions by her side, Viv must scour the galaxy for an answer to a simple question: “How the heck do I get home?”

The answer involves a kaleidoscopic journey through space on a ship called, of course, the Question. And the journey wouldn’t be half as fun without the ensemble cast Gladstone builds around Viv the moment she arrives in the post-human future. There’s a forest-dwelling Viking princess-pilot, a robed monk who treats Viv like a miracle, a creature called Gray who steals dreams and Zanj, a wrathful demigod hell bent on the same thing as Viv—finding the Empress and exacting revenge. Each core member of the team is given plenty of page time, and in its best moments, Empress feels like Guardians of the Galaxy mixed with a healthy, swashbuckling dose of Pirates of the Caribbean.

With Empress, Gladstone stands confidently on the shoulders of his Craft Sequence to create a confident, poignant, expansive world. Though he never holds back in the imagination department, it’s the smaller interactions between characters that forms the foundation. It might be hard to build a new universe, but it is even harder to fill it with people that readers instinctively know both belong and deserve to be there.

So I need not have worried that Gladstone would leave me behind. Though the Question finds itself hurtling through a dizzying, incredible universe, Viv and her friends were right there to keep me company.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Go Behind the Book with Max Gladstone.

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Empress of Forever

Empress of Forever

By Max Gladstone
Tor
ISBN 9780765395818

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