Title: Empire Ascendant
Author: Kameron Hurley
Genre: Fantasy, grimdark, adult
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary:In this thrilling sequel to The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley transports us back to a land of blood mages, sentient plants, and warfare on a scale that spans worlds.
Every two thousand years, parallel dimensions collide on the world called Raisa, bringing a tide of death and destruction to all worlds but one. Multiple worlds battle their dopplegangers for dominance, and those who survive must contend with friends and enemies newly imbued with violent powers.
Now the pacifist country of Dhai's only hope for survival lies in the hands of an illegitimate ruler and a scullery maid with a powerful – but unpredictable –magic. As their dopplegangers spread across the world like a disease, a former ally takes up her Empress’s sword again to unseat her, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with a long-lost secret that they hope is the key to the other worlds' undoing.
But when the enemy shares your own face, who can be trusted?
I asked for the blood to rain down...I definitely got my wish!
This is one of those books that tears your heart out, takes a big bite out of it, and then smushes it back into place and hopes you can recover. Gory image? Well, you'd better get used to it if you want to take on this series! I'm usually terrified of gore and avoid books that are really bloody because I can't stomach it, but there is just something about this series that keeps me fascinated and glued to the pages even when I am internally running away screaming.
So what is it about this book that makes me so enchanted by it?
It might be the impeccable world-building. Hurley is up there with Sanderson in my eyes for creating stunning, intricate fantasy worlds. The magic, the cultures, the mythology...just when you think you understand everything, there's a new big revelation and you're left reeling all over again.
Or maybe it's the vast scope. Like ASoIaF, there isn't really a side that has all "the good guys". In The Mirror Empire it seemed like there was a clear side to root for, but Empire Ascendant makes you question your loyalties. Power corrupts even the most well-intentioned people, and sometimes the people behind terrible acts have an almost rational reason for them. Sometimes. There aren't just two worlds anymore, and there is a lot more at stake in this book than in Mirror Empire.
It could be the characters. They're all very morally ambiguous, and any one of them could drop dead because the story demands it. This is something that drove me crazy with ASoIaF, so much so that I stopped reading; why care about these people when they will most likely just drop dead? But Hurley doesn't let you make that call. Somehow I am deeply invested in all of these characters, even when they make choices that I can't bear. I know many of them will die (and many of them have died already...tears) but I can't stop caring!
I cannot wait for Book 3.