Empire’s Heir by Marian L Thorpe
Intense, moving and deeply personal, this novel set on the edge of history is a picture of an unconventional family under various threats is an engaging read. A political thriller of sorts, this is a novel which features a subtle and intelligent story of a group of people who are playing for high stakes – their lives and the survival of their country in the face of a powerful ruling Empire. The talented author continues a saga in a created world which draws inspiration and historical veracity from Roman history with other elements added. This book is the second in a second trilogy of an Empire where women are frequently warriors, politicians and in the case of one of the main characters here, diplomats. Gwenna is a young woman who is the acknowledged heir to the land of Esperias, and it is largely her story which dominates this novel which I believe can be read as a standalone and indeed taster for the other novels. Certainly most of the challenges she faces in this novel are new and must be worked at independently of what has gone before; her parents have their own stories but this is Gwenna’s story. While her father Cillian is present, her mother Lena is coping with a tragic loss and her fears for the future, taking some refuge in the military role which she is uniquely qualified for given her stormy past.
This is a novel told through the perspectives of Gwenna and Cillian as they make choices and take actions that may have implications for thousands of people as well as themselves. The inherent tension kept me reading, the world creation is superbly consistent, and yet it is the humanity of the narrative which maintains interest. Thorpe is a skilful creator of characters and settings in the little details, the small points that reveal immense research into the sources which construct an Empire on the edge of history, and I was accordingly so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this deeply satisfying book.
As the book opens Gwenna is negotiating a trade deal with the ruler of a neighbouring state. It concerns wool as befits a largely agricultural state, but it also reveals the sophistication of the society in which Gwenna and her family live and act. Gwenna acquits herself well, despite the fact that both sides are dealing with personal griefs that will echo throughout the book. She also reveals that she has been invited to the investiture of the new Emperor of the East who was assuming his role from the abdication of his mother who had been the effective ruler of the Empire. Gwenna has been invited specifically in her role as heir to the leadership of Esparius, but also as a potential bride for this new young Emperor. There turns out to be competition for the role, other young women whose backgrounds also represent political implications as well as their own personality, and Gwenna must make fine judgements of her wishes amid huge tensions. The other point of view narrator of the story is Cillian, her father, whose own history with the Empress is complex, and together with Lena, has made decisions that have affected his own position as well as nominating his eldest child for a role that she was given as a baby. He is determined to accompany her to Casil, even though he knows that he risks his own life in several ways; as a sick man who needs constant medical attention, but also as a potential traitor who has walked a tightrope of diplomacy for decades.
This is a vivid story of family, friends, and others whose lives are being decided by a complex set of circumstances frequently beyond their control. Though in a unique setting, their actions, reactions and emotions are common to people throughout history and everywhere. I recommend this novel as an engaging continuation of a well established story, but also a tension filled narrative of a group of people negotiating a complex situation in its own right.