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I didn't particularly enjoy "Empress", the first in Karen Miller's "Godspeaker" trilogy. The characters weren't terribly likeable, the society was incredibly blood thirsty and the storyline seemed to get quite repetitive by the end. Given that trilogies tend to run along a common theme or storyline, I wasn't expecting much different from "The Riven Kingdom".
However, I suddenly understand why Karen Miller is so well thought of. "The Riven Kingdom" isn't set in the land of Mijak, but in the distant country of Ethrea. Their King, Eberg, is seriously ill and after an illness caused the deaths of his two sons, his only heir is a young daughter, Rhian. Unfortunately for her, she is below the age of responsibility and as a young woman cannot be considered for the throne until she chooses a husband to rule as her King.
Prolate Marlan, the head of the church in Ethrea, sees this as his opportunity to take control. King Eberg was careful to keep the church and the state separate, but Marlan feels that with his chosen candidate for Rhian's husband in place, the country will be ruled by the church. He locks Rhian away and piles the pressure onto her until she makes the choice he demands.
Unfortunately for Marlan, there are other forces at work. The Royal Toymaker, Dexterity Jones, is guided by the ghost of his dead wife to save Rhian, and thus Ethrea, from the clutches of Marlan. Aided by Dexterity's friend Ursa and a strange man called Zandakar who he has recently rescued from slavery, they attempt to ensure that the monarchy continues to rule Ethrea.
This complete change of direction gives the book an entirely different feel to the previous instalment. Although they are seeking power in the same way as Hekat was, the characters seem a lot less driven and less likely to want to win at all costs. This means that they are a lot more likeable and you get more of a feel for them as people, rather than just as power crazed individuals. Admittedly Marlan is prepared to do whatever it takes to seize power, but even he feels quite laid back about it, compared to Hekat in Mijak.
The larger cast of characters does mean they don't have quite the same well drawn personalities as from "Empress". The Dukes in particular seem to blend into one another and even the major characters are separated more by their particular skills more than by the way they act or are described.
The pace of the story is a lot less frantic as well. This time around, they're all trying to get somewhere to achieve things, rather than going off to war to kill and conquer and leave bloodshed behind them. Their aims are a lot purer and, whilst time is tight, they take things a lot slower and deal with events as they occur, rather than setting out to bend events to their timeframe.
What was especially interesting was that there were occasional asides to see how things were going in Mijak. Existing fans of the series may recognise Zandakar's name as the exiled eldest son of Hekat, but in his new guise, even he seems a lot more relaxed in Ethrea than he ever was under his mother's power in Mijak. Although there is very little from the Mijak side of things here, what little there is provides a stark contrast to the style and pace of life in Ethrea.
The down side to all this is that it means "The Riven Kingdom" really doesn't offer anything new. For all the distaste I felt for the Mijaki way of life in "Empress", it was at least something different. However, none of the ideas here allow for that same perspective, as the way of life in Ethrea, the battle between church and monarchy and the ruling system of Duchies under a King have all been seen in any number of places before. Zandakar and his ways are about the only things that seem out of place in the relaxed Ethrean world which, of course, is exactly what he is.
This left me with torn feelings about "The Riven Kingdom". It's a much easier read than "Empress" and in terms of events and characters, was more enjoyable. But because there was very little new here, it did make things feel a little dull at times. Events just seemed to pass by at a leisurely pace and there was very little sense of urgency.
What will be interesting is when the two cultures fully collide, which seems to be the plan for the last book of the trilogy. The two styles couldn't possibly work together and this is going to make for quite an explosive finale. It may well need to be, as the two books leading up to it are lacking in their own ways, but it may be that this cannot be fully appreciated until the whole picture is seen, rather than being able to get a full feel of events from the parts. If you can find a copy on eBay from as little as 99 pence, this may be worth taking a chance on if you've enjoyed Karen Miller's work previously. I would advise against paying the Amazon Marketplace price of £2.87, or the £3.75 from Green Metropolis, as I don't feel it's worth that much, no matter how much more I enjoyed it compared to the first part.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk