Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts. This is it, last post, we’re done!
This was totally not going to be a separate post to the last chapter, but turned out I had a LOT to say about both the final chapter and this epilogue. I know, right? Last week, everything was tied up with a big imperial ribbon—every single plot thread was made shiny and perfect and happy (or happysad) and resolved.
So what’s left?
Oh look, it’s a time jump!
Summary: TWO YEARS LATER…
It’s Appeals Day, which I think is like that West Wing trope where anyone can come and petition the government on any matter, sometimes involving alien conspiracies and cheese?
Anyway, it’s been a long day and Mara is tired, but satisfied that her son is coming into his own as far as political machinations and other imperial duties are concerned.
Cute side note: Justin never has mastered the Tsurani blank face, and has sparked a trend of random grinning among his court.
Hokanu arrives to present his new children—twin boys—to the Emperor, and the Mistress of the Empire. Mara is overjoyed for Hokanu and his sweet young wife, especially when she learns one of the boys has been named after her.
It’s all a bit emotional, and she’s busy hiding her happy-sad tears behind a fan when a
bunch of barbarian rowdies diplomatic delegation of Midkemians turn up.
The entire court figures out what is going on before Mara does, because she’s busy trying not to look at the red-haired member of their party who reminds her a lot of the lover she sent away 14 or so years ago…
IT’S KEVIN HE’S BACK!
Imagine this from Kevin’s point of view. He’s pretty much got it figured out that his ex-girlfriend is this Mistress of the Empire woman that everyone’s going on about, because come on, who else would it be?
Having spent his entire career fighting in the borderlands, he has suddenly been pushed into court fancy clothes and sent off to be an Ambassador, not knowing why (apparently Prince Arutha is a total matchmaker) only to discover in front of the entire Tsurani Imperial Court that he has a teenage son, who rules a vast Empire.
(Also apparently the whole court is well aware of the Mara/Kevin tragic romance which suggests to me a community of fanfic writers may well have developed to keep the ship alive, not unlike the trend among Georgian & Regency aristocratic women of writing long letters and stories as a form of social media to keep each other amused.)
Mara, Kevin and Justin have a family breakdown including some very personal conversations, in front of everyone, because the imperial family has no secrets.
This includes, by the way, Mara and Kevin both employing Complete And Total Subtlety to discover that they are both currently single and available.
At which point, Arakasi attempts to close the court down and give the family some privacy…
But Mara, who never does things by halves, takes the opportunity to present the Light of Heaven to his Dad, in front of everyone.
The court, who know which side their bread is buttered on, happily cheer the reunion even though it doesn’t take basic maths to figure out that their beloved Emperor must have been sired by a slave and prisoner of war.
Mara realises how much the Empire has changed, that this public declaration is something to celebrate rather than to hide in shame.
Cue: adorable three-way family hug, and some discreet flirtation happening between Justin’s parents as they enjoy the joyous reunion.
That’s a wrap!
Peace out, Tsurani Empire.
You know, I’ve been super cynical at this book’s obsession with the absentee romance between Kevin and Mara, but now that we’re here, I ship it.
Both of Mara’s key romantic relationships were defined by some measure inequality—Kevin because of her culture’s inability to recognise his social status, and Hokanu because he always seemed far more invested in his romantic relationship with Mara than she was.
Which is not entirely fair—Mara definitely loved Hokanu—but that doesn’t make it inaccurate. Hokanu didn’t need Mara to be the doting, ‘my husband is everything’ traditional wife—indeed, he loved her more because of all the ways in which she was not that person. Still, Mara’s attention and commitment was always divided in ways that his (mostly) was not—not least because she had such a powerful love affair which ended shortly before their marriage.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that it was easier to overturn an entire society’s traditions than to overcome the simpler problem of a marriage where one spouse was a little bit more in love than the other. I don’t envy Hokanu’s wife at all, living in the shadow of his love for Mara, just as he lived in the shadow of Mara’s love for Kevin. I’m not convinced that the magical babies were really sufficient substitute, especially given Hokanu’s proven ability to love children not of his bloodline, but hey, it’s not my book.
As soon as Kevin returned—a slightly more grizzled and far less temperamental Kevin than when he first arrived—I remembered all over again why Mara liked him. The focus on his connection to Justin is particularly pleasing, and the emphasis (which has not really been discussed a lot before now) on how Justin has been taught who his birth father was. Plus he got a chance to be angry (rightfully) about Mara taking the choice of being a father away from him, but not too angry, because he’s too interested in creating a relationship with Justin now.
(Nice touch to name the kid after Kevin’s Dad, Mara, that was thinking ahead.)
As with Hokanu, Mara had a clear image of the future that she had allowed Kevin to have, by relinquishing him—a family of his own, secure in the status he enjoyed as a Midkemian nobleman—so it’s faintly amusing to see that while Hokanu followed the perfect post-Mara script, Kevin of course had his own ideas.
Mara has fully earned her happy ending in every way—losing Kevin inspired her to bring change to Tsuranuanni and its relations with outsiders as well as its more rigid traditions. Now she gets to reap the benefit because in this new world she has helped to shape, Kevin is not only allowed to be with her as an honoured foreign dignitary, but can be acknowledged publicly as her son’s father.
Gosh, but isn’t it convenient that the slave Mara fell for was a nobleman in his own land? And not, like, a farmer or something?
I do wonder how many people secretly conspired to make this happy ending happen. Did Arakasi and Chumaka have feelers out in Midkemia? Was someone sending secret telegrams to Prince Arutha with heavy hints about who he should choose as the next ambassador? Who made this happen?
In any case, I’m all for drawing the curtain on Mara’s epic adventure, knowing that once the book is done, she might have half a chance at a peaceful, productive life with no more trilogy-induced drama. Like when Buffy the Vampire Slayer got a monster-free summer at the end of every season!
It’s been wonderful to revisit these books, comparing my memories and my teenage reading experience with my current self. And while I often made fun of the crinklier edges along the way, I’m impressed at how well the Empire series holds up as a different kind of epic fantasy, prioritising the domestic and political machinations over quests and forests.
Considering how often I recommend these books to others, it’s been a big relief to discover that so much of what I remembered them doing well are still very, very good.
Plenty of problematic bits and pieces along the way, of course, but that’s
fantasy fiction for you.
Thank you so much for joining me on this long adventure. If, like me, you love or loved these books, what other works would you recommend to readers next? There’s other epic fantasy out there which is more about court and espionage than magic objects and long travelogues (though the Empire series, of course, had its share of travel and magic). There’s other epic fantasy which centres women as the most important protagonists.
Which are your favourites? What books and authors, new or old, do you think an avid reader of Daughter, Servant and Mistress of the Empire, would enjoy picking up next?
Or should we just reread these ones all over again?
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian SF & fantasy author, and a Hugo Award winning blogger and podcaster. Tansy recently completed a serialised novel, Musketeer Space, available to read for free on her blog, and her latest piece of published short fiction is “Fake Geek Girl” at the Review of Australian Fiction. She writes crime fiction under the pen-name of Livia Day. Come and find TansyRR on Twitter & Tumblr, sign up for her Author Newsletter, and listen to her on Galactic Suburbia or the Verity! podcast.