By Justine Kraemer, GAC volunteer writer. 

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For fans of Guelph author Marian Thorpe’s Empire’s Legacy, Empire’s Heir is a worthy addition as Book 6 of this epic saga. She continues to give readers everything they’ve loved about the series, including deep world-building, complex and compelling relationships, and women who are breathtakingly talented at archery on horseback. 

This cerebral continuation of Thorpe’s epic saga picks up four years after the events of Book 5 in the series, Empire’s Reckoning. When we first catch up with our main cast of characters, they are still reeling from the loss, grief and revelations of this previous installment. The scene is set in Thorpe’s expansive world of the Empire, based on European history and mythology. 

While many books in the high-fantasy genre are still male-dominated, both by authors and the characters they create, the Empire’s Legacy series is a refreshing change in both regards. In this installation, Thorpe focuses on the character of Gwenna, and her coming of age at a moment of transition for her family and her home of Èsparias. It is refreshing to see the forced marriage trope completely turned on its head and have a female character in this predicament be advised that she alone is able to choose whether to marry and whom to marry and to have this message reinforced through the entire story.

Thorpe continues her superb world-building, this time focusing on the political intrigue and diplomacy of the Empire. Although politics and history have always played an integral part in this series, this book focuses nearly exclusively on exploring the diplomatic realities of this fantasy realm, which really adds a depth to this particular universe. Old rivalries are set against the book’s current events and realities, and all are aptly woven together in such a cunning way so as to leave readers on the edges of their seats desperately needing to know the outcome of these fictional political manoeuvres. 

Duty and honour are the central themes as the book’s two narrators, Gwenna and her father Cillian, are faced with their own destinies at very different points in their lives. Their choices and struggles are mirrored in each others’, and this is where the story is really grounded, holding onto its humanity. Questioning our place in the world and where our choices might lead is a universal human experience that will appeal to those not fully sold on the high fantasy genre.

At the end of the book, readers are left in awe of Thorpe’s ability to masterfully balance the high fantasy genre with a grounded story about love, family and finding one’s place. With Gwenna where we leave her at the end of this book, the possibilities are virtually endless as this series continues. 

If there is any criticism to be made, it is that Empire’s Legacy continues to be a fantasy series, written by someone who is not a POC, that insists on continuing to include slavery in a fantasy world. Thorpe’s world is so incredibly rich and diverse, that there really is no need even to include such a storyline. It’s particularly disappointing in a series that is otherwise an epitome of progress in fantasy. The character Apulo is one of the strongest-written supporting characters and although it isn’t featured prominently, the character’s past involving slavery ultimately takes away from the larger story itself. 

Thorpe’s sixth installment in the series ultimately gives fans an admirable continuation of this epic tale that is a refreshing entry into the fantasy genre. Those unsure about fantasy as a whole should give this series a try as it makes a point of deviating from common fantasy tropes and keeping readers engaged even through political processes. Those who are already fantasy fans will be amazed at the intricate world building and characters that carry through the series. 

This series has something everyone can appreciate, and readers are sure to be excited to see where the story goes next. 

Empire’s Heir and the Empire’s Legacy series are available now at the Bookshelf.

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