Review: EMPRESS OF FOREVER by Max Gladstone

Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 480
Release Date: June 18th, 2019
Series: Standalone
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

Note: I was provided a free ARC of EMPRESS OF FOREVER by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.

Link to Goodreads

Vivian Liao is a tech genius and billionaire who’s about to upload a program that will change the world forever. But seconds before that can happen, she finds herself attacked by a mysterious emerald woman, and in the blink of an eye, wakes up in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, far into the future.  She soon realizes that she was snatched from her home by a godlike being known only as The Empress, though for what purpose, nobody knows.  All they do know is that for some reason, Viv can control and unlock devices created by the Empress, and that fact might just be the key to defeating the Empress once and for all.  But this means that Viv is being hunted by different factions across the galaxy who want Viv for their own purposes, some to worship, some to destroy.  Viv will have to rely on people who would just as soon as kill her as work with her if she’s going to have any chance of making it to the Empress’s citadel and finding her portal home.

EMPRESS OF FOREVER is a hard book to pin down.  A mixture of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and THE WIZARD OF OZ, your mileage will be determined by how much you love off-the-wall bananas worlds alongside your hard science.  We’re talking creatures that live off of nightmares, and godlike beings who casually live for thousands of years inside of a star and have ships they can roll up and stick in their pockets, alongside some dimensional concepts I’m not entirely sure I wrapped my head around.  Viv assembles a motley crew over the course of her episodic adventures, traveling from place to place as she gathers what she needs to reach the Empress.  Some are certainly more memorable than others, (I don’t think I’ll forget Zanj anytime soon), but it makes for a bizarre found family that at first comes together more out of necessity than because they actually like each other.

Then there’s the actual writing itself, which ends up being both a blessing and a curse.  There is absolutely no denying that Gladstone has a way with words, particularly when it comes to making you feel what the characters are feeling.   Soul-crushing despair and isolation or euphoria just emanate off the page.  That unfortunately can come at the cost of pacing.  Those descriptions can sometimes go on, and there were certainly times when it felt like the narrative ground to a halt to try and capture the utterly bizzare otherness of the universe Viv was traveling. It meant that reading this book happened in fits and starts – sometimes I would be rapt and consume several chapters at a time, others I would struggle to get through a few pages.  The overall drive is certainly to get Viv home, but it often lacks urgency, despite the fact that we’re told there’s only a short window to get to the Empress’s ship before she disappears into her fortress (a short window in this case seems to be on a scale of weeks, if not months, instead of days).

EMPRESS OF FOREVER is one of those reads where my reaction towards it has fluctuated constantly.  This really is a book where the focus is on the evocative, rather than hard and fast plot (not that there isn’t a plot, it just can sometimes feel a bit looseygoosey).  If you’re in for the strange and weird with a dash of action and thrills, you’ll probably find a lot to love!  My own love for the characters and the prose is why I ended up rating this as high I as I did.  But if you’re looking for narrative driven, non-stop action, there are other sci-fi adventures that will probably be more to your liking.



5 thoughts on “Review: EMPRESS OF FOREVER by Max Gladstone

Add yours

  1. I have a feeling I might struggle with this book, although who knows, I might also love it! Sometimes too many weird elements don’t work unless the overall story is really grounded. I’ve got a copy so we’ll see…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm, on the one hand I think you have me at ‘off the wall bananas’ but on the other I don’t like hard science, haha. I really won’t know unless I read this one, I guess. I haven’t read any of his books yet, but I did go to a reading of his at WFC last year and his stuff does sound pretty bizarre, but in a good way, lol. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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