'Empress of Forever' - Book Review

Empress of Forever
by Max Gladstone
Tor, 480 pages

If you look back in this blog, you'll find that I've been a fan of Max Gladstone's urban fantasy - particularly his first, "Three Parts Dead." This new book is science fiction - a thick far future space opera. Our heroine is dragged into a future conflict she doesn't understand from a time very like ours. Which of course gives Gladstone a protagonist who has the same sensibilities as his readers. I rapidly became frustrated at the book as our heroine Vivian Liao goes from the frying pan to the fire - over, and over, and over. Approximately every ten pages. Every time she starts to get a grip on one situation, something else goes sideways. The biggest problem in this future universe is "The Empress," who often simply wipes out entire civilizations because if they grow too big they draw "The Bleed" - and she'd rather destroy the civilization than deal with the Bleed. Viv starts to accumulate her traditional adventure story motley band of friends and goes on a quest to return herself to her real life.

By page 50 I had a guess as to who the Empress was ... and by page 350 when Gladstone gives us the reveal, that knowledge had settled into certainty so I just shrugged when he delivered this thing that was meant to be a big surprise. Part of my guess was based on writer behaviour rather than story clues: information the author chose not to mention made me think "why isn't he ... ohh, I see." He never discussed the Empress's origins. The prose is decent, the plot ridiculous, and the pace permanently and painfully breathless.

In the end a long and mediocre book, and the first Gladstone I regret spending my time on.