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Beauty

I severely underestimated just how long it would take to finish Mistress of the Empire—not simply because it was long, but because it was so dense. Luckily it at least got over the depressing part that had stymied my first attempt.

I’m not sure what I think of my previous assertion that the series could have ended at the end of Servant. On the one hand Mistress probably has a more complete ending, and is the inevitable continuation of the events of the first two books; on the other hand the central conflict of the first two books ends in the same climactic scene in which Lady Mara is officially named the Good Servant, and her challenges and opponents are quite different. Significant amounts of plot and worldbuilding come to fruition in the third book, and yet it also stands alone. Part of that of course will be that I was only rereading the first two while reading the third for the first time; I will have to do a reread one of these days.

Not today, however: as I said, it’s long, it’s intricate, it’s probably the greatest fantasy politics series I’ve read. From some side reading it appears that there’s significant appetite for further books in the world of Kelewan (as opposed to the Midkemia books that already exist in the same universe). On the one hand I’m generally sympathetic to the feeling of wanting more of the book I just finished; on the other though I’m not quite sure where you could place other books in the timeline. Over the course of the trilogy Mara thoroughly exposes and in many ways dismantles the underlying skeleton of the world in which she lives and that people wish to revisit. Further, she does so in the larger part because of her own brilliance and willingness to examine how her society is structured than the externally derived events that impact the narrative. As such, any lead character from a prequel that could possibly bare comparison to Mara as a protagonist would almost have to precipitate the same changes as she does (which would cause timeline issues, and would probably be boring). Meanwhile a sequel would exist in a world where the Game is fundamentally changed, and this may not be what is wanted.

The main option as I see it would be to base a new series around around the fallout from the abolition of slavery in the empire, and with a broader cast of protagonists to the admittedly numerous list that exists by the end of Mistress. Neither this nor any other possibility seem likely, however, and frankly I’m fine with that.

Not only did it take some time to finish the series, it also took a few days for me to recover and start reading a new book. I considered Casey Plett’s A Safe Girl to Love, due to it being vaguely topical, but instead chose Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley, the author of Sunshine.

There is a slight problem, however: I’m not very familiar with the original, which makes comparisons and perhaps a full appreciation difficult. The broad premise I of course know from pure osmosis, but it’s only through a some research that I have been able to pick up on even fairly significant differences. Most notably, the titular character is in the original a beautiful and well-read young woman who is treated like a maid by her siblings; in this version Beauty’s sisters do their fair share of the work, while she is a (still bookish) tomboy who helps in her brother-in-law’s smithy and will accept beer as payment for pulling your wagon out of the mud with her horse. The much-criticised Stockholm-syndrome romance is still there, but to be fair I’ve read worse.

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